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ISO 9001 certification for PMOs: Is it worth it?

Many PMO directors consider ISO 9001 certification for their PMO at some point. Some embark on the ISO 9001 certification path because it is customary to do so, especially in organizations that are focused on product or service excellence. Other PMOs opt for ISO 9001 accreditation to win kudos amongst departments responsible for initiating for project work. Whatever the case maybe only a few PMO directors develop a strong rationale for undertaking such an endeavour.

Before PMO directors contemplate ISO 9001 certification, it is important to understand what ISO 9001 constitutes and how it can benefit PMOs. ISO 9001 is an international quality management standard that is geared towards improving the quality of product and services, through the implementation of key processes and the utilization of measures to determine the operational effectiveness of such processes.

ISO 9001 certification should not be confused with the certification of the PMO’s project methodology. The later is a completely different discipline, and in many ways is less challenging then ISO 9001 certification. ISO 9001 certification requires the PMO to possess more than just a project methodology. PMOs—as a minimum—must establish a quality policy and have a quality manual, interface with major HR and procurement processes, and continuously solicit customer feedback and constantly measure customer satisfaction. In addition to project management culture, the PMO must be orientated towards a service culture and imbue its staff to be service driven.

On comprehending what ISO 9001 entails the PMO director should be scrupulous about the business justification for undertaking accreditation. If the emphasis of the PMO is to deliver products and services to external customers or to bid for prestigious contracts— this is usually applicable PMOs residing within professional services— where quality is an essential prerequisite in the RFP process then ISO 9001 is definitely worth pursuing. Another reason is that the PMO is prone to unproductive processes, suffers from escalated costs and is plagued with low staff morale. Engagement in ISO 9001 certification process will increase the performance of the PMO and instill confidence in its staff.

However, if the PMO is mature, quality conscious and value driven, then ISO 9001 will add little value. In such cases, the PMO can administer an audit of its processes, governance model, and roles and responsibilities. Any gaps that may materialize can be swiftly addressed to enhance PMO’s performance. Going through ISO 9001 in this case would be expensive and probably highlight similar gaps to its internal audit.
There may be instances, where the PMO director is motivated to undertake ISO 9001 as a means of demonstrating PMO’s value to the company by making it the centre of project excellence. This should be avoided at all costs. Instead the PMO director must show value not through ISO accreditation, but through the delivery of tangible benefits for the company. By doing so, repeatedly and successfully, the PMO is automatically recognised as the centre of project excellence throughout the company.

Last but not least, those who opt for ISO 9001 should be prepared for the long haul i.e. ISO 9001 accreditation is relatively easy to obtain but difficult to keep. After the euphoria of project management accreditation, many PMOs struggle to keep their ISO credentials, as periodic surveillance audits disclose a litany of non-compliance items. To reduce non-conformities PMO directors often end up spending more money— through hiring consultants to bridge gaps and extra staff to produce records— than anticipated, thereby undermining the whole ethos of ISO 9001 and end up with a worthless piece of paper.

Abid Mustafa is a seasoned professional with 18 years’ experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specializing in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programmes and projects. Currently he is working as a director of corporate programmes for a leading telecoms operator in the MENA region.

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