Setting up a PMO function in an organisation will deliver a wide range of benefits but needs careful preparation and planning

Ntegra’s Chief Operating Officer Rob Glenister gives 10 tips which will set you up for success.

1. Do you need one?

Having a Project Management Office (PMO) can sometimes seem like the answer if governance feels a bit lax, or projects controls are slipping, and decision makers aren’t getting data they need in a way that helps them make the right decision at the right time. However, establishing a PMO can take a lot of resource and could be overkill, especially for small portfolios. So, before you determine you need one, ask yourself (or seek some specialist support!) in asking what are the problems I am trying to solve? Could some short-term work to standardise process give me what I need? Could I establish some project support staff to take more mundane work from delivery staff because they can’t get to what they need to?  The message is, be sure a PMO is what you need.

2. Get Prepared

Once you determine the need for a PMO, be conscious of the energy that you will need to put into building it. It will not happen overnight both in terms of operational output or acceptance by the business – so make sure you have the time and emotional capacity to commit to it. Be sure to choose your PMO lead wisely, as well as being experienced and competent in delivery, able to discern trends and engage with senior management, they will need to be energetic and act as a change agent for the business. Do not under estimate the soft skills required to help the business understand why they are doing this. 

3. What does your PMO need to look like?

If you search the internet, read books of knowledge and talk to peers’ odds are you’ll get as many different definitions as to what a PMO is and what it should look like as searches you’ve done. Everyone’s got an opinion and mostly they are all valid! However, this is your PMO, so design it to meet your needs. Yes, understanding core PM practice is key, but due to the nature of the work, you may want you want software experts, procurement ninjas, or soil experts (I’ve seen it!) to form part of your PMO.

There is also sometimes a view point that should be rebuked where PMO staff are seen to be somehow junior or the PMO is a training camp for senior PMs. Your PMO needs to be formed of experienced knowledge people who understand both technical delivery and governance & proprietary – if you build it with junior inexperienced people, you’ll get junior inexperienced output.

The important part is you have an experienced team around you who understand governance and reporting, but also that they understand the business, so they can support the delivery teams, highlight best practice and offer insights to decisions makers on what the data trends could be showing – this analysis is where your PMO really adds value. Don’t be constrained to a mono-functional team!

4. Plan the establishment!

As well as a rather practical selling point of demonstrating you and your team can practice what you preach, Practice what you preach! It is essential you have a plan that shows how you will go from conception to a fully operational PMO. Therefore, write a project plan that takes you from conception to fully operational to the quality that you expect to be seeing, including all the change management activities. Not only will this help you understand how you will go about establishing the team and output, but guard against a business demanding immediate results and if you can show people how it can be done, taking them with you will that much easier.  

5. Obtain senior level buy-in

One of the most powerful and essential things you will need to do is get the senior level buy-in to your plan. Show them what your PMO will do, what it will look like and when it will be fully operational. Show them how their business needs will be met in incremental phases, the benefits you will bring – but also what support you need from them. Remember you will be advocating your team and its benefit to the wider business – you cannot succeed unless you get top-down support too. A board level champion to support you is a very powerful asset.

6. Identify ways to show value being added early

You are likely to encounter resistance from the business to any change you are seeking to make to their ways of working, especially the classic “that’s the way I’ve always done it and I always deliver on time and to cost!”. So be prepared to set out and explain what benefits the change will bring to people at their desk on a day to day basis, as well as the business as a whole – show them what’s in it for them. Therefore, plan some quick wins that show you are making an impact. This could be as simple as showing that early on a reporting drumbeat has been established. Formats might still be different, data quality variable – but it’s now all happening at the same time, people know when they need to provide data and it is being done on a repeatable basis. 

7. Keep communicating

You’ve set your team up, got the buy-in, started working, had your road shows to tell the world about you and how you’ll make things better and more controlled and shown a quick win. The danger is you settle into a ‘business as usual’ mindset, especially as the nature of a PMO’s activity is a regular drumbeat. So, keep referring to your plan, keep advocating your purpose and as those wins and benefits get bigger and more strategic, communicate them widely. Don’t be afraid to be widely proud of your team and the benefits it brings. If you were instrumental in reducing schedule and cost overruns by 20% in a year, then shout about it and remind people where it has come from.

8. Add value at all levels

One of the dangers if not communicated properly, or if the delivery teams don’t have the right mind set, is that the PMO is seen as the Board’s police or enforcers and the delivery teams get nothing in return. So be sure to feedback the delivery teams pain points and hold the board to account for their responsibilities. Where you can make the reports transparent and available, the insights you have added and why show you listen and are fair. Be sure any decisions or actions are fed back down.

Remember your people are also advocates for best practice, so help the business improve by sharing knowledge and learning as you observe it across the enterprise.

9. Keep energy behind what you are doing

There will be set backs, there will be people who challenge your purpose, there will be pressure to deliver more and sooner. Be sure to be conscious of how you need to keep your own energy levels up but also that of your team. Keep referring to that plan and those wins, keep reminding people of where you have come from and how much things have changed for the better.

10. Know when to declare fully operational

Eventually, and you will get there (hopefully in accordance with your plan!) you will be achieving the full benefits you sought when you embarked upon this undertaking. Your team will be effective, and their advice heeded at all levels. You will be and can rightly declare that you are fully operational.

However, this is just the end of the beginning, now you owe it to your team and the business to ensure you embark upon continuous improvement, be it training, process, yielding more benefits. If you have come this far you can do it, so keep going!