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PMO - Whatever for?

A basic definition of the Project Management Officer's role and a review of the PMO's main activities.
Over recent years, the PMO approach is gaining popularity, with many organizations acquiring experience in applying this function and appreciating its benefits. Yet for many, this is an unfamiliar term, while others only have a cursory understanding of the advantages and benefits that a PMO can bring to their organizations. For the benefit of all those that are unfamiliar with this approach, here is a basic description of both the approach and its advantages.

PMO typically stands for Project Management Officer - the person in an organization, group, division or department who is responsible for the definition and / or implementation of a diverse range of project management fields, with a special focus on planning, monitoring and controlling the progress of project schedules.
In some cases, especially in large organizations, the PMO is in fact a group of people who share this responsibility: Project Management Office.

Major activities of a PMO:
  1. Assisting managers in planning project schedules:
    1. Collecting data from various parties involved in the project.
    2. Defining a list of tasks, dependencies and priorities, and allocation of resources for these tasks.
    3. Planning versions / sprints.
    4. Preparing a work plan / Gantt chart for the project.
    5. Coordinating teams and projects.
  2. Assiting in ongoing tracking of project schedules that may include:
    1. Collecting performance data and requirement change independently (manually) or via pre-defined reporting mechanisms.
    2. Updating schedules according to the data collected.
    3. Identifying problems in short (sprint), medium (features, versions, milestones) and long term (roadmap), based on updated data and the forwarding of warnings to appropriate parties.
      In some cases the PMO may also propose solutions.
    4. Assistance in preparing for and conducting periodical tracking / status meetings.
    5. Assistance in assessing the implications of changes to project definitions.
    6. Generating and presenting reports and warnings.
  3. Monitoring of other subjects for handling: these are sometimes referred to as "action items", "open issues" or simply "issues". This is usually a long list of tasks that for various reasons are not included in the Gantt chart, yet their completion is vital for the success of the project.
  4. Planning and monitoring project budgets: repeating the steps described above in relation to budgetary issues (required only in some cases).
  5. Definition and tracking of the relationship to other schedules / plans that impact on the project/s for which the PMO is responsible. This responsibility covers, among others, connections between the various parts of a single project or between various parties in the organization who are involved in the project.
  6. Serving as a knowledge center for the use of project management tools
Possible additional activities of a PMO:
  1. Defining / updating methodologies.
  2. Defining / updating processes.
  3. Additional issues related to coordination between projects (such as sharing information, establishing / maintaining joint databases).
  4. Maintenance of relevant IT systems.
  5. Post Mortem reviews of completed projects.
  6. Risk management.
  7. Assistance to QA personnel.
Why do we need a PMO?
Some organizations, especially those who still lack project management culture, attempt to assign PMO tasks to overburdened project managers. In large and / or complex projects, it is often the case that project management in itself i s a sizeable and complex task that a single individual finds difficult to cope with. The direct result is that many of the tasks listed above are not executed, or are executed only very partially.

As a result, various difficulties arise that accumulate and mount as the project progresses, and finally these problems often severely impact the very realization of project goals (schedules, budget, content and quality of results).

The role of a PMO is to handle the tasks described above, while freeing the project manager to concentrate on his/her primary role - leading the project to its successful completion.

Written by Ronit Sne

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