Lean and mighty

how a little PMO made a big impact fast


Deborah Pratt, Coventry Health Care, Inc.



In these challenging economic times, organizations are expected to do more with less. This is a story of a health care company that launched an information technology project management office (IT-PMO) that made big organizational impacts very quickly with just a few full-time employees supporting the initiative.

“Lean” refers to the size and purpose of the IT-PMO. Lean is not just about being lean in numbers but thinking lean. It is pragmatic. It strives toward “just enough process.” There are only three full-time employees supporting a 2,000-person IT organization with a motto “Process with Purpose.” “Mighty” comes from the strength provided by the members of the IT-PMO, the Working Group that supports the initiatives of the IT-PMO at a grassroots level, and the Focus Group that serves as a higher level advisory review board before initiatives are rolled out to the organization.

This paper examines the creation of the IT-PMO, including the structure and the deliverables during the first 10 months. Each section of the paper includes lessons learned along the way. The lessons learned are presented in order to provide a takeaway list of successes and opportunities for improvement that other PMO leaders can use to keep their PMOs lean and mighty.

Forming the IT-PMO

The company’s chief information officer (CIO) initiated the formation of the IT-PMO.

The company itself had grown significantly over the last five years via organic growth, mergers, and acquisitions. The IT division had grown to more than 2,000 employees and was organized by functional areas, each having their own PMOs, project management processes, and tools. Recognizing the benefits of developing enterprise-wide project management standards, the CIO sponsored the formation of the IT-PMO and hired the IT-PMO vice president (VP) as a direct report. This action was in keeping with the IT goal to gain greater cost efficiency and delivery of products and services to business partners while simultaneously driving higher quality outcomes and performance levels.

The IT-PMO VP further refined the vision of the CIO, recognizing that the approach for the IT-PMO must center around the concept of “lean”—both strategically and tactically. In order to be effective, the IT-PMO team members had to have a balance of both education and practical experience, the ability to successfully articulate/advocate the IT-PMO message, as well as a proven track record of successful project delivery. “Lean” also meant that both method and deliverables produced required a well-established, well-understood purpose.

By the end of month one, an initial framework and roadmap was created to establish the direction of the IT-PMO.

Organizational Change Management

In order to succeed, the IT-PMO needed to grow support at the grassroots level of the organization. This was deemed necessary to implement IT-PMO goals and objectives as well as provide additional insight into the IT organization. First and foremost, a disciplined and structured change management process was applied with the goal of implementing organizational change successfully. The key principles of sponsorship, engagement, and support structures were applied. The IT-PMO then formed multiple groups in order to introduce these principles and goals within the IT organization itself.

Sponsorship—IT Senior Leadership

Active sponsorship of senior leadership was critical, beginning with the CIO’s championship of IT-PMO initiatives. The IT-PMO VP also worked closely with peers to garner support for the vision. Buy-in of the framework was solicited. In addition, IT Leadership was asked to provide the resources necessary to establish/adopt corporate standards within their respective functional area. They were also asked to visibly support the work of the IT-PMO with their management and staff.


The continued engagement of the rest of the organization was formalized by establishing three key groups: The Line PMO Leaders, IT-PMO Focus Group, and Working Groups.

Line PMO Leaders were identified soon after the creation of the IT-PMO. One Line PMO Leader was identified to represent each functional area within IT. These individuals were selectively chosen for their knowledge of project management, their historical knowledge of projects within the organization, as well as their ability to advocate for the IT-PMO within their functional area. They assisted in the adherence and adoption of IT-PMO standards by monitoring the quality of deliverables such as dashboards, assisting individuals with new processes and standards, and acting as the first line of contact for methodology-related questions or issues. Line leads also served on Working Groups as needed.

Line PMO Leaders reported directly to their respective functional VP. It was best to have the line leader report outside the organization they are working with. This allowed the line leads to raise risks and issues to their respective VPs and IT-PMO without being unduly influenced by their direct managers. Line leads met together with the IT-PMO on a bi-weekly basis. See Exhibit 1.

IT-PMO (Enterprise) and Satellite (Line) Relationship

Exhibit 1. IT-PMO (Enterprise) and Satellite (Line) Relationship

The Focus Group assisted in the development of the IT-PMO framework and acted as a sounding board for its vision and strategy. The Focus Group consisted of leadership including managers, directors, and VPs from each functional area of the organization. They served as an advisory group and not as a decision-making body. Members of this group rotated over time to give opportunities to others to serve and bring a fresh perspective. The Focus Group met monthly.

