How to build a successful Project Management Office in 4 easy steps

Often, Project Management Offices are considered too difficult, timely or costly for businesses to implement. While it is true that setting up a PMO could be all of those things, I’d argue that building a PMO is just like building anything; a house, office building, or a product; it’s made of stages and steps. And when a tried method is followed, success is as simples as the four questions outlined below.

Where are you heading? – This part is where the business really has to be able to articulate what it wants out of its PMO. Do we need a PMO? Is it necessary or just the flavour of the moment? If the answer to this question is yes, the organisation will need to ask: do we have a vision for our PMO? As mentioned above, PMOs come in all shapes, sizes, and of course acronyms! The aim of this question is to understand what the business is building, constructing, designing or, simply put, the end goal.

At this stage, it is all about vision. It’s not necessary to plan every part of the PMO, but rather to understand why it is needed. The how and what will come later. It is vital, at this point, that the implementation of your PMO is conducted just like any other project. How will the benefit of this PMO be measured by the business? How will value for money look? Incorporate these into key performance indicators and establish regular monitoring. Grab the attention of senior management, have a project sponsor from the beginning and run this as an organisational change project.

What is the design of your PMO? – This stage is all about the end product and the details of what will it look like. Why not start with the one of the most important people in the process: the end users. The question we’re trying to answer is: what are the needs of your organisation, considered in light of the vision for your PMO? The answer to this is often about the level of capacity and skills. This can be achieved by conducting a survey, doing interviews, or other means to assess project capabilities. If this doesn’t seem appropriate, this can also be achieved by simply inviting communications about what a PMO would mean to the business. You may want to ask stakeholders involved in the process. It’s most important that at the end of this step you understand the needs, concerns and expectations of participants in the PMO relationship.

How will you plan and build your PMO? – Based on the design of your PMO, select your governance structure and methodology. The methodology selected has to be based on the skills of current staff and the direction of the organisation. A mature organisation may be able to define their own methodology while others will use more simplified tools. Remember, templates that produce lots of paper does not equal great project management (it can lead to DBP – death by paper). Just as having Microsoft Project does not make you a scheduler.

When it comes to staff, or trusted advisors as I call them, be specific. Provide job descriptions, target interview and most of all, ensure that all candidates understand the vision. Managing the change of introducing a PMO should also not be underestimated. Plan your change, communications and end user buy-in strategies to address the following questions: How will this change be implemented? What kind of support is available for the staff? Why should they care about the change? How will this change impact their working lives? Finally, establish a review or feedback line, such as an email account, to capture data on the process

What will you change? – Review your PMO. Wait at least 12 months to review how things are progressing, be patient and allow the skills to develop the business to become accustomed to the PMO before changing it. Of course, this point has to be balanced against common sense, if something is causing a significant operating issue then fix it then and there! Otherwise, be patient. Capture requests for feedback over the time of the project and duration of its use. Collate these, be transparent and communicate the feedback with the organisation. Fix, refurbish or detonate those parts that of your methodology or the PMO approach that just don’t work. Look at the outcomes of the feedback from the business and act accordingly. To use a building analogy – sometimes the foundation needs work, other times you’re ready for the inground pool!

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Lisa Twyford

At the start of my career, I learned quickly that many organisations were full of good intentions, but all too often lacking the skills and know-how to execute effectively. That’s why I founded clear decisions™ over 12 years ago. My vision was simple, I had a desire to help businesses and their people move through change projects with great success.


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