PMO Optimisation in Four Simple Steps

Is it time for you to consider PMO Optimisation? Does your leadership ignore your project portfolio updates? Do your project managers report green even though the project is late or over budget? Or even worse, can you name a hero who steps in to save projects at the last minute? Are your executive stakeholders dissatisfied with the outcomes that your project managers are delivering?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then consider working through this four-step process to kickstart your PMO to delivery maturity.

1. Define your PMO Purpose

Before you do anything else, ask yourself, why does the PMO exist? What is its purpose? How does it deliver value to the business? The PMO has a defined position in your organisational structure. This position drives both its form and function. A PMO within the Finance function of an organisation has a different focus to one that reports into IT or perhaps, direct to the Board. A solid understanding the PMO position and purpose will provide you with the insight needed to articulate specific, business-oriented goals and objectives.

Working with your executives you can now begin your journey of PMO Optimisation and build a shared vision of how projects within the organisation go from idea to realised outcome. Defined outcomes colour your view of how to shape the PMO. Gartner Research defined four styles of PMO in their paper Deciding Which Of Four EPMO Styles Is Right For Your Organisation namely:



Degree of Control


Central portfolio status reporting and common reporting standards

Minimal, limited to reporting compliance


Project enablement. Provides one or more of portfolio management, governance, operational project standards and central resource scheduling

Varies depending on how governance structures are positioned

May range from one large project to whole of enterprise

Business Transformation

Purpose driven to execute specific business change

High, within the scope of the business change


Manages transformational projects that redefine the organisation


All PMOs contain elements of one or more of these functions. Choose one style that is the most likely to enable your team to deliver outcomes. This improves your chance of success. It is unlikely that one team can be all four types of PMO at once. It is better to start with more focus and show that the PMO can deliver.

Consider the scope of the PMO’s control. Projects exist in a variety of shapes within the organisation, some of them will be called improvement initiatives, or process optimisation, or something else again. How far into the organisation does your PMO stretch? Do you control all projects or only those in a specific domain? Are you limited to specific functions such as IT projects, or to specific geographic locations?

2. Measure Your PMO's Maturity

Start by assessing the Capability Maturity of your PMO. Several suitable models exist for doing this, mostly based on the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). The basis of most of these models is to assess the stability and repeatability of the project management process and the level of successive refinements above the basics.

Once you have developed an understanding of the capability maturity of the PMO, it is worth considering benchmarking the level of maturity against other similar organisations.

3. Develop a PMO Improvement Roadmap

Once you understand where you are on the journey to PMO optimisation, you can aim for where you want to be. No matter where your PMO is along the continuum from disorganised to best in class, there is always an opportunity to drive for the delivery of greater value. What follows are notes on various aspects of improving your PMO to drive outstanding performance.

Establish PMO Structure

The purpose of your PMO will suggest the organisational structure you require. Regardless of how you choose to structure your team, you will require several functions to deliver the overall value proposition. What these functions are depends on the kind of PMO you are aiming for. The Reporting model leans toward analysts, whereas Operational models rely more on an internal pool of high-functioning project managers.

The balance of people within the team may change over time. For example, consider a PMO with a group of process focussed project managers. Good adherence to process is a healthy sign in most PMOs. However, it focusses PMs on rigour rather than business outcomes. Over time you can encourage these PMs to develop their understanding of the priorities of the business units they were working with. This results in a team that delivers greater business value while still holding a high degree of process compliance.

A part of your thinking around structure should incorporate consideration of the relationship between the PMO and the business it services. Does the PMO require team members who can act as trusted advisors to the business? Or is the model more formal with documented requests for work driving your pipeline of projects. The former requires resources who can build relationships, while the latter needs people with a strong attention to detail.

Don’t forget to consider your own role. Are you going to be focussed on being the project expert? Or is your role more about reporting an accurate, believable picture of progress to the Board? Perhaps you serve as the conduit for conflict management. Your role may be all of these things and more.

Choose PMO Tools

PMO tools can be divided into those tools needed to manage a project and a separate group of tools used to manage the PMO.

By virtue of the current multitude of methodologies, project management tools and processes are available to manage every aspect of a project. Regardless of your choice of methodology, it is recommended that you establish standardised process across all projects. This can vary from having a single mandatory process and toolset to having no standards other than a common reporting framework. Both ends of this spectrum can be successful, provided they are deployed within the context of the PMO’s mandate. Standardising the methodology and tools allows for repeatable process, a hallmark of the emerging maturity of your PMO.

The tools required to manage the PMO are far more consistent. The data managed by these tools provides the control for effective management. At a minimum, it is work considering a Forward Pipeline of Projects, an Active Pipeline of all work in progress, a repository of all previous projects as a source of Lessons Learned, as well as consolidated Resource Schedule and Budgets. There are elegant software suites capable of providing these functions. However, such tools can be costly. There is much to be said for the humble spreadsheet if your budget does not stretch so far.

4. Validate PMO Optimisation and Optimise Performance

Once the initiatives from the PMO Improvement Roadmap begin to take effect, it is time to reassess how far you have come along the path to full PMO optimisation. At this point a body of delivery metrics should exist that define how well the improvement initiatives have worked. Consider holding a workshop with project managers and key stakeholders during which each initiative is examined to decide what has worked, what didn’t work, and what can still be further improved.

Often at this point, PMO Managers establish a process of Continuous Improvement. Discussion here may vary from redefining the PMO culture to establishing further rigour through a process such as Six Sigma.

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