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The skills that make a great PMO professional

The many faces of the PMO

The role of the PMO within organisations varies – for some it focuses on the project delivery level, for others it is way above at the portfolio level and for everyone else, somewhere in between.

It is this wide variation in the types and remits of PMOs that has made working within them such an interesting career choice. Working within a PMO can appeal to anyone – from the Project Administrator at the beginning of their career to a Head of Portfolio working at board level after many years of varied experience.

Yet it is this diversity in roles within PMOs that has made it difficult to clearly understand what makes a great PMO professional.

There is a lack of understanding about the types of skills and competencies required to work within them. There is also a gap in learning and development in project management which focuses on the PMO role.

In short, there are no real courses for PMO professionals which directly address the role they perform. There is also a lack of career development and career path understanding which makes it difficult for PMO professionals to plan their careers moving forward.

What is clear from this is that the PMO branch of project management – just like project management – is still developing and maturing.

For the PMO professionals working today, it is an opportunity to catch a ride on the journey as PMOs become increasingly mature fixtures within organisations. Yet it is also imperative that PMO professionals take control now and address some of the current gaps in their own PMO knowledge, skills and career development.

So what can PMO professionals start doing today? Well the great thing about working within a PMO is that your knowledge and skills are not just confined to project management. Apart from having to  consider programme management and portfolio management, PMO workers have a variety of other options open to them.

That’s the beauty of a PMO job, the job requires different facets, and the following are just some of the options available:

PPPM – Competencies in Project, Programme and Portfolio Management

The first port of call for addressing the basics a PMO professional should have in place is PPPM. There is an expectation that PMO professionals have knowledge and accreditations in the core areas of PMO, these include:

  • Project Management
    • Techniques – planning, scheduling, risk management, change control etc
    • Processes – reporting, quality, finance, control etc
    • Standards – methods, lifecycles, governance, regulatory etc
    • Programme Management (as above and in addition:)
      • Resource management
      • Interdependency management
      • Benefits management
      • Portfolio Management (as above and in addition:)
        • Prioritization
        • Opportunities and investment analysis
        • Strategic alignment

Organisational

PMOs often have a wider business or organisational focus and a different set of skills come into play. PMO professionals can consider module training to help them develop organisation-based skills which all have a bearing on the environment a PMO operates in.

If ambitions lie in the direction of portfolio management office for example, these areas should be considered in a career development plan:

  • Business planning
  • Regulatory control
  • Strategy
  • Performance management

Wider Business Function Skills

PMO professionals often work where specialist knowledge is required, and as a result these training and development opportunities will exist outside of PPPM.

It is not uncommon to see PMO professionals with strong skills in areas such as finance, planning and resource management. These people have developed strengths in areas which benefit the PMO organisation, but crucially they have developed experience which is in demand in the marketplace.

Specific training modules and on-the-job training can help PMO workers go above and beyond expectations by bringing in other business disciplines into their everyday work. Having a wider appreciation or even a deeper understanding of some of these areas should be considered:

  • Finance/accountancy
  • Procurement
  • Commercial / legal
  • Data Analysis
  • Business Analysis
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Human Resources

PMO the People Organisation

PMOs act as a focal point in an organisation- interacting and building relationships inside and outside the business. Working with the project management team, senior managers, third parties, clients and so on requires advanced people skills. Yet this is an area that is often neglected when it comes to professional development.

PMOs have suffered over the years from premature closure and being seen to offer little value or benefit to an organisation.

Working within a PMO often means being prepared to fight the stereotypical views many within the organisation will have.

By focusing on the “softer” side of professional development it makes the “harder” task of maturing PMOs just that little bit easier. Consider these areas when thinking about more personal development:

  • Stakeholders management
  • Influencing
  • Negotiation
  • Communications
  • Presentation
  • Facilitation
  • Consultancy

PMOs and the people that work within them have had a raw deal when it comes to professional development. After taking the same courses as project and programme managers there is very little available that focuses purely on the PMO role. For PMO professionals today, it is about understanding the wider skillsets needed to implement and mature PMOs.

As an organisation structure or entity it needs skills and experience not found exclusively in project management. It is the PPPM, organisational, business and interpersonal skills that also make great PMOs and great PMO professionals.

Author bio

Lindsay Scott is Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists and co-editor of Handbook of People in PM.

Find her on Twitter @projectmgmt

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott is Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay recently created and hosted The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmob

3 comments

  1. Hi Lindsay, thank you for this post, really informative. I am a chartered accountant and currently work as a finance manager in an SME. I also run my own event planning company with a friend.
    I am looking into changing careers and I have always had a passion for project management. I love to work with people and to see a project – personal or professional, come to a completion gives me a sense of value.
    I would be most obliged if you can assist me with ideas into breaking into this market and how i can make a smooth transition into becoming a successful PM.

    Many thanks,
    Kemi

  2. Interesting your vision, Lindsay! Thank you for sharing knowledge about PMO’s.
    I think that some leadership skill and resilience have a huge impact in a PMO career, too.

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