Project based management is a widely spread practice in the business world because of its effectiveness in generating competitive advantages. However, it cannot be effective without the support of a strategic project management office (PMO) that actively helps define corporate strategy.
Unfortunately, project management is not applicable in the same way in every organization because companies do not all share the same processes, functions or need for oversight (what we call “maturity” in project management).
For this reason, we distinguish between different levels of maturity according to the workings of the project office, from the most basic to the true strategic PMO:
Low maturity of a strategic PMO: Inventory and control
In corporate environments it is essential to make an inventory of all the initiatives that are under way. That is the mission of a PMO of low maturity: to gather and consolidate information about all the projects and other relevant activities to report where resources are being invested.
Medium maturity of a strategic PMO: coordination
The next step for a PMO is to have the ability to forecast problems and, consequently, to tackle them. This function is common when the PMO coordinates the resource allocation. For example, during periods when there is a high volume of work, it is the PMO that should be aware that projects are accumulating and identify bottlenecks.
A PMO of medium maturity aims to improve the efficiency of the organization, recognizing possible conflicts in the planning process and proposing solutions.
High maturity of a strategic PMO: strategy and business
The highest maturity of a PMO is achieved through a fit with the corporate structure that makes it the right hand of the Board of Directors. This fit implies a governance model where strict methodologies are followed while the most important practical decisions are taken, precisely, based on the information that the PMO offers.
In these cases, the project office becomes a key element for the corporate strategy to become a reality.
Strategic questions for a high maturity PMO
A strategic PMO should be considered as an internal service that offers practical information, answering questions like:
What is the status of the project portfolio?
Are resources scarce? Does this shortage affect cashflow?
Are we executing projects that are no longer worthwhile?
Which proposals or ideas will improve the current portfolio?
What kind of new processes can be implemented as a result of the experience acquired from past projects?
However, this approach does not allow a PMO to fully develop its potential. Strategic PMOs have a proactive spirit: they collaborate with the management in strategy development and manage all project-based work.
While PMOs should be empowered, at the same time they should leave the most important decisions to management. For example, if a protocol is put in place requiring the cancelation of projects with a budget greater than a certain amount (for example, € 500,000), it makes sense to warn directors beforehand allowing them to authorize or indeed veto the final decision.