Is a PMO “Built” or “Grown” – Bringing your PMO Maturity in Context to your Organization’s Maturity Level

I recently read an article on LinkedIn that triggered a conversation between me and a few of my friends.  The article was from Alyce Reopelle titled – “Why Isn’t My PMO Functional?” – (LINK).  It is a great read and you should follow the link and take a few minutes to read it.  But what caught my attention was the opening paragraph that contained the following statement:

” I see many people offering to “build” a PMO for an organization or to help them “build” one.  In my mind, a PMO is not built…it is grown to fit within the culture and the environment of the organization and to grow with the organization.” – Alyce Reopelle

This statement rang very true to my own belief of how a sustainable PMO Organization is developed.  We all know the statistics for the length of engagement around a Project Management Office (PMO).  The “Average” PMO functions for between 2-5 years before it is shut down or reorganized. The PMO is a cost center, and in some organizations, the drive to establish a delivery methodology, overwhelms the value propositions of the organization, and the PMO ends up being focused on making sure that processes are followed and templates filled out. This drive to follow a process overwhelms their value, when what they should be focused on is increasing the value of the organization and working in partnership with the organization to grow the process maturity at a pace that is aligned to the organizational maturity.

PMO Development – Build vs Grow

What is the difference between building a PMO and growing a PMO?  Are we just getting hung up on a word or is this really a concept that changes your success opportunity?  To consider the differences in how you even respond to the two words, we need to review simple definitions of the two words:

Build –  to construct (especially something complex) by assembling and joining parts or materials

Grow –  to increase by natural development, as any living organism or part by assimilation of nutriment; increase in size or substance

Just in the dictionary definitions of these two verbs, you can see a very distinct difference in what they represent.  The idea behind the word “Build” is that we plan, build, expect a specific result based upon the plans we used to build.  If you plan to build a two-bedroom house, you can’t expect to have four bedrooms when you are done.   Where the idea behind the word “Grow” is that the outcome is a result of the environment in which it is grown.  The results can change based on the environment, and by how well it is cared for and fed.  The word ‘Grow” lends itself to a more natural result that fits the environment, bends with the culture and is trimmed and shaped to fit its surroundings. Based on the simple ideas, which organization do you think would be more able to survive for the long term?  Which method of PMO development do you think will prevent you from being reorganized every 2-5 years?

Now that we have considered how a simple word can change the context of HOW we create a functional and value driven organization, let’s put this into some practical context.  Every PMO, as it develops and grows, has to create, follow, and continuously improve multiple processes for the organization to function.  Many times, when someone is trying to “build” a PMO, they start very functionally and pull out the Project Management Institute – Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMI-PMBOK).  Then they create templates based on that methodology or download some templates off the Internet (public domain files, of course) and put their company names on them and start providing them to their Project Managers to manage their projects with. Project Managers are then expected to follow all 29 processes and complete all templates to their maximum value, communicating every week with their sponsors on a standard Status Report.  All built around a sound strategy for success that works every time, right?

Process Maturity in Context to Organizational Maturity

Consider an unfamiliar perspective on growing a solid Project Management Office, and delivering value at a growing, consistent rate over time.  To really develop the organizational roots to grow a PMO that will stand the test of time, you need to start by understanding the organization that you are going to be supporting.  While there are core Project Management concepts that you need to follow in every PMO, it’s more about the “HOW” you implement the processes, than it is about the “IF” you implement the processes.  Really understanding the project portfolio, organizational maturity, leadership expectations and priorities will help you begin developing and maturing the organizational structure of your PMO.

Take into consideration a small organization, very limited budgets, and low organizational maturity.  How would you approach the establishment of a PMO for this group? It has no less of a need for a PMO than a large organization, but it does have limitations on what they consider “success” for the organization.  Getting into this company, and learning about current state, organizational needs and leadership values will all help you define how to grow a functional and high performing PMO.  You may manage the organization with MS Excel and a few core processes (Status / Scope / Risk / Schedule), but you can still bring value to the company and grow as the overall organization matures.

The key to success is to take sufficient time to understand the level of organizational maturity that exists in the teams that you will support with your PMO.  If your overall organizational maturity is very low, then you need to lower your PMO process maturity to align and uplift the organization as a whole, rather than bring about a PMO process level that is overbearing and burdensome on the company.  Simplifying your processes and increasing the value to the team will help everyone.  As the old saying goes, all ships rise with the tide.  You can choose to be another ship, or you can choose to be the tide.

For more information on bringing Value to your PMO, consider a quick read of my article – The Value of a Project Management Office (PMO) – Looking beyond the “Price of Admission” – (LINK)



Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Don Clarke

Don Clarke

Co-Founder: Project Management for Today

As a Co-Founder of the website, Don Clarke has over 20  years of experience in the Project Management / Program Management space.  Having worked for a variety of companies over the last 20 years, he brings a strong base of knowledge in the industry.  Establishing or helping redefine multiple PMO's during this time, there is a unique perspective to his approach to developing the value of a Project Management Office (PMO), as well as his approach to leadership development within the organization.  Having been privileged to have multiple career defining mentoring experiences, Don realizes the importance of sharing that experience and giving back to the organizations where he is engaged.


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