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Conducting a PMO Assessment

jason orloske pmo project management Jun 01, 2023

As a consultant, I love doing assessments. Why? Because assessments help clients identify pain points and areas of opportunity. My favorite is the PMO assessment. Whether considering standing up a new PMO or revamping an existing, doing an assessment is a key initial step to setting one up. Though there are PMO maturity models, which are all good, I don't like to talk about those right away. Most clients want to see better delivery results first. Though maturity models are great, I won't make reference to them here. My goal is to give you assessment areas to consider when you're asked to do one.

A while ago I wrote about questions that can be asked when being asked to setup a PMO. You can read that here. These questions will test the requestor(s) as to whether a PMO is wanted and needed, or not. Assuming this test was passed, it's time to move onto the full assessment!

A couple things to start here. First, find someone (preferably at the C or sr. exec level) to authorize and fully support you; the Executive Sponsor. Second, these assessment steps below are general and can be used when setting up a new or assessing an existing PMO. It's up to you to decide which are relevant and which are not. When doing an assessment, ensure this is a CROSS-FUNCTIONAL exercise. The more input, the better.

Finding the PMO's "WHY". Though this is listed first, it may be defined in your assessment last. WHY is a question that must be answered before moving from the assessment phase to creating the PMO's business case. As discussions and interviews take place, look for those common themes and turn them into a WHY statement. When the sponsor or exec committee asks why is a PMO important, you'll want a good answer.

Strategic Alignment. Yeah, I talk about this a lot when discussing PMOs. But, it's a pretty big deal. Understand how strategy is determined and also how project decisions are made to achieve organizational strategy. Is there any governance in place and if so, how effective is it? Are there trade-off and priority discussions at this level? Do people feel strategy and supporting governance is effective? How many "Pet Projects" get spun up?

Perceived Stakeholder Value. If the PMO is existing, do stakeholders believe it is delivering value to the organization? Or, if standing up a new PMO, do stakeholders believe it will be valuable? This can be hard to assess, especially if they've never worked with a PMO before, but a topic worth discussing.

Existing Processes and Tools. Document the processes used today. Ask questions about their effectiveness, what's working and not working, and if they're used consistently by project staff. Dive into the tools. Ask if the tools dictate the process, its ability to meet the needs of the teams, reporting abilities, integrations, and issues. I'm always surprised how tools are selected and the processes are adjusted to the tool vs. the other way around. Ask historical questions about why processes and tools were selected and used.

Project Staff. Evaluate the existing or proposed (for those new PMO's) staff. Are they seasoned PM's or fall in the "accidental" category? Uncover gaps and whether or not training is needed right away. Project Managers are out there every day representing the PMO, so make sure they're well prepared!

Current Project Portfolio. Dig into the current portfolio of projects, both those in progress and those on the (hopefully prioritized) backlog. One of my favorite questions I like to ask is how many #1 priority projects are there? If the organization is mature, there's one. In a company that's more reactive and immature, a whole bunch and probably not a lot getting done. Understand how people and resources are assigned and if they understand their priorities, too. Get a feel from the project staff and key stakeholders about how the portfolio is prioritized and amount of work in progress at any one time.

Reporting and Communications. What are the reporting metrics in use today, and are they important to the intended audience? Get a feel for what reports a PMO leader needs, what functional managers want to see, and metrics the C-suiters find important. Reports are a look into value delivery, so make sure you know what's needed to prove ROI. Also, look at communication cadence and means by which to share this information. Is it email, meeting, bi-weekly, weekly, monthly for the execs, etc? 

Project Quality Considerations. How is quality baked into everything the PMO and project teams do? Your key stakeholders will want the output right the first time, not on the second or third time around by doing production bug fixes. Take time to talk about and understand quality concerns.

Organizational Change Management. How does the company react to change? If you plan on creating a new PMO or revamping an existing, how will that change be accepted? It will also determine how fast you go in its implementation.

Financial/Budgeting. A PMO ain't free!! Assess the budget and how costs will be tracked. If this is a PMO where travel is required, understand T&E budgets and limitations. Sometimes departments, like a PMO, are funded under a specific department, number of departments, or cost center. Understand where the money comes from.

Assumptions & Risks. Every project has these, and doing a PMO assessment is no different. When you're interviewing people, note anytime you here "Well, I'm assuming..." and "Ya know, one risk I see is..." If you pay attention, these will come up more than you may have initially thought. Keep a section in the assessment dedicated to this. Also, understand how assumptions and risks are documented for each project.

Vendor Management/Relationships. Because 3rd party vendors can be a big part of a project, understand who manages and owns vendor relationships. Sometimes it's the PMO, other times a separate management group. Know where those lines are drawn.

Project Delivery "Pain Points". Think of this as your last "catch-all" question. 

Your assessment is now complete. Yeah! You're probably sick of asking the same question to a diverse group and typing/writing/scribbling all types of information. Now it's time to put it all together.

I won't tell you how to put all the information together in a report (Google can give you templates and suggestions). I will highly encourage creating an As-Is/To-Be process model, though. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and creating a graphic of how things are done today, the pain points, and where the PMO will go in the future is a great communication and alignment tool. This will also help get approval to move to the next step; the PMO Business Case (which ironically will be the next PMO blog post!).