4 reasons PMO staff need project management backgrounds

4 reasons PMO staff need project management backgrounds

PMO Staff need project management backgrounds. The role of a Project Management Office (PMO) is one of governance and standards.  They are the administrators of how projects are run within a program or portfolio, ensuring that processes and procedures for good project management are followed, and providing an assurance function to check that things are being reported correctly.

It is important that the staff working in the PMO have project management backgrounds. Here’s why…

1. Quality assurance needs to be seen to be real

Quality assurance, that checking to ensure that things are being done correctly, needs to be real. Not ‘something we do to keep the PMO happy’.  I have seen this often, where staff working within the PMO don’t have strong project management backgrounds and so when they ask the assurance questions they are not provided with true answers, or given credibility ( the “what would they know they’ve never worked on a project” mentality). The PMO staff then don’t ask the right questions, or question the answers they are given, because they don’t have the knowledge to.

If you are going to have a PMO function it needs to be seen to be worth it’s weight in gold.  Project Management staff need to know that they can rely on the  PMO team for support and to provide real quality assurance. They need to be able to keep the PMs honest.  The PMs then know they really are being held accountable and therefore how important it is to be honest and provide quality output.

When Staff in the PMO have project management experience (either as PM’s or Project Coordinators, for example, with hands on experience and training) they really do know and understand the issues within project land, and can assist in not only capturing the reporting for assurance purposes, but provide advice or guidance, or escalate issues if more extensive support is required.  Without the staff member having this experience and training they would not be in the right space to provide this, and therefore not adding real value to the project or in the PMO function.

2. Training and assistance with process and procedure needs to come from those with the right level of knowledge

Some staff working within project teams, may themselves be junior members with training wheels on, gaining and strengthening their own experience.  The training and assistance that these staff need from a PMO is paramount to their ongoing survival not only on this project, but also in the broader context of working on projects.    Well trained and knowledgeable staff within a PMO can help support new staff on ‘the way we do things here’, ensuring that the correct methods and procedures are being followed.

If the staff within the PMO, are themselves very junior and inexperienced in the project management practices it will be a case of the blind leading the blind, and of little value to either staff members.  The PMO needs to be seen to be adding value at all times, otherwise it is of little value to the organisation it is operating in.

The PMO staff also need the ability to see where a process or procedure may not be working for the broader project teams, and have the knowledge and skills to suggest improvements and change, for the betterment of all. Sticking with a process simply for the sake of it, is a waste of everyone’s time.

3. Staff need the authority and ability to question (with authority)

PMO staff must really know what they are talking about.  Which is why it is important that they have hands on experience and knowledge of project management.  Can you imagine a senior PM being questioned about something he’s done, by someone from the PMO who really has no idea what they are talking about.  It’s frustrating. When a PM’s busy (which most of them usually are), the last thing he/she needs is someone questioning them about something they know nothing about.

It is therefore really important that the PMO staff know and understand why they are asking what they are asking for and can back that request up with authority.  This not only creates that ‘added value’ that is needed for a PMO to be worth anything, but also creates a level of respect between the PM’s, project team members and the PMO staff.

4. Respect for the PMO function needs to be earned and held with project staff

Which brings me to my last point which is the earning of respect.  PMO staff must earn the respect of other project management staff by walking the talk, knowing what they are about, being sure of what they are doing and why, and working collaboratively with the project management community (PM’s, Coordinators, Analysts, etc and anyone else involved that they need to interact with).

This respect needs to be earned through that understanding of what it is to have to manage a project, gained through their own experience and knowledge. This experience will help them understand when it’s time to back off a little, when it’s okay to put the pressure on, and when it’s time to escalate etc.

Consider the value that a well performing PMO can add to an organisation.  In order to create such a dynamic you MUST have the right staff with the right skills, abilities and qualifications.


Written by Karen Munro