Working groups were formed as needed, acting as a project team to support a specific IT-PMO initiative. For example, working groups were formed to refine the project methodology templates and processes. Their objective: ensure standards were met and deliverables were rationalized across IT functions.

Working Groups were supplied with the draft templates and processes prepared by the IT-PMO, target delivery dates, as well as the rules of engagement. Members of the working group were mandated to actively participate in the rationalization of deliverables. They were also expected to harness the knowledge of their peers and colleagues.

One or more representative from each of the functional areas within IT was included in each working group.

Support Structure—IT Training

Support structures drive organizational change; therefore, a strong linkage was established with the IT training department. Trainers participated in working groups in order to understand the documents and processes discussed. They also developed the training materials needed for the initial rollout. Later, the courses were turned into eLearning in order to be available on an on-demand basis. Additionally, these courses became mandatory for new hires.

Takeaways from Organizational Change Management

  • Identify IT leadership as key stakeholders.
  • Establish formalized grassroots support organizations to rationalize templates and processes as well as assist in their adoption throughout the organization.
  • Ensure all IT areas are represented in all groups established.
  • Ensure deliverables meet the needs of varying types of projects.
  • Establish a rotation schedule for members of the Focus Group.
  • Build a strong relationship with the training department and include them in your Working Group.

Developing a Current State Assessment

The IT-PMO needed to understand the current state of project management across the organization to comprehend strengths as well as areas of opportunity. Therefore, a project survey was created in order to capture the data necessary to assess organizational maturity within the various PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas. This survey included questions regarding the current project culture, the types of projects within the organization, an identification of the tools and processes that worked well, as well as an identification of known gaps or issues.

Members of the IT-PMO traveled to various IT locations in order to conduct one-on-one interviews with 80 project managers, managers, and directors. The survey was used to drive the conversation, as well as to record data. Many individuals also spoke “off-the-record.” While these comments were not formally documented they did influence the vision, processes and templates developed later. These interviews also provided an opportunity to collect current project management and SDLC templates and processes as well as historical project artifacts.

Takeaways from the Developing a Current State Assessment included:

  • Meet with project managers in person in order to develop a current state assessment as well as garner ideas.
  • Be flexible with the questions and not focus on scripted questions only.
  • Keep the discussions confidential.
  • Review the data periodically.

Developing Corporate Project Management and SDLC Standards

The initiative to develop corporate project management standards began immediately after the Current State Assessment. This was completed in five months. A foundational process was laid down beginning with a process framework (see Exhibit 2). The framework consisted of the project management processes of Initiation, Planning, Executing and Control, and Closure. The Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) was standardized within the Executing and Control process. Key project management controls were also established in order to provide standard status reporting.

The approach developed focused on the mantra “just-enough process” and was anchored in Gartner best practices (Gartner, 2005).

The IT-PMO began by reviewing a collection of internal project management-specific templates gathered during the Current State Assessment. Templates available in the public domain were also reviewed. Each of the templates and samples were analyzed to determine the fit and value for the company. Emphasis was placed on ensuring nothing was process-heavy or contained redundancy. After drafts of the documents, processes, and other deliverables were created, Working Groups were formed to shape the deliverables as well as develop training and rollout plans. The training material was developed by IT Training and then approved by the Working Group.

Project Management Framework

Exhibit 2. Project Management Framework

Targeted training began with the project managers and was eventually opened to the remainder of IT. Training was conducted in person at major IT locations and via the web for remote users. Working group members also attended training sessions in order to assist the trainers. Questions, comments, and concerns brought up during the training sessions were taken back to the working group.

As part of this initiative, an IT-PMO Knowledge Portal (see Exhibit 3) was created and consisted of a referential sub-portal and project site sub-portal.

The referential sub-portal housed the process flows and templates developed, as well as document samples. A link to a Project Management Reference Guide was also included. This document defined the standards as well as other data necessary to use the new processes and templates effectively. Other site material included announcements, an IT-PMO calendar, and links to pertinent organizational sites.

IT-PMO Knowledge Portal

Exhibit 3. IT-PMO Knowledge Portal

The project site sub-portal was developed to facilitate a “grab and go” concept for the deployment of a project. Project managers could now request the creation of a project site, which would then be delivered with pre-populated method and standard templates. These templates were used as part of project execution.

Project dashboard reporting was introduced to provide status updates for senior IT and business leadership. A reporting site was developed to house all project dashboards. Key success indicators were also standardized (cost, schedule, resource, scope, risk, and vendor). Each project reports the status centered on the six controls or keys to success. In addition, escalated risks and progress against major milestones and planned budget are reported (see Exhibit 4).

