The term Project Management Office (PMO) is used quite often in our industry, but it’s not always clear what it means exactly or why it’s important.

Each capital project is unique, and project managers will often work with owners to reflect this distinctiveness in how the project is managed. Tailoring your project management style to align with your team, processes and overall goals is a wise practice. But when it comes to an ongoing series of programs or projects – like a new school, community centre, transit corridor or bridge – it’s important to work within a management system that can help you deliver the program of work successfully, while also accommodating the unique features of each endeavor. Establishing a high level, overarching framework can help you guide the processes, controls, people and technology across your entire program efficiently and effectively.

This framework is known as a PMO and enhances your ability to manage risks and deliver a cohesive program of work.

What is a PMO?

The fifth edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge defines a PMO as the “management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools and techniques.”

In other words, a PMO is a customizable, overarching framework that provides guidance on the delivery of a series of interconnected, high-value projects. It’s also important to note that a PMO can leverage and build on your existing best practices to improve the likelihood of success and enhance the delivery of your program.

Why are PMOs important?

A PMO is typically developed to provide a success strategy for concurrent or sequential projects. It offers project teams a single point of reference for guidance on the processes, project organization, approvals, tools and technology needed to ensure each project is not only delivered successfully, but with a high level of quality and consistency.

Adopting a PMO framework helps owners ensure they are communicating effectively across each project team. It also offers a systematic approach to actively monitoring the overall program of work, ensuring each project is compliant with industry standards and best practices. When delivering a series of projects, this approach provides assurance that each project will meet industry expectations and serve as key additions to community infrastructure. Lastly, it offers an important resource to identify when projects aren’t performing as expected, and how to correct the project course early on.

How does a PMO work?

When an owner makes the commitment to establish a PMO, they are agreeing to an in-depth review of the processes, procedures, people and organizational structures that make up each project in their program of work. Once established, the PMO team then works to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and collaboration.

Often led and developed by a project management consultant, a PMO provides guidance for improvements across three main areas:

  1. Processes and Controls: a PMO ensures that an organization’s or department’s processes are aligned with leading industry practices and global standards (such as the Project Management Institute and other comparable organizations). This area of review helps you establish and maintain templates that measure the adequacy of your controls – such as efficiency and reporting structure – to ensure there are no redundancies and enough flexibility in your processes to support different types of projects
  2. Organization and People: PMOs establish a clearly defined governance structure. This includes a review of all the roles and responsibilities involved to ensure a clear, scalable structure is set to meet the unique needs of each project’s scope. Job and responsibility descriptions are also reviewed and aligned with the skills required to successfully complete each project. If needed, the PMO can provide training to the project teams to ensure they are confident and capable moving forward. Lastly, a PMO establishes a clear accountability structure for reviews and approvals at each stage gate, which speeds up the process and helps you avoid delays.
  3. Technology and Automation: a PMO reviews existing interfaces and suggests opportunities to improve efficiency through technology or automation. This review reduces redundancies between manual and automated processes, and can improve reporting accuracy.

What benefits does a PMO offer?

Beyond organizational and reporting efficiency, a PMO offers owners the following four benefits:

  1. Quality and Consistency: establishing a PMO frees owners from the task of repeatedly managing and/or determining specific processes and controls for a series of projects. It also enables the owner’s internal staff to focus on assigned tasks so they can achieve their personal objectives with greater quality and consistency across each project. A PMO gives owners the confidence to deliver a variety of projects successfully, because they can rely on the PMO team to apply organizational knowledge and manage the overarching framework in a way that best implements the established processes, controls, organizational structure and technologies.
  2. Information and Data: PMOs generate reports that can inform and facilitate decision making. These reports can be used as a tool to help owners make decisions quickly, confidently and in the best interest of the project and overall program of work.
  3. Compliance and Assurance: consistent PMO reviews assure owners that their projects are compliant with government standards. The level of documentation generated from a PMO also provides owners with a solid reference should any aspect of their project be subjected to an audit.
  4. Industry Standards and Best Practices: a PMO establishes a framework of processes and controls that draw from industry standards and best practices. Owners can also rely on the expertise and experience of the PMO team to formulate innovative solutions and identify further opportunities for improvement.

As this construction season comes to a close, review the status and performance of your ongoing programs. Are they progressing well? Are you delivering projects consistently and efficiently? Does the quality of each project comply with government and industry standards?

If you’re unsure or answered no to any of the above, it may be time to consider establishing a PMO. Applicable and highly beneficial to organizations of all sizes, a PMO is an important overarching framework that delivers the team and tools needed to ensure your capital programs are well-managed, relevant and positively embraced by stakeholders, consultants, contractors and the communities you serve.