Leading Successful PMOs

Authors: Peter Taylor
Publisher: Gower

There are plenty of books “out there” on project management tools and techniques, and plenty about setting up and running Project Management Offices (PMOs). Peter Taylor has set out to write a book to guide all would-be and current PMO leaders, focussed on leading PMOs rather than managing them. It includes views from various PMO stakeholders, from Project Managers to C-level executives, and some accounts from successful PMO leaders.

What makes this book different from others is that it touches only lightly on the mechanisms of project / programme / portfolio management and how a PMO runs, and instead focuses on the features and attributes of successful PMOs, and by extension the features and attributes of successful PMO leaders.

The book starts by drawing together some basic PMO principles and concepts, defining in chapter 1 what a PMO is and what it does. It then describes the various types and operating modes of PMOs, as well as the stages of PMO maturity that a PMO can be expected to move through (from ad hoc to optimised). It gives suggestions for the basic services a PMO could offer, and the first of a very insightful series of Acid Tests (it asks how long it would take the CEO of your organisation to recognise your name; too long and you need to invest a bit of time working on your profile!).

Chapter 2 examines what makes a PMO successful, delivered in the form of a series of accounts or “voices” from leaders of successful PMOs. It contains some pithy and memorable maxims from each leader (e.g. “Tailor your PMO to your business needs”; “Aid but don’t burden”), most of which you should probably know and be doing already, but there are probably some that you don’t. The second half of this chapter presents the results of Peter’s own survey of 822 project managers and PMO managers (to which I contributed, so I shall be invoicing Peter in due course for my 1/822 = 0.1% share of the profits). This produces some interesting statistics, most of which conclude (unsurprisingly) that PMOs are a Good Thing.

Having dealt with the PMO, chapter 3 offers to the PMO leader the following advice from several voices (viewpoints): be passionate about projects and project management; don’t be afraid to lead a unique PMO that fits the needs of the business; the PMO will succeed better under a leader than a manager (i.e. a champion rather than an administrator).

Chapter 4 outlines how to start a PMO, beginning with obtaining executive support by describing the “pain” that the PMO will ease, writing a business case to show the costs and benefits of setting up a PMO, and quantifying the costs of not having one. It recommends using the current situation as a baseline, measuring the effects of PMO implementation (increased maturity, more successful projects), and using the (hopefully) good results to market the PMO to all stakeholders. To avoid the extinction that befalls many PMOs, it advocates demonstrating the PMO’s continuous improvement; starting with the business and linking back to projects – not the other way round.

Chapter 5 rounds the book off by looking in the crystal ball to a time in the future when project managers no longer need PMOs, and Executives on fast track graduate programmes spend a stint in the PMO as well as in Operations, Sales and Finance. I think this is some way off, but I think that what Peter is getting at is that PMOs will exist as long as they add value to organisations; the trick is in seeing how the value can be added and to add it.

This book analyses the various types of PMO and their characteristics without recommending any single one as the panacea to all project management ills; rather it invites the reader to consider which is the best fit for their own business. It provides check lists, tests and suggested actions to help PMO leaders to evolve their PMOs to continually add value, thereby increasing the chances of PMO longevity.

Peter has found an excellent tone of voice in writing this book; it sounds like a seasoned “old pro” mentoring a well-respected up-and-coming colleague. This book lacks the humour of The Lazy Project Manager (which initially disappointed me), but by the time I had reached the end of the book (which at 186 pages including appendices took me only a couple of hours) I found I was no longer missing it.

All in all I found this an enjoyable and informative read, with some new thinking based on original (informal) research. I would recommend this book to all PMO leaders, and those aspiring to become so. At £35 RRP it isn’t cheap, but it’s the kind of book you’ll come back to again and again.


January 2012 – Reviewed by Ken Burrell PMP® The Managing Director of Brilliant Baselines Ltd, Ken Burrell is a Masters degree-educated and PMP®-certified freelance PMO Manager with four years’ PMO experience and five years’ project management experience in Engineering and Financial Services. Ken gives senior managers analysis to make project portfolio decisions, and gives project and programme managers support to deliver solutions. Ken is motivated by challenge and adding value in the Project/Programme/Portfolio arena.

Open Positions

Share your Project Management Book Recommendations

Interested in project management books?
Would you like the opportunity to read and review a project management book for the Arras People newsletter?
Contact us to find out more information