Structured project management is essential for the timely and on-budget completion of high-cost, high-profile projects that involve many stakeholders. Without dedicated individuals focused on successful implementation and integration of systems during technology projects in particular, institutions may squander months of planning and thousands of dollars due to poor execution.
While there are benefits to distributed project management, various indicators can signal the need for a move to centralized oversight. A proliferation of unit-level project managers, duplicative purchasing of project management tools, and the implementation of campus-wide systems all indicate a growing need for a central project management office (PMO). Central PMOs can be most useful during the implementation and integration of a campus-wide tool, and these kinds of projects offer ideal opportunities to pilot an institution-wide PMO. Other ideal first projects for central PMOs are sourced from functional areas most likely to support the transition to the central PMO—often a business school, finance department, IT department, or construction office.
This resource is part of the Prioritize the IT Projects that Best Serve Your Institution Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.
The utility of a central PMO extends beyond large-scale project implementation and into the day-to-day of IT governance and vendor management. With a campus-wide PMO, central IT is more likely to identify instances when multiple functional areas seek to purchase different technology to accomplish similar tasks, for example. Central PMOs can also facilitate flow of information between PMs in functional units or provide oversight of distributed PMs to ensure their work is successful in furthering the goals of the project.
What kind of PMO is right for you?
Before moving ahead with a centralized office, IT leadership should consider the current organizational structure of project management offices, the age and experience of current PMOs, and the level of existing cooperation among functional areas. Based on the number, maturity, and cooperation of distributed PMOs, central IT may benefit from different approaches:
Does your institution have multiple PMOs that report within dedicated functional areas?
Have the PMOs at your institutions existed long enough to become ingrained in campus culture?
Do project managers at your institution engage in routine cooperation with staff in other units?
If you answered “yes” to most of the above questions, a governance PMO may function more effectivley at your instiuion.
A transition to a more centralized PMO may be more disruptive at institutions with multiple, established departmental PMOs than institutions with less experience with project management methodology. A drastic change in organizational or reporting structure would likely elicit negative feedback from staff members in departmental PMOs.
- Limited bureaucracy and greater collaboration among units
- Ability for PMOs to maintain focus on smaller, departmental projects
- Increased specialization for project managers
If you answered “no” to most of the above questions, an implementation PMO may function more effectivley at your institution.
The transition to a central PMO would be least disruptive at an institution with only a single departmental PMO or a short history of project management. Administrators can better maintain the organizational and reporting structure of a single PMO during transition, minimizing resistance from staff and preventing significant changes in responsibilities.
- Ability to assign project managers to projects that best match their skill sets
- Greater control over staffing levels
- Increased visibility among senior administrators
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Institution-wide project management offices fulfill one of two roles: They manage implementation of all campus-wide projects, or they coordinate project management activities among departmental PMOs to govern campus-wide initiatives.
Governance PMOs tend to have much smaller staffs than implementation PMOs, and serve largely as a coordination function, which allows individual units find the benefits of consultation with peers without losing autonomy in service to their functional units. However, governance PMOs lack the additional benefits an implementation PMO offers beyond facilitation, such as a greater labor pool to allocate based on skills, increased capacity for campus-wide projects, and greater visibility to senior leadership. Of course, these gains come at the possible expense of additional staff and the possibility of increased bureaucracy, and may require greater cultural change.