Hard choices



Weigh the pros and cons of staying with the PMO or moving into project delivery.


Q: I'm currently working within a program management office (PMO), and I'm undecided about where to take my career: stay, or move into a project delivery role. What are the pros and cons of each?

A: For PMO professionals, this is a common crossroads in career development. On one hand, some prefer to stay within the PMO because they see it as a more exciting and varied role than that of project manager. Others believe the PMO is a stepping stone to becoming more delivery focused, and they enjoy managing projects.

Here are some of the positives of moving to a more delivery-focused role:

  • The initial transition will be easier because you already have experience with the processes, tools and techniques of project management.
  • You will develop the people-orientated management skills such as leadership, team management and negotiation necessary to progress in project management.
  • A more visible delivery role means more accountability and responsibility.
  • You can broaden your horizons by working on different types of projects and with different teams.
  • With increased experience, skills and responsibilities comes the opportunity to increase earning power.
  • You will have earned your stripes as a project deliverer, and can consider returning to the PMO in the future, as some PMOs require leaders to have program and project management delivery experience.

The potential downside to moving into a delivery role is that some PMO workers find the transition difficult because working within a PMO and delivering a project demand different skill sets and approaches. Some are used to working on project details and find it difficult to delegate.

The positives of staying within the PMO include:

  • Opportunities exist at all levels in a PMO, and there are many types of PMOs within organizations.
  • Because PMOs are a relatively new element to program and project management, there is still much to be developed to ensure they are successful entities for businesses—and your career can be part of that development to maturity.
  • Because PMOs often are seen as the bridge between projects and business, PMO professionals can build essential business skills alongside project management skills.

The potential downside to staying within the PMO depends on the type of PMO and organization. Working within one type, such as an enterprise PMO, means you miss out on other types, such as organizational, which would provide valuable challenges and variation over a long-term career. And when looking to reach the highest levels in a PMO career, a lack of direct delivery experience can hinder you—it's often the PMO glass ceiling. But if you can build up diverse experiences, your PMO career will be much more satisfying.

Q: I'd like to approach my line manager about a raise in salary. How can I make sure my expectations are realistic?

A: We sometimes get sidetracked with how much we might be worth in the wider marketplace and forget that organizations set their own salary levels regardless of how much a project manager with your skills and experience could command elsewhere. So the first step is to understand how salary ranges work in your current organization and how salaries are set for individuals. For example, relative ranking means your salary is set in relation to others within the business that perform the same position.

To understand how your current salary compares with your peers outside your organization, research different options to gain a realistic comparison. Annual reports such as PMI's Project Management Salary Survey can provide more specialized insight into the salary levels of your peers in project management. Local job board advertisements often include salary ranges, and collectively, they can give you a decent average salary range. Salary comparison websites also give a realistic average.

While location and sector plays a big part in your salary level, so does your particular skill or specialty, complexity of projects managed, team size managed and budget size.

A conversation about salary increases also is an opportunity to discuss your current performance. Realistic salary increase expectations are only part of the story; the trick is to bring both together. Your organization should be interested in what it will get in exchange for increasing your salary. Be prepared to discuss your past good performances and your intentions for the following year. PM


Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England. Send career questions to [email protected].




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