Often when one thinks of a PMO, they think about the processes and governance that guides the project managers.  The leadership that is required of such an organization is often a second thought, and at times not considered at all.  This article is going to look at the type of skills one would hope to have within their PMO, as well as the what it takes for a person to transition into that type of role.

First, let us look at what makes the role of a PMO leader so unique. A person in this role should have a good understanding of not just one framework such as the PMI PMBOK, but also other frameworks such as the multiple agile frameworks and even Prince2.  Without this understanding, how can a leader make decisions as it relates to how their methodology will not only work within their organization, but in the event, they are a contractor who contracts out their services, how it will work with their customers? This leader also needs to have a lot of trust in those that are providing them with suggestions and recommendations and be a strategic thinker to ensure they stay moving forward, and do not just stay with the same processes because they work.  Project management is an ever-changing environment, and with new software and new project types, one must be an innovative thinker and be able to think outside the box.

This leader will face difficult decisions that range from the documentation that is going to be required, to the specific processes that will be put in place.  They will need to be able to identify when the process is being over-processed, and ensure that they are not setting up a PMO that is focused on control, but a PMO that is instead in place to be an enabler. PMOs often get a bad reputation because they are police departments of control points.  In instances such as this people often do everything they can to avoid the PMO; where in the case of an enabling PMO they are sought out. Sometimes with these difficult decisions the leader will not always make everyone happy, so this leader must be understanding and have empathy as well.

This leader must have at least a high-level understanding of different compliance and regulatory issues as these will need to be factored into their PMO methodology that they identify.  Working collaboratively with any compliance departments they should be sure that controls are in place that do not put their organization in danger. If this leader hires contractors, they need to be sure that the contractor also understands any internal compliance and regulatory factors that must be considered.  I have heard some companies tell a client that they no longer need to worry about compliance because that is not a part of agile.  This is where knowledge comes in; not everything a vendor may tell you is necessarily true.

When you consider the four frames of leadership you see structural, political, human resources, and symbolic.  In a book written by Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal, ‘How Great Leaders Think:  The Art of Reframing’, they describe these four frames and even provide a chance for a self-assessment.  What you see is that as a leader progresses, the frames that they work in also advance.  If you have not had the opportunity to take a leadership frame assessment I would recommend doing so.  This can help you identify where you are comfortable operating as well as areas where you may need to improve.  This book will also help you understand as a leader of a PMO the different frames that you work in.  From a structural perspective that centers on roles, policies, and structure; in the political realm it deals with negotiations and compromise; in human resources it cares about the people and their growth; and in symbolic you become the vessel to inspire and communicate the vision.  These are very important in the PMO role as often this is helpful in putting forth a positive image of what the PMO is, and the value that it can bring.

One thing that I would strongly recommend, is to remember that a PMO is strategic, a change champion, and there to enable the project teams, not be a hindrance to them.  It may have tactical components, but I strongly believe it is strategic in nature.  Too often the PMO puts process in where process is not required; as a leader you need to be able to recognize “process for process sake”.  When staffing your PMO it is also important to have the right people in the role.  I have seen many project managers and agile coaches try to make the transition to PMO and they are unable to for several reasons.  Moving into a PMO role means you are no longer down in the weeds on all the projects and some people just want that level of interaction.  Others find it difficult to try to decide the direction because they have never been in the position to have to look outside of what they know, or they are the type of people who only see their way as the only way. 

Ultimately, you want to staff your PMO with people that are about options; they don’t lock into process for the sake of having a process; who have the ability to see things differently; sees the big picture and understands what worked in one situation may not work in another; ability to think on their feet and make fast decisions based on experience and knowledge; and ultimately understands that they are there for the organization and not to just support the project managers.  You need a leader of change; of thinking out of the box; that is there and able to take you forward.

 

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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Alyce Reopelle

Alyce Reopelle

Contributing Author

Over 20 years project management experience with a passion for helping organizations grow their PMO, their project managers, and their teams.  My passion has taken me to the pursuit of a Doctor of Education, as I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb come on.  I am a believer in continuous growth and improvement, and believe that an organizations culture and environment is what drives the growth of PMOs and all areas, and not the other way around.

 

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