Getting a PMO Out of the Gate

Setting up a program or project management office (PMO) to oversee company-wide IT initiatives can be a daunting task, especially when no formal processes currently exist beyond the individual project manager level.

Since few would dispute the benefits such an effort can garner — getting control over costs, processes, procedures, project redundancy and relevance, etc. — the problem is often one of how to get started, said Joe Topinka, CIO at RSM McGladrey.

“The task can appear overwhelming if you are starting from scratch,” said Topinka, who set up a PMO for the Bank of New York and is in the process of doing the same for McGladrey, “just get started.”

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Often easier said than done but, like most things, small steps are the best when tackling a big job. First, start with deciding what exactly you want from the PMO, said Fumiko Kondo, managing director of the consulting firm Intellilink.

Is it better coordination of effort and resources; eliminating non-mission critical projects to save money; cost control; quality control; instilling best practices throughout the organization; all of the above?

Once you find some staffers (these can come from either inside or outside of the company depending of the structure and scope of the PMO) the next step is to start identifying all current projects and projects in queue and stop, temporarily, all incoming projects as you evaluate what you have, said Topinka. From there you can develop a process for project introduction that everyone must follow and re-start the pipeline.

Once you know what is going on, you can then start to rationalize what you have by categorizing each project by importance: Is it customer facing? Is it mission critical? Compliance related? etc.

But don’t go after every single project right away (you probably won’t be able to anyway), said Topinka. Start with a handful of projects, introduce the new methodologies and see how things work out. From there, after you tweak the process, you can then apply PMO directives with a broader brush.

“Again start at a simple level,” said Kondo. “Let’s define top-level processes before we start getting into more specifics in it. So it’s sort of an ongoing process of categorizing and sub-categorization and getting to a detail level.”

A few years ago you would have been lucky to have a spreadsheet program to start with (and you still can) but today there are any number of off-the-shelf portfolio management applications aimed at making your job easier, said Topinka. Methodologies also abound for achieving your goals once you know what they are. The wisdom here: Don’t reinvent the wheel … customize it to meet your needs.