People Over Process: A Project Management Office (PMO) for Sustainable Growth
Project management is often shrouded in mystery. We pull back the curtain on what it is and how PMOs can help teams succeed.
Project management is often shrouded in mystery. It’s a process that people are vaguely aware exists, yet the details are foggy. As a project manager, I’m pulling back the curtain to explain what a project management office is, how they help teams succeed, and how we imbue our people-first approach into project management.
What Is a Project Management Office?
I am the founding member of Pliancy’s project management office (PMO), the team that executes project management work. PMOs are responsible for improving project management by improving efficiencies. They create and maintain documents, track progress, and provide guidance for moving projects forward. Depending on their size, these teams employ project managers, support staff (schedulers, planners, controllers), project coordinators, and project analysts.
Project management offices are often stereotyped as siloed departments cut off from reality. You may imagine prescriptive sticklers who care more about rigid project management methodologies and charging towards success metrics rather than the process that gets us there.
But even among the most prescriptive of us, one thing remains true: PMOs exist to help you achieve success.
How Can a PMO Help You?
Let’s use a simple example to show just how much a PMO can help you. Imagine you’re in charge of a project to replace every light bulb in an office. Seems pretty straightforward, right? I bet the person who assigned the task thought so.
However, like any project, there are a ton of little (and not-so-little) things that many people don’t think about until the project is already well underway. Things like:
How many bulbs do we need? Are they all the same size, shape, and type?
Are any bulbs being changed from one size, shape, or type to another? Do we need cross-functional feedback to decide what kind of replacement bulbs to select?
Who is our light bulb supplier? Do we need or want to collect quotes from multiple suppliers? If so, how long will that process take, and what stakeholders will be involved?
What is our bulb budget? Will we need to purchase any equipment or pay any contractors to execute the project?
Who is responsible for physically replacing the bulbs? Are there liability issues that would require certificates of insurance or other documentation?
Do the bulbs need to be replaced outside of regular business hours? If so, do we need to request special weekend or evening access to the building? Will installation involve non-exempt employees who must be paid overtime?
How should we get rid of the old bulbs? Can or should they be recycled? Are there city, county, or state requirements regarding safe and environmentally friendly disposal?
It’s clear this project is much more complex than screwing in a light bulb, tossing the old one out the window, and calling it a day. A project manager helps with:
– Project plan development
– Risk assessment
– Timeline management and accountability
– Definition of scope
– Success metrics
– Celebrating your wins
A PMO Centered on People, Not Process
It’s easy to get overwhelmed without the support of a PMO—especially while your other responsibilities compete for your time and attention. A project management tool like Asana, Monday, or Trello may even be hurting more than helping. You might feel scattered, disorganized, and just plain stressed.
As your project manager, my first concern wouldn’t be how messy (or blank) your Asana boards are or how many RFP emails you’ve sent. My first question during check-in meetings is often “How are you feeling?”
I really want to know. If you’re stressed, let’s talk about why. Is it related to your team dynamic? Does it have to do with your workload? Is it something in your personal life? As long as you feel comfortable discussing it, I’m here to listen.
Made-to-Measure Project Management
Here’s the thing: there are a number of project management methodologies designed to fit different project types, but ultimately it is a deeply personal endeavor.
To set a project up for success, you have to understand the brain of the person leading it and the team members involved. You must take into account their thought processes, their collaboration styles, what overwhelms them, what else they’re working on, and even the time of day when they prefer to work. All of these qualities can impact project roles, workflow, deadlines, decision-making, project performance, and more.
As a project manager, I don’t want to be known as a person who only pokes their head in when something is wrong. No matter the stage of the project, my colleagues should know that I’m right there in the trenches with them, celebrating every win and overcoming every obstacle together.
Flexibility Over Frustration
Deadlines are a perfect example of how a person-centric approach to project management breaks away from PMO stereotypes.
Popular belief is that missing a deadline is the end-all-be-all worst thing that can happen, and that project success becomes impossible if this happens. Yes, there are times when a due date is absolutely not moveable. In those cases, I’ll give you all the tools I can to help you meet it.
But missing a deadline is not, in and of itself, a failure. No matter how well-managed a project is, life will always throw a wrench in the gears somewhere, somehow. Being a good project manager means accepting that fact and knowing how to recover.
A Holistic View of Success
In short: I make a plan to break a plan.
In the grand scheme of things, we can almost always make adjustments so that duties feel balanced, goals are attainable, and deadlines are manageable.
I believe that a successful PMO should not be evaluated solely by the volume of projects taken across the finish line. Instead, we should give the team’s welfare equal weight. Is completing as many projects as possible truly a victory if it costs your colleagues their mental health and emotional well-being?
For me, the answer is no. I would much rather complete fewer projects in a way that is healthy for my colleagues in the long run. This is the type of PMO I would want to build at any company, but at Pliancy, I have the added support of an organization that believes compassion is a vital part of everything we do.
When we say we put people first, we mean it. By making decisions that protect the long-term interests of our teammates (and ourselves), we build a stronger foundation for our organization’s future.
Project Management at Pliancy
For many companies, employing a dedicated project manager wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Creating an entire project management office, however, is not the norm. Pliancy’s growth shows no signs of slowing, and establishing a PMO has been identified as a strategic necessity for the company’s success.
A scrappy, start-up mentality can take you far; that’s a huge part of Pliancy’s history and our DNA. But as any company grows, there is a fundamental need for process. That doesn’t mean restrictions and guardrails purely for the sake of it. Instead, it means supporting our colleagues so they can focus on the core technologies and client relationships that drive our business forward.
Building Toward Something Greater
The project management team will pave the path toward sustainable growth with accessible guidelines, clear documentation, and a bird’s-eye view of everything our colleagues create. (We’ll make sure they have the right light bulbs, too.) Building this mission-critical infrastructure will allow us to accomplish bigger, better, and more ambitious things.
Pliancy has never been satisfied with the status quo, whether in our approach to IT or the way we value our employees. With the support of a PMO, who knows what we’ll revolutionize next?
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