The multifaceted role of a PMO (Project Management Officer)
Like the so-called GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – innovation in company organisation is built into the DNA of tech companies. The Project Management Officer, or PMO, is one of its flag-bearers. But what is a PMO? What do they do and what is their place within the organisation?
The role of the PMO
According to OPIIEC, a French joint body that observes professions in the digital, engineering, research, consulting and events industries, “the PMO carries out tasks related to structuring and assisting project management. They may intervene directly in a project via the project manager, or on behalf of the management in order to supervise a portfolio of projects across the company.” They are in charge of monitoring the progress, constraints, risks and compliance of projects, and to communicate any developments. However for Stéphane Bautista, PMO at OVH, “our role is not the same in all companies. It all depends on their culture, their vision and of course their main business activity. In my previous position at an IT solutions provider aimed at the travel and tourism sectors, I was heavily involved in planning. But now at OVH, I’m more of a “scheduler”.
Zooming in on the role of PMO at OVH
OVH is structured into “units”, i.e. work groups that can contain up to 300 people from different areas of expertise. Each group is coordinated by a PMO and led by a Program Manager. The PMO and Program Manager work together as a pair. The latter has a global overview of the projects and is responsible for aligning them with OVH’s corporate strategy.
Gauthier Dubuis is PMO of an OVH Product Unit. He leads a group dedicated to developing products, for example a storage solution or a virtual desktop. “I guide the group’s activities according to a roadmap which we draw up every year. I make sure projects are on track, I facilitate meetings and I see to it that the group is carrying out its mission and delivering the projects as per the roadmap.” This unit basically consists of development and production supervision teams. Since projects often have connections with other units, Gauthier also acts as an interface to help his teams see what is happening in the rest of the company. “This involves a lot of gathering and sharing of information to help see the value of projects in the context of the company’s strategy. This aspect of the job is crucial in a freedom-form or liberated company structure”. He compares his role to that of a facilitator that smoothens the process of implementing projects.
Stéphane leads the “Web – Telco” Customer Unit, which develops solutions according to different customer typologies. He regularly invites between eight and ten representatives of the unit’s various specialisations to sit around a table in order to define and discuss the projects they are working on. These projects could be, for example, studying customer needs, working with a Product Unit to adapt a particular product, launching new products or even implementing one-off promotions. These representatives are responsible for sales, customer service, digital marketing, strategic marketing and finance, as well as development and production. Who takes the final decision? “Everyone! There is no hierarchy, so we come to a decision through collaboration. As in any group, some people are more persuasive than others. But there’s no thumping of fists on tables. That’s not how we do things. All of our decisions are the result of consensus, made with the best of intentions and with a positive spirit.” Stéphane organises meetings, builds the vision of the work groups, makes sure they are well coordinated and that they are making progress while staying on schedule and within budget, identifies potential human resources needs and ensures these positions are filled. In addition, he transmits energy to the employees, giving them the driving force they need to progress.
When projects come to an end, units report to the executive committee via their Program Manager. The management committee doesn’t pass judgement on the work of individuals, but rather the work of the group. Their decisions are based on results in line with previously defined KPIs. According to Stéphane, “this high degree of autonomy is really valuable. It means our unit works a bit like a mini company within a larger one, in charge of carrying out numerous projects.”
What skills does a good PMO have?
There is no single profile of a PMO. After studying at an engineering college specialised in IT, Stéphane took courses at a school of management. “But it isn’t so much my studies that make me a good PMO. It is more my mindset. It’s all about having good interpersonal skills, people skills, being a dynamic person who knows how to inject energy into teams.”
Gauthier undertook a joint study program and has two masters degrees: one in marketing and the other in economics and management. He joined OVH a year ago, after working as a project manager at various digital agencies. “The most important characteristic of a PMO is being able to adapt. You have to adapt to the different people you work with and their areas of expertise. You have to adapt to all the projects, which involves learning about a lot of different subjects. And you have to adapt to unexpected situations which can arise at any moment and which need to be dealt with quickly.” The PMO should also be able to build a relationship with each member of the unit, with the aim of defending their interests at all times. “You have to display initiative and diplomacy, and that’s not possible without a good dose of humility. Because a PMO should be able to breathe energy into teams without ordering them about – just by inspiring confidence. It’s a challenge I face every day – and a really thrilling one.”
The end of “traditional” organisation
Our company is structured according to an approach known as a “freedom-form” or sometimes “liberated” company. The term “liberation” appeared in this context for the first time in the 1990s**. The idea is to support innovation by placing people at the heart of the company’s concerns, valuing them and encouraging them to develop their talents and skills. To do this, we have to question organisations with a traditional pyramid hierarchy. In other words, by taking advantage of collective intelligence and more efficient decision-making processes. It’s an organisational structure that opens the doors to expertise, supports collaboration and encourages creativity. It can be seen in the context of extensions of agile IT project development methods like “Getting things done”, “Extreme programming”, “Scrum” and even “Lean”.
The freedom-form company and “digital natives”
In many cases, it’s becoming more complicated these days to retain employees, not to mention motivate them to engage with their work. That’s why many companies founded before the digital revolution have realised that they need to question their organisational structure. In order to do this, they would have to transform their operations completely. But for “digital native” companies founded in the 2000s, like OVH and the Microsofts and Googles of the world, organisational simplification is in their DNA. Implementing collaborative, cross-cutting ways of working, employing PMOs and encouraging a culture that values human relationships and workplace wellness are some of the most characteristic features of freedom-form companies. Stéphane specifies: “At OVH, we have the chance to undertake training that allows us to develop our sense of empathy, our communication skills and our ability to manage human relationships. Because close social relationships simplify, smoothen and greatly improve our operational performance.”
*The Project Management Office: it’s just not what it used to be, University of Southern Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
**Liberation Management, Tom Peters, former management consultant at McKinsey & Company, Knopf, 1992
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