Avoiding common PMO pitfalls

by Jan Schiller

Establishing and growing a project management office (PMO) requires all of your powers of observation. These five areas should have your PMO’s attention.


There are entire books, presentations, and seminars dedicated to the topic of culture. Culture is the driving force in an organization, more powerful than the organization’s strategic objectives and the best intentions of its leaders. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Understand and know the culture of your organization and tailor your PMO profile and approach accordingly. 

Size of the organization

The time for a PMO has come, although it is not necessarily going to come in one day, or in one week, or even in one month unless your organization is small. A project to establish a PMO is no different from other projects: plan and execute iteratively across your organization, with value-added deliverables with each implementation. Communication plans, scope change management plans, and organizational change management plans are crucial. Agility is essential.

Critical support opportunities

Where is the pain? Know the difference between the symptom and the root cause of the pain. Be obsessive in your desire to alleviate the pain, focusing on the most painful first. This may mean you have to focus first on the symptoms; doing so will keep your PMO alive so you can eventually focus on the root cause. Expect to deliver the top for the PMO because that is where the perceived value of the PMO lies. 


Communicating the same messages in different ways increases the chances that the message will be heard and understood. Consider these techniques to create demand for your PMO’s services and to ensure key stakeholders are aware of your PMO’s results: 

  1. Sell the problem the PMO will solve first. Paint a positive, energetic picture of where the organization is now and what it will look like tomorrow, in the near term, and in the longer term?
  2. Acknowledge and address misconceptions about what your PMO is and is not.
  3. Divide the PMO’s wealth of knowledge and information into small sections of delivery so your audience can internalize it and apply it without being overwhelmed and inundated. It is easier to drink from a fountain than from a fire hose.  
  4. Conduct roadshows to introduce everyone to your PMO. If you request permission to attend a stakeholder’s existing meeting as a guest speaker, you can maximize attendance and minimize the administrative overhead of scheduling meetings. You can present one-minute headlines to, executive overviews to, in-depth topical best practices, and tips.
  5. Combine a wide variety of targeted electronic communications, such as traditional emails with a specific topic, slack messages for tips of the day, webinars, and podcasts for deeper dives into specific topics. 
  6. Develop or leverage your organization’s intranet. Dedicated portals for your customers and stakeholders will help them find and apply the PMO’s offerings.
  7. Regularly offer “‘lunch and learn” events or after-hours informal learning sessions. 
  8. Periodically share newsletters. 
  9. Sponsor and coordinate departmental communication sessions. Make them so valuable people feel as though they are missing something if they are not attending. My favorite is establishing a project manager affinity group
  10. Staff a walk-in center (and learn to love a high interruption factor).
  11. Call your customers regularly and ask them how the PMO can help them and for feedback on how the PMO can better serve them. 
  12. Host an internal project management conference (digitally or in-person). 
  13. Sponsor an external project management conference. For example, my company is proud to be the only continuous sponsor of our local project management professional development day. 

Most importantly: the project management practitioner

Acknowledge that achieving your PMO’s objectives will take your customers’ time before it saves them time, especially during the initial delivery of the PMO. You can minimize that impact by consulting on their turf, recognizing that information is private, providing at-the-elbow mentoring to personalize the consulting, and offering a variety of levels of support. When the PMO introduces a best practice, provide the opportunity for everyone to practice applying it before switching the PMO to a governing role. Make sure success stays visible to the practitioner because you are in it for the customer. Create an atmosphere where feedback is welcome and expected. When you receive feedback, use it. If you do not receive feedback, ask for it. 

Attention is patient and neutral. Your PMO’s relationship with its customers will thrive when you pay attention. 


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