Virtual PMOs – a survival guide

A PMO might be just the means of achieving your company’s project portfolio management objectives.  Of course, establishing a staffed PMO can incur significant hard costs as well as messy political infighting so savvy sponsors sometimes prefer to start by just dipping their toes into the shark filled waters of organization change.

If you are the coordinator of a virtual PMO, you have a good opportunity to demonstrate your ability to lead a staffed PMO in the (hopefully near) future.  Of course, behind every opportunity is a risk waiting to kick it off a cliff so the following tips might increase your odds of surviving this privilege!

1. Know your role (and make sure that everyone else does too): Many PMOs suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield-syndrome of “No Respect”.  This is aggravated in the case of a virtual PMO where you won’t have dedicated staff nor the political influence that comes with direct reports.  A formal definition of the services scope and authority for your role should be communicated and reinforced with stakeholders to reduce the likelihood of expectation gaps.

2. There’s only so much of me to go around. PMOs tend to be chronically understaffed and this is especially true when it comes to virtual PMOs!  Focus on high value services and automate (or delegate) as much as can be effectively automated.  A PMO should be a facilitator for timely, beneficial business decision making, so if you are finding that all your time is being consumed in administration or in being the “process cop” to project teams, it’s time to start climbing up the food chain.

3. Be a missionary.  The virtual PMO leader is often the sole champion for project management within their organizations.  To succeed, you must help key influencers to “see the light”.  This can include delivering such activities as lunch and learns, helping junior project leaders plan and deliver projects, seeking opportunities to present project management topics on behalf of your company at conferences and effectively “selling” the value of project management to executives.

4. Measure, communicate and envision.  A successful virtual PMO leader is one that knows where the organization was, can quantitatively prove how the changes introduced have helped the organization and can paint a picture of where the organization could be if the PMO function continues to evolve.  Leadership is often satisfied with “good enough” – when the sharp pains associated with a total lack of project management are reduced to mild pangs, attention shifts to other priorities.  A good PMO should be able to sell the business benefits of increased capabilities.

5. Make friends and influence people.  Much more so than for a staffed PMO, a virtual PMO relies on influence and indirect reporting relationships to get work done.  Building on point #3, like all missionaries, strive to answer the following two questions for your stakeholders and influencers:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • What have you done for me lately?

Running a virtual PMO can sometimes make you feel like you have been cast into a dark pit.  However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars”.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: | 1 Comment

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