It is often the case that along with the experience of project, programme, or change management comes to the responsibility of setting up a PMO. “It’s just another project”, right?

No. Complementing the current Project Management practice in an organisation is no small feat and should be considered and thought about before embarking on the delivery of a brand new function.

PMOs are critical for the successful delivery of projects and change

The above statement is true. However, there is a perfectly legitimate reason why an organisation may choose to not have a PMO in place. Maybe the organisation is very small and cannot justify the spend to set up a new department. Maybe it is perceived as difficult to support a function that doesn’t (necessarily) directly deliver projects or value to the critical bottom line. Whatever the reason, and although PMOs are indeed critical to successful delivery, as the Business Leader setting up the PMO, we must take time to understand the rationale, the why; or the why not.

Things a Business Leader Can Do to Help Successfully Set up a PMO

1) Know Thyself

The first step is to look inwardly and understand where your strengths lie in terms of setting up a PMO. With project, programme, or change management experience it is easy to assume the job is basically the same. But do not get blinded by your own ego!

With the identification of your strengths, you will also find weaknesses, areas of PMO you do not fully understand or even believe in.

Top Tip: Learning is doing

Educate yourself on the key aspects of setting up a PMO utilising tried, tested, and independently reviewed content such as the Wellingtone PMO Practitioner or Change Management Practitioner courses and wider Academy.

2) Know the Organisation

Take the time (if you don’t already) to understand the organisational culture. Remember that culture is a tricky thing, it will drive how things get done, what is important, how people talk, as well as behaviours seen in the organisation.

Do not assume that the PMO model you had in a previous company (or that you read in a book), applied blindly, will automatically work. With culture, comes the project management DNA. And every organisation is different.

Top tip: Call 3 people

Call 3 people that have been involved in delivery to understand what works and what doesn’t. If a PMO has existed before, call those people, and understand why it was disbanded. Remember to ask what works well (good stories will help you to achieve a balanced view of reality).

3) Know your Customers

Considering the PMO as a provider of services, we must understand our customer’s needs. PMO Customers are often defined as internal people and teams who are involved in or impacted by, or interested in the project management practice in the organisation (Wellingtone).

Identify who your key customers are, and work with them to identify the best fit practice solution for your PMO need.

How to set up a PMO when faced with resistance

Now, the Technicalities

Setting up a PMO can bring with it resistance so below are some of our key themes that will help to reduce resistance, and provide a stable base for your PMO to embed, grow.

1) Manage and Organise the Setup as a programme

Several streams of work will need to happen for a PMO to be successfully defined, designed, and delivered. Considering the project management experience, you may already have, acknowledge that the requirements gathering and delivery of each stream needs a different set of skillsets.

This means two things:

  1. You should not be doing everything yourself!
  2. You need different teams to deliver different aspects

Knowing this, logically you should organise yourself as a Programme of Work. Remember the definition from the APM:

A unique, transient strategic endeavour undertaken to achieve beneficial change and incorporate a group of related projects and business as usual (steady-state) activities.

APM Body of Knowledge – 7th Edition, APM

Top Tip: As a Programme of work, it is imperative that you have a Change Management specialist working alongside you to fulfil the responsibilities required for successful change management and embedding of transformational change.

2) Build a Business Case

Ensure that you take the time to create a Business Case. This enables a variety of things to occur:

  • You can do research to identify the need, best response, and define the PMO and its customers
  • You can take the time to design the right best fit practice model that will support the organisational culture
  • You can manage the expectations of your Customers through the approval process, ensuring that there are no nasty surprises after you have delivered your solution
  • Allows for portfolio inventory to take place so you get a feel of what is already available and how many projects are underway.

Top Tip: Remember that there will likely already be some structure in place in the form of templates like a RAID log, processes that have allowed project accounting to take place, amongst others. It may be that they exist in pockets of excellence and are not standardised. And if this is the case, then consider that your PMO is not starting from scratch and has something to start working with.

3) Collaboration is the Key

The PMO is not about showcasing you or your years of expertise, it is in fact about managing the PMO FOR projects. For the Customers.

Relationships are the key to successful PMO development. Focusing on building a community of practice that enables sharing of ideas and experiences will support your bid to win over your Customers with enhanced discipline and ‘bureaucracy’ that will respond to the need for the PMO in the first place.

Top Tip: Remember that resistance is inevitable, but most reasonable professional human adults will not walk out of the room if we work with them and explain the overall aim of what your PMO is trying to achieve.

4) You Actually DO Need a Roadmap

Many believe that they can develop the PMO organically. However, this approach often fails to deliver true maturity in the project management practice long term. Organic growth is great once the team is embedded, and the community self-sustaining.

To build an effective roadmap, consider mapping your organisational maturity with a benchmarking exercise (maybe even against other companies in your industry), and figure out what level of maturity you want to get it. Take a look at the Wellingtone PMO Maturity Assessment for more info on how this works.

Remember to stretch but also be realistic with your aspirations. If you are starting from zero, level 5 out of 5 might be ambitious on your first pass.

Top Tip: When developing your roadmap, don’t look further out than 18months – 2 years. The world is volatile uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, so you can safely assume that your environment, scope, and objectives will change over time.

5) Plan for Engagement

The power of a good engagement strategy should not be underestimated. If we don’t plan for communication, learning, and sharing events, they will inevitably fall by the wayside when everyone remembers that they are time-poor and have too much to do.

The single biggest organisational challenge is trying to do too many things at once

Plan in advance and commit to your engagement plan to ensure that your Customers become and remain engaged, and your relationships continue to flourish.

As integrators of people, process, knowledge, and structure it is the PMOs responsibility to ensure that the community feels like they have a safe space in which to develop, fail, and succeed.

Top Tip: Get your engagement plan online through your intranet or SharePoint spaces to ensure that your Customers have constant visibility of the next opportunities to engage, and the act of publishing will help the PMO team to commit to them happening.

In conclusion

There is no one size fits PMO. That makes the journey extra interesting!

Taking the time to define, design and deliver the PMO thoughtfully, with the end goal in mind, and with a virtual head-on, will ensure that your best fit practice approach supports the organisational DNA, culture, and current portfolio of change.

Remember that your Customers are #HumanFirst and as a PMO we need to engage with the humans first, the delivery individuals second. Do this and your PMO is bound to succeed.

Take a look at our other article on our FuturePMO website that can give you more tips in setting up a PMO and can help to supplement the information from this article. Our PMO 3D transformation service can also give you a head start with some key steps.

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Emma Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma Arnaz-Pemberton
Consulting Director FAPM, MCMI, MPMI, MIoD PMO-CC, MoR, MSP, PRINCE2

Published: 11 March 2022

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