In 1998, I was fortunate to get my first CIO role at a small- to medium-sized pharmaceutical company, with a half billion in sales (which represents a LOT of pills in a low unit-cost generic drug manufacturing company!).  I was so excited, I don’t remember even asking how big the IT shop was during my interviews.  I just couldn’t wait to get started.  I showed up that first day and met my IT team.  All 35 people.  Well, OK, there were a few other outsourced positions and consultants on board.  But there was no PMO.  We weren’t big enough to justify spending a full-time position on a PMO leader.  In fact, I soon realized, when you are the CIO at a medium-sized company, you probably ARE the PMO leader.  How do you build powerful, professional IT PMO capabilities in this situation?

Just because the organization is small- to medium-sized, it still needs all the same PMO-type functions as a larger organization.  The What functions stay the same, but Who performs those functions, and How they do it may be necessarily different. 

First, in a prior short series of articles (“How to Create an Awesome Project Roadmap!”), I explained “How” to create a business-driven IT Strategic Plan and a prioritized Project Roadmap to implement that plan (balanced with available resource capacities).  These Plans and Roadmaps are the first two critical “Whats”.   Regardless of the size of the organization, the CIO and his/her key leaders will be the “Who” to lead the process to build relationships with the business stakeholders, obtain and understand the needs of the business via workshops and interviews, and then create and communicate a future-state vision, strategic IT plan, and roadmap to get to that vision. 

Similarly, the CIO must gain agreement on and implement the portfolio, program and project governance processes necessary to ensure business alignment and oversight.  For example, at the pharmaceutical company, my IT managers and I would work with each major business process area to create prioritized lists of projects.  Then I would synthesize those into the Top 5 or so Strategic Programs, grossly estimate them and present them to the Executive Team for evaluation and approval. 

This meant there were many requested projects which fell “below the line”, beyond which our resources and budget ran out.  Then, if one business executive wanted one of their projects raised back above the line (and another one dropped below the line), the executives would talk through the trade-offs and make a decision on an exception basis.  This process worked much better than asking the executives to try to prioritize a long list of projects from each other’s areas, many of which they didn’t fully understand. 

Once the prioritized roadmap of projects within the Top 5 Programs are “sold” by the CIO and agreed to by executive management, those major programs and projects must be chartered, planned, resourced, funded, and kicked off in the prioritized sequence.  In the absence of a PMO leader, the CIO and his/her leaders must specify a “Minimum Project Planning Package” to set expectations and provide guidance to all project managers and teams.  The following thought processes must be represented in that package, even if only in a sentence or short paragraph for smaller initiatives.

  • Project Charter or Project Description (Why)
  • Scope Diagram (What)
  • Approach Diagram (How)
  • Summary Work Plan and Schedule (When)
  • Detailed WBS (Work Plan)
  • Resource Supply/Demand Schedule (Who)
  • Cost Schedule (How Much)
  • Risk Management Plan
  • Financial Business Case (Benefits vs Costs – ROI, NPV, IRR, BEP)

To help plan and manage resources to work on those projects, a Rough-Cut Capacity Plan must be created and updated by the CIO and/or one of his/her direct reports (remember, no PMO leader).  The supply of resources by skill level is relatively easy to document by person by month/quarter/year in a spreadsheet.  But the demand for those resources must be estimated by skill level across all major projects and other internal assignments.  These level-of-effort estimates should be reasonable, but are not required to be perfectly accurate.  Therefore, just enough analysis and planning must be performed by the CIO and leadership team for each major high-priority project to have a sense of the resources and timing required. 

Before each project is approved to proceed, it must be reviewed by a Project Impact Review Committee, which is comprised of key application and technical team members.  The project’s technical architecture will be reviewed for conformance with architectural standards and potential impacts on both other projects and ongoing operations.  There likely will not be a formal Technical Architect position in this size organization, so the CIO and other technical team members must jointly create these standards and execute this project impact review function.

Once those projects are formally kicked off, they must be managed according to a set of Minimum Project Management Standards, as set by the CIO and his/her leadership team (again, no PMO).  Depending on the nature of the project, these standards may include a hybrid agile type approach.  Web, reporting, development, UAT and other kinds of project work segments may fit a more iterative, agile type process.  Weekly status reporting, scope change control, and other standard processes are still needed for most larger hybrid projects. 

Without a PMO in small- to medium-size IT organizations, the CIO and other IT leaders can still implement outstanding PMO-type capabilities.  Don’t give in to pressures to shortcut key processes just because your organization is not big enough to justify full time PMO personnel.


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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Randy Weldon

Randy Weldon

Contributing Author

I am a business-oriented IT Executive, Consultant, Program Manager and Business Architect, having served as CIO twice, Director three times, and Consultant (Big 4 and my own company). I love to work with business and IT professionals to understand and help enable their strategies, value streams, capabilities, processes, and needs. Then I help create and implement Strategic IT Plans, Global Program/Project/Product Roadmaps and Governance Processes, Business/Data/Application Architectures, Performance Metrics, Programs and Projects, and other transformational initiatives.
My wife, two grown "kids", and new granddaughter are my joys in life. I love the mountains: fishing, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, and camping.

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