How To Make a PMO Work for You

Midmarket CIOs share tips for setting up an effective PMO

With countless projects always under way, CIOs need to feel confident that their teams have things under control in terms of project scope, budget, prioritization and time line. Few would argue that a project management office (PMO), well-planned and implemented, won't go a long way toward governing projects to more satisfactory conclusions. For many CIOs, it's a requirement.

"My philosophy is that there are three legs of the stool that are required in any successful IT department: a PMO, portfolio management and IT governance," says Eric Hungate, CIO of the Texas Association of School Boards, a nonprofit educational association.

Using Collaboration To Build A Project Management Methodology

PMO adoption benefits from team-based efforts to create a framework

In smaller, more nimble organizations, CIOs can try unique models for project management and governance. In Hennepin County, Minn., PMO Director Pan Hall hired Karen Piet to work with a select group on a biweekly basis to set up an initial project management methodology. The 12-person team is open to anyone in IT and to select business partners.

"We call it the 'best practice' model. It's a grassroots effort that provides structure for different phases of project methodology, template advice and other aspects of PMO oversight," says Hall.

This collaborative effort is very different from buying a set methodology or adopting a well-known practice. Instead, Piet asks the team about the best documentation for a particular phase of a given project, and what the deliverables should be. Responses are compiled and discussed, and form the basis of the methodology. "Adoption of the PMO has been much smoother with this team-based effort, rather than going out and telling people that we have made the decision, and this is how it is going to be done," says CIO Toni Jelinek.

-C.M.,

When it comes to setting up a PMO, all CIOs struggle with securing buy-in, demonstrating value and choosing the right project methodology for the corporate culture. More than their larger-company peers, though, mid-market CIOs (those whose companies report less than $2 billion in annual revenue) must grapple with finding staff and funding resources to develop an effective PMO. But a mid-market company's size and agility also allow its CIO to try out different processes that a larger company might not risk. Below, four Council members share tactics to make their mid-market status an advantage when forming a PMO. Advocate from the start. Mid-market CIOs have many priorities pulling them in different directions. That's why new CIOs should seize the opportunity to jump-start a PMO. "I used my honeymoon as the first CIO to advocate for a PMO, and then started to get the basics established," recalls Hungate. "My first step was to hire a PMO director."

Major new projects can also help launch a PMO. "When I arrived at the county in 2004, it needed this type of discipline for the large projects we had lined up, especially a huge ERP implementation," says Toni Jelinek, CIO of Hennepin County, Minn., which has an operating budget of $1.6 billion. Implementing an ERP system is complex and "with the PMO, county senior leaders had a baseline to understand why project management would contribute to the overall success of the project," says Pan Hall, Jelinek's director of enterprise PMO.

You don't need a big staff. "The size of a PMO is very dependent on the size of the IT organization, the scope of their activities," says Matt Hartzman, vice president of information services at the College of American Pathologists, a $125 million organization. He recommends a lean staff approach. Hartzman has a single dedicated PMO manager and two other staff members, and then the virtual PMO is filled in unofficially by other IT staff. "All my project managers are considered part of the PMO," he says. "There is no solid-line reporting relationship to the PMO manager, but all project managers attend a weekly PMO meeting, abide by the same standards and requirements, and view themselves as a team, albeit a virtual one."

Educate the rest of the team. Jelinek asked Hall to not only assess what type of PMO the county needed but to do marketing across the organization about a PMO's benefits. Hall conducted one-on-one staff sessions, held road shows in other departments, and attended management meetings equipped with research data demonstrating value. He also highlighted government-sector entities' PMO successes, rather than rely on private-sector case studies. To convince staff to embrace the PMO, Hall highlighted high-profile projects that had dragged on due to poor management and a lack of PMO oversight.

PMO Templates to Try

At Pacific Blue Cross, the following are essential tools or templates used in the PMO project governance methodology.

  • Monthly project portfolio traffic-light report
  • Post-project review template
  • Post-project review process
  • Resource utilization spreadsheet
  • Project role descriptions

    -C.M.

  • Stay nimble. The agile nature of a smaller organization can work in a CIO's favor. "We can move quickly: put templates in place, train the users and start seeing results," says Greg Brierley, PMO manager at $750 million Canadian healthcare company Pacific Blue Cross. "We also make a point not to have an overly bureaucratic process with excess overhead."

    Having Pacific Blue Cross located in one building also helped speed PMO implementation. However, Hennepin County's Hall cautions not to move too quickly. "Make sure the people around you are moving at the same pace; they need to internalize things," she says.

    Show the value and benefits. A PMO's value is shown by the hard benefits it produces. All four CIOs are tracking metrics and highlighting benefits gained. Hungate has seen gains in operational efficiencies and project performance since the PMO launched. Pacific Blue Cross cites cost benefits from better budget tracking, and more knowledge around project prioritization and where dollars should be spent. Hennepin County's IT team has a better understanding of project scope and individual roles within large projects. "People have started to make decisions from a factual basis," says Hall. "Before, we would have an idea and then execute. With the PMO, the planning stage of the project is in place. With that comes success."

    Carrie Mathews is group manager, member services, for the CIO Executive Council.

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