Project Dashboard

Exhibit 4. Project Dashboard

Following the standardization of project management, the waterfall Systems Delivery Life Cycle (SDLC) methodology was defined. This was completed in five months. The approach was similar to that used to develop the project management methodology. However, the participation of more subject matter experts was needed to ensure the breadth and depth of applications development needs were addressed, such as legacy vs. client server systems, data architecture, information risk management, etc.

Takeaways from the creation of corporate project management and SDLC standards:

  • Examine a broad collection of templates and processes and determine what makes sense for your organization.
  • Address training and deployment requirements up-front. A sound and realistic plan is required in order to maximize adoption.
  • Rely heavily on subject matter experts to ensure templates and processes meet organizational needs.
  • Engage the Line PMO Leaders and Working Group when the deliverables are approximately 80% complete (Pareto rule).
  • Involve the organizational managers to whom the project managers report—they have a significant influence on their staff.
  • Plan on a variety of mechanisms to assist staff in the use of the new methods and processes.
  • Explain the purpose and benefits of all documents and processes; otherwise, in areas of lower process maturity, the staff may consider these documents as “overhead.”


Crisp and timely communications were vital to the success of IT-PMO objectives. A communication approach was developed to make certain the IT-PMO vision and standards were transmitted clearly, as well as to ensure news of organizational adoption successes and challenges were communicated back.

A weekly Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) call was put in place for the project managers and their line management. This call provided an opportunity for the project managers to raise questions and issues regarding the methodology, as well as share ideas. This meeting was held weekly as the new standards were initially deployed, and is now held every three weeks.

A Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP) was also established to provide venue for discussion of project management topics (Gartner, 2008). In this forum, project managers and leads share tacit and experiential knowledge about their work. Guest speakers were sometimes invited. The initial group consisted of 100 project managers/leads and grew to include nearly 400 participants. The group meets monthly.

Line PMO Leaders established a variety of mechanisms to reach out to those in their respective IT area, including but not limited to participation in monthly functional area project status meetings and establishment of dashboard review meetings for their respective functional VPs.

Members of the IT-PMO continue to travel and meet in-person with end users whenever possible. Feedback is often translated to changes to the current processes and templates via a quarterly release process. No suggestion is too minor. All recommendations are given consideration.

The IT-PMO VP leads a monthly review of project portfolio status and metrics during senior staff meetings. Focus resides on the projects that are either at risk or not tracking. Emphasis is placed on “crisp decisioning” and risk mitigation. The IT-PMO VP also continues to meet with peers on a one-on-one basis as needed.

Takeaways from Communications include:

  • Effective communication is critical to ensure effective buy-in and adoption. Establish a variety of channels at various levels of the organization to communicate vision and standards, as well as to learn what is and is not working.


Process improvement is a continuing journey, not a one-time event. The IT PMO must continue to strive toward increased maturity of IT capabilities on all fronts including people, processes, and technology. Deployment of standardized project management and SDLC methodologies were completed in a timely manner. The IT-PMO led the process and organization to enhance IT’s effectiveness by keeping lean in both numbers and approach.

Because the rollout of these methodologies, a standardized agile process was deployed and compliance processes/standards were introduced. Development of two additional areas within the IT PMO is planned: Quality Assurance Center of Excellence (QA COE) and Business Process Improvement (BPI).

The IT-PMO has learned that positive change is a constructive as well as a destructive process. The structure and implementation approach eliminated “parochialism” or “not invented here” attitudes. Initial standards are enhanced when innovative, effective ideas are proposed by the practitioners. New ideas are lifted and scaled across the organization.

Looking to the future, the “Lean and Mighty” philosophy will continue to be vital, and the lean IT-PMO must continue to rely on the might of the larger IT organization. Methodologies will continue to be examined for effectiveness and will be enhanced if warranted. PMO goals will continue to drive performance in alignment with IT and business strategies.

Final Takeaways:

  • A lean PMO must consist of highly motivated employees who will drive the delivery of processes and standards as well as advocate purpose.
  • Align the PMO vision with the overall IT and business strategies.
  • Communication is vital. Establish many channels to communicate outward as well as to receive feedback.
  • Expect change to be a constructive as well as a destructive process.
  • Always stay mighty by having a wide network of supporters!


Gartner, Inc: Light, M., Hotle, M., Stang, D.B., & Heine, J. (2005, 22 November). Project Management Office: The IT Control Tower.

Gartner, Inc: Fitzgerald, D. (2008, March 2008). Toolkit: Establishing a Project Management Community of Practice.

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) 4th ed. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2010, Anjali Rastogi and Deborah Pratt
Originally published as part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Washington, DC



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