The Hidden Role of the PMO: Fostering Collaboration

The PMO (the Program Office or Project Office supporting an individual project or program) is there to generally help the program or project in any way they can, but there is one under-developed area that the PMO could improve and extend – their role in supporting team collaboration.

Programs and projects are becoming more complicated and complex, with team sizes becoming increasingly larger, more diverse in terms of the types of people who work on projects and more virtual in nature. These changes in the project environment have led to different styles, techniques and tools from project managers, keen to ensure the team, no matter what factors are working against them, to pull together and work collaboratively to achieve the project objectives and ultimately success.

What is Team Collaboration?

Before we can begin to understand what role the PMO can perform in team collaboration it makes sense to understand what it really means in a project environment. Team collaboration is not just a case of people working together in a team, it is about a team of people working together to achieve a common goal or shared vision.

The “working together” part of team collaboration is about sharing knowledge, learning from one another and building consensus. Working together means solving problems together, all contributing and participating and building a sense of purpose. Team collaboration is not about conversation or building relationships. We use conversation and cooperation to help us reach the optimum of collaborating.

In a project environment for example, this is the team of developers working together to work out how to fix the latest bug or the project manager building the project plan with estimates based on individual team member inputs and discussions. In other words, we start out having conversations within the team that lead to us cooperating with each other and ultimately collaborating to find the right solution to the problem.

What Role Does the PMO Play Today in Team Collaboration?

In PMOs today, the role of supporting team collaboration is very minimal. They may provide a physical space for a project manager and project team to hold a risk management workshop say, providing an environment for team collaboration to take place. They may organize video conferences for project meetings with the project manager and the wider virtual team. More advanced PMOs have thought about the advantages of mentoring programs, where individual team members can be paired with more senior and experienced colleagues for more effective learning and knowledge transfer.

It is also worth noting that there is also an element of confusion around what team collaboration is in relation to PMOs. Tools or systems like a project document repository have been referred to as team collaboration supporting tools. This is because a document store is accessed by the project team members who frequently have to work together in creating project documents like technical specifications. The act of document configuration or version controlling led to the term “collaboration” being used i.e., the ability to work on documentation together, collaboratively.

To be clear, the PMO role today in supporting team collaboration is all about providing an environment, a sense of community for the project which enables the project team to work together better, smarter more collaboratively, regardless of where in the world they are located.

The PMO adding value in team collaboration will depend on the where the team is located. Here we take a look at different scenarios and present different options available to the PMO.

OnSite Projects and PMOs

The easiest environment is a one location project, with the Project Manager and PMO surrounded by the project team, all working together on a daily basis. The team can collaborate much easier just because of their proximity to each other, however team collaboration doesn’t just happen because we happen to work next to each other. Sometimes we need a helping hand.

Here are a selection of ways the PMO can help and support team collaboration:

  • The PMO can create “project rooms,” which are easily booked by team members wanting to work on a problem together away from the hubbub of daily project work. The room contains everything a team needs to collaborate well e.g., whiteboard, pen, Post-it notes, flip charts, projector and so on.
  • Organizing daily “stand up” meetings for everyone on the team. The PMO can facilitate this meeting, freeing up the project manager to concentrate on getting the team working in the right direction, spotting where smaller groups may need to work together on a particular problem or knowing when to bring in a new resource to add new knowledge and experiences.
  • Providing visual overviews of the project and its progress. The PMO can create “project walls,” which display project information which everyone on the team needs to know about. The visual representation of where the project is in terms of milestones, work package completion, potential risks and known issues is a great way of sharing the status, keeping the common goal visible and building a sense of co-ownership and trust because of the transparency.

Remote Projects and PMOs

Projects and programs which see team members dispersed over several different sites within one country or even internationally require a very different level of support for team collaboration. The PMO has to become much more inventive in creating and maintaining a sense of project community. Technology, processes and tools help to support what is considered to be a very people- and soft skills-oriented activity.

So what can the PMO do to help build an environment which promotes team collaboration even when the team is very virtual?

Recreate the Water Cooler Conversations

One of the biggest issues with dispersed teams is the amount of information they miss out on when it’s being informally communicated. Teams that work closely together often take for granted the amount of project information they are picking up through informal channels, which helps them perform their role as well as feeling like part of a well-functioning team. While conversation doesn’t mean collaboration, it is certainly a big part of the process that leads to good collaboration.

The PMO can play a central role in making sure the informal conversations are available to the wider dispersed team by providing the role of cub reporter and commentator. The messaging and discussion areas of project management software is the obvious place to do this and have been used by innovative PMOs.

The PMO is in a privileged position. They are often the ones who are the central hub of a project, talking to the project manager and project team members every day. They hear how Bob and Tony are struggling with a particular issue at the moment in the work stream and know that a shout out to the wider team asking for some input will bring forward a few helping hands. Or the project manager just had a client meeting and there are a few things the team will appreciate hearing like the client PM is on holiday for a few weeks.

It’s not a formal piece of project information, just something that’s good to know. It is these informal conversations that can easily popped into a messaging status by the PMO to help the dispersed teams feel closer to the action.

Building the Virtual “Project Wall”

Just like the physical “project wall,” which highlights everything that is happening on the project, a virtual one can be created using the collaboration elements of project management software. These areas are often underused, mainly because people are unsure of how they should be used.

The PMO can create guidelines for the team, for example, posting each day to share what you’ve been working on and what you’ll be concentrating on tomorrow, the equivalent of the daily “stand up” meeting. Team members working on different work streams are even incorporating popular social media devices like hash tags to quickly highlight which strand of the project they’re working on, making it even easier to catch which updates might be impacting your work.

The PMO should create guidelines that help team members to share, creating updates and discussions which become “sticky.” It should be the place that each team member goes every morning to see what their colleagues are doing. In many respects the collaboration part of the software replaces emails. Emails which are used to request comments on document reviews or provide a summary of actions following a meeting.

The PMO’s role in supporting team collaboration is about recognizing what project team members need in order to collaborate well in the first place. That can mean just building a strong sense of community which makes it easier for people to recognize that this is a strong, close knit team which will value their inputs and ideas.

Using both physical and virtual techniques and tools can help team members become more connected, both to each other and the goals of the project which help form a strong foundation for team collaboration. It is the PMO which is the most suited and ideally placed to provide that help and support.

Take it further: Watch Jennifer Bridges, PMP, in this short video on how to improve your project collaboration skills.

Collaboration is facilitated by the right tools. offers a powerful online ally to help you plan, schedule and track your resources, who can see where they are in the project at a glance and in real time. Try the software out with our free 30-day trail.

Written By: Lindsay Scott


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