Know what you want your PMO to be when it grows up

by Jan Schiller

When it comes to setting up a PMO, what should it look like? If you want to know what your PMO will be when it grows up; you have to think past your first objective for your project management office (PMO) to your second and third objectives. Spend adequate time considering the evolution of your organization and how your PMO will remain aligned with and deliver value at each organizational turn. Try considering these seven essential areas of focus.  

Service offerings 

The PMO services being offered can be lengthy. Will your PMO provide administrative services? Is the PMO approach more supportive of project managers or more governing? Are your customers generally more experienced or just starting their project management career adventure? What is a PMO customer’s need for consulting and mentoring services? Will your PMO centralize best practices or define them? Who will advocate for and maintain those best practices? Will your PMO participate in training project managers in the organization? Is the PMO a stable of project managers that will be assigned to specific projects? If so, how will they be assigned? Will your PMO own and maintain a suite of project management tools? If so, who will maintain them? 

Develop a list of possible services and determine when they will be offered, if at all. Offer basic services before advanced services. Align your first service offering with executive stakeholders’ biggest pain, even if that pain is a symptom of a root cause. Staff your PMO in alignment with your services. 

Service approach 

Will your PMO services be mandatory? If so, congratulations are in order since you have probably won the support of executive management. If your services are not mandatory, you will be challenged with helping customers of your PMO adopt them on a voluntary basis. A voluntary approach takes more time yet usually results in higher levels of adoption and sustained organizational changes. Provide many levels and approaches to support because one size does not fit all. Assume responsibility for defining project management education, collaborating with your organization’s human resources team to develop and execute a training plan.  

Position in the organization

The general rule associates the degree of a PMO’s success with the PMO sponsor’s position in your organization; the higher, the better. Your PMO may not be able to start at an executive level or end there. Your PMO’s position in the organization will commensurate with the value-added to the organization, so stay focused on the value-added services and start with the most valuable ones. In any case, understand how far removed your PMO is from its customers and staff accordingly. Manage expectations in alignment with the PMO’s position, which may require deferring unrealistic expectations or expectations that cannot be measured.

Role in the organization

Is your PMO operating in a consultative or directive manner? Does your PMO support or govern? Report or coordinate? The PMO’s role in the organization determines the staffing model, primary customers, and the primary function of the PMO. Consultative roles tend to take longer to implement because of the subject matter expertise and staffing profile required to ensure success. All roles must be credible.

Funding model

The big PMO question: do you charge for your services? If so, determine when to start charging and how much to charge. Will repeat customers earn a discount? Will incentives be offered to attract new customers? If PMO services are offered at no charge, determining your funding source is paramount. Develop a transition strategy if you will charge for services in the future. It may be possible to charge for mandatory services immediately. Customers of the PMO are more likely to pay for services with demonstrated success and valuable results. Tie your funding model to the level of executive commitment to your PMO. 

The number of projects

Are you taking in all projects in your organization’s portfolio or just some? If just some, how will you decide which ones? Start out with a smaller portion of the overall project portfolio, where that smaller portion directly aligns with a key strategic objective or targets early adopters. Demonstrating success early is key to expanding the PMO’s success. 

Project ownership

Who owns the projects the PMO interacts with? Staffing decisions and service offerings will vary based on the answer. If the PMO owns the projects, PMO staff may largely consist of project managers who report to the PMO director; services can be more easily controlled, and quality levels may be higher as a result. If the project manager or the project’s sponsor owns the project, service offerings may be more focused on project intelligence and executive reporting. Align your PMO team’s skill sets and experience accordingly.   

Taking time to see the future of your PMO is the best way to ensure that the future is realized. 


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