Most staffed PMOs will rarely have sufficient Project Managers to manage all of an organization’s projects since the average size of a PMO is still fewer than ten full time staff and an average project portfolio is likely to have at least a dozen active projects. The one exception to this would be true projectized companies.
Faced with this common situation, one choice is to employ contract PMs within the PMO to address such resource shortfalls, but such a model is not likely to be considered if there are capable, willing staff within functional areas of the organization that could manage some of the projects. In addition, by encouraging project management functions to be somewhat decentralized, it increases the likelihood of PM practices being institutionalized (i.e. the outcome difference between giving a man a fish, and teaching a man to fish).
Two fundamental questions that should be answered before executing this approach are:
1. How do we identify which projects are appropriate candidates for management outside of the PMO?
2. What expectations regarding methodology and practices should be required for the non-PMO managed projects?
If these questions are not considered, there is an increased risk to project outcomes and potential for political “churn”.
To answer the first question, a set of objective criteria should be defined, approved and communicated. Common criteria which could be considered include:
- Size of project as measured in person days, cost, function points or a similar parametric measure
- Degree of cross-functional or cross-organizational involvement or impact
- Degree of strategic alignment
- Inflexibility of key project constraints such as schedule, quality or cost
- Overall risk score or profile
Just like project identification and approval practices, it is best to apply multiple criteria to define the thresholds that are used to identify those projects that should be managed by PMO staff.
The trickier question relates to consistency of execution and practice. In some organizations, the PMO holds sufficient formal authority to be able to mandate compliance with established methodologies whether or not its staff are expected to be directly involved with project execution. Even in these seemingly utopian environments, the challenge is that without significant automation, there is no guarantee on compliance and it is very difficult to measure the quality of PM practices and outputs even if the processes themselves are being followed.
A different approach, and the only realistic one in those environments where the PMO does not have formal authority, is to define a minimum set of rules that should be followed for the projects managed outside the PMO over which the PMO has some responsibilities. For the remaining projects which are managed outside the PMO and are are of a sufficiently low profile, providing a proactive, comprehensive project management foundations training curriculum and relying on functional leadership and oversight should suffice.
A PMO should not assess the enterprise project portfolio as a single entity for oversight and reporting purposes – acknowledging there are many “shades of grey” will help a PMO establish the right working balance when defining who and how to manage individual projects.