How Agile Mid-Market Companies Establish Structure and Governance Without a PMO

Over the years, NeuEon has worked with many mid-market companies facing a unique challenge: how to realize the benefits of a structured Project Management Office (PMO) with limited resources.

Mid-size and large firms have similar project ecosystems. Like large enterprises, mid-size companies:

  • Manage large, complex projects. In fact, both mid-size and large firms share an average project budget of $500K, as opposed to small companies whose average project budget is only $104K.
  • Execute multiple projects simultaneously, often affecting the same stakeholders, processes, and platforms at the same time – making visibility into cross-project dependencies critical to managing risk.
  • Use multiple delivery methodologies, with a tendency to use more traditional delivery approaches for operational-type projects and Agile methodologies for software development. Yet, at the end of the day, they all need to roll up for a holistic view at the highest level.  

Large enterprises manage these challenges with full-time, permanent PMOs, which are seen as integral to project and company success. Mid-size companies, however, commonly don’t have the manpower or financial resources to create a dedicated PMO – even one as small as one full-time individual. PMOs are often viewed as “nice-to-haves,” not necessities. Those that have put PMOs in place struggle to find the right balance of governance and flexibility.

Balancing Structure with Agility

Mid-market companies need to be as nimble as a startup, but with the structure provided by a PMO. How do these companies find the right balance to realize the benefits of a PMO without incurring too much overhead? Here are three ways our clients have found success.

  1. Prioritizing what you need.

Project Management Offices can take many forms and provide many services. Most actively coordinate the alignment of projects and reporting of key metrics to upper management. Some also provide a consultative role to projects by supplying templates, best practices, and training. Others are more controlling, ensuring adoption and conformance to certain frameworks.

Mid-size companies need to keep it simple. Decide which PMO capabilities will benefit your organization most. Select one or two to start, and create a repeatable discipline before expanding the role.

Keep benefits and risks in mind as you prioritize and develop the capabilities that will bring the most value to your company. Pay particular attention to risks that may damage the PMO’s credibility, for example, underestimating the effort required to collect and report on data in an actionable way. Credibility is essential to PMO acceptance and impact.

One of our mid-market clients struggled to keep track of progress for reporting across the dozens of projects they had in-flight. They standardized on a project management tool that allowed the system to automate the reporting process. Rather than using valuable resources to collect and manually report on the data, they were able to use those same resources to spend more time analyzing pre-built dashboards and metrics to make real-time adjustments across their portfolio. Managers were also able to view status at any time and use the information for upward reporting.

  1. Creating a lightweight coordination process.

When projects involve the same stakeholders and affect the same processes and systems, coordination becomes difficult. Companies tend to rely on meetings where numerous people from each project team converge to share status and identify dependencies and risks. This is not only an ineffective use of resources, it also brings on the frustration of meeting overload.

We recently introduced an Agile approach (even though they’re not completely Agile) to address this challenge. They adopted a process based on the “Scrum of Scrums” concept. Each project team designates one member as an ambassador to participate in a weekly meeting. Each ambassador is responsible for reporting progress, escalating issues, and making sure projects are coordinating effectively. By timeboxing meetings to between 15 and 30 minutes (depending on the number of active projects) and limiting updates to only deliverables that have been completed, they are able to be extremely efficient and effective. It is a lightweight solution to cross-project collaboration and has worked well for them so far.

  1. Engaging outside help.

Many firms find that working with outside experts to provide the help they need is highly beneficial. In some companies, this may be one or more contract project managers who lead their projects independently but come together regularly to collaboratively identify and document any risks or issues that threaten the success of their projects.

Companies may also engage with firms that provide not only individual project managers, but a proven project management framework and experience-based depth of program and project management knowledge. These firms can almost always scale the amount of structure and governance they provide based on your company’s budget, needs, and culture.

Regardless of the size of your company, be aware of your limitations, and implement project oversight strategies that are easily manageable. Track project failures and their causes. Start small and expand slowly. 95% of large companies have PMOs for good reason. As your company grows in size and complexity, you may need one too.

Feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more about how our clients are making it work.