Eight Tips to Build a PMO

    2=Planning, 3=Execution

  •  Minute Read

Some Project Management Offices (PMOs) never get off the ground. I've seen others that are implemented and a year or so later die a slow, painful death. So, how can you build a PMO, one that thrives?

team building a PMO

Why Are There So Many Troubled PMOs?

Many PMOs fail to realize their potential. Why? There are several reasons, but one of the top reasons is the failure to engage key stakeholders.

Let us never forget–PMOs should be built for the people, to help organizations, teams, and individuals achieve their objectives and realize the benefits. Therefore, doesn't it make sense to engage these stakeholders and ask for their input?

If we take an aggressive, top-down approach to building our PMOs, we are asking for problems. People have ways of undermining the PMO's effectiveness. Consequently, our best efforts may be in vain.

Let's look at eight tips for implementing a PMO.

"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." –Aristotle

Eight Tips to Building a PMO

1. Obtain PMO Sponsorship

Without a strong, influential project sponsor, the PMO implementation is doomed. Don't have a sponsor? Then don't create a PMO. Because you will be fighting an uphill battle, one that you will likely lose.

2. Clarify the PMO Objectives

Define specific, measurable objectives. How will you measure the success of the PMO? What are the Key Performance Indicators?


Objective. Something toward which work is to be directed, a strategic position to be attained, a purpose to be achieved, a result to be obtained, a product to be produced, or a service to be performed. –PMBOK® Guide, Seventh Edition

3. Select the Type of PMO

Be clear about the type of PMO being implemented. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) describes three types of PMOs:

  • Supportive - provide support to project managers in a consultative role. Provide templates, training, best practices, and lessons learned. Control is low.
  • Controlling - require project managers to follow a project management framework or methodology using specific tools and templates. Control is moderate.
  • Directive - projects are managed by project managers in the PMO. Control is high.

4. Identify and Engage Key Stakeholders

If you are the project sponsor for implementing a PMO, allow me to make an earnest appeal. Please consider strongly the engagement of key stakeholders. Invite them to your early meetings to discuss the current project management issues and limitations. What are the strengths and weaknesses? What changes would they like to see? Furthermore, continue to engage these stakeholders throughout and after the implementation.

5. Develop a Project Selection and Alignment Process

Define a process to ensure projects align with the organization's mission and objectives. What criteria will be used to select projects?

For example, the project selection criterion might include:

  • Strategic importance: Does the project tightly link with the strategic plan?
  • Financial viability: Does the project contribute to the financial success of the organization? Is the project profitable?
  • Flexibility: Does the project provide business and technical flexibility to accommodate future changes?
  • Risk: How high is the risk? What is the project risk score?
  • Regulatory compliance: Is the organization required legally to comply with new regulations?

Based on the criterion, cancel current non-value added projects. Transfer resources to value-added projects. Certainly, resource management across the project portfolio is a critical success factor.

Additionally, some organizations also use a gate review process. At certain stages of each project, the project is reviewed to ensure continuous alignment.

6. Define the Scope of the Implementation

What will the initial implementation include? How do you know when you've completed the initial project? Consider the following:

  • Where will the PMO be located physically, as well as organizationally?  Will the PMO be layered? For example, an enterprise PMO may have subordinate PMOs.
  • Will the PMO adopt a more adaptive delivery approach (e.g., Agile Center of Excellence)?
  • What type of PMO will it be (e.g., Supporting, Controlling, Directive)?
  • To whom will the PMO report?
  • Will the PMO have project managers that manage strategic projects for the organization? 
  • Will the PMO provide training and support to project managers in other business units or departments?
  • What other services will the PMO provide?

7. Teach Project Management

While implementing the PMO, provide project management training. Provide templates to aid project managers in their planning and execution. In addition, offer to mentor and support project managers during their projects.

8. Continue to Improve the PMO

Periodically, engage your stakeholders and evaluate the project management framework, tools, techniques, templates, life cycles, as well as the projects. Develop and maintain lessons learned.

How to Jump-Start a PMO

Thinking about starting a PMO? I recommend that you develop a project charter with your project sponsor and key stakeholders. Define the problems you wish to overcome, goals, deliverables, assumptions, constraints, and top risks to a successful implementation. You can build a PMO that you are proud of through early collaboration with your stakeholders, persistent leadership, and staying focused on delivering value to your organization. Best wishes!

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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications

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