Setting up a PMO in 100 Days

by Cornelius Fichtner

In this podcast, Cornelius Fichtner interviews Hussain Bandukwala about the steps required to set up a PMO in 100 days. Hussain Bandukwala has a passion for PMOs, and both write as well as speak about them. He is also the organizer of the  PMO Virtual Summit. Setting up a Project Management Office (PMO) takes a significant amount of planning and time.  PMO project professionals establishes and maintains project management standards across an entire organization. They are responsible for directing all projects, defining and ensuring best practices are followed.

hussain bandukwala - Discusses how to set up a PMO in 100 days

In the podcast, whether it is realistic to set one up in 100 days, as well as the necessary skills and mindset leaders need to have in order to do this successfully. They also take their audience through the process of setting one up in 100 days, phase by phase.

Listen to the full podcast here or read the transcript below.

SOURCE: Project Management Podcast

Podcast Partial Transcript: Setting up a PMO in 100 Days

Podcast Introduction

Hussain Bandukwala: In this episode of The Project Management Podcast™, we will set up a PMO in 100 days.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™ at This is Episode #419 and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you for joining us.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Is your company thinking about setting up a PMO and nobody, not even you, has the experience to do it? That’s not a problem. Our guest today is Hussain Bandukwala. He is the organizer of the PMO Virtual Summit and PMOs are his passion. He writes and speaks about them. And in one of his articles, he says that even if you’ve never done it before, you can still set up a PMO in 100 days.

We discuss how realistic this is, what skills a PMO leader needs, the mindset needed to do this in 100 days and then we’ll take you phase by phase through the process of setting up your very own PMO in 100 days.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello, Hussain and welcome to The Podcast!

Hussain Bandukwala: Thank you so much, Cornelius! It’s great to be here!

Cornelius Fichtner: In your bio on LinkedIn, you write the following: “I help aspiring and first-time project management office leaders succeed.” What is it that you personally like about PMOs?

Hussain Bandukwala: You know, PMOs come in different shapes, sizes and personalities. There is no one size fits all and every time you go about setting up a PMO or rather every time you should go about setting up a PMO, you should really start from scratch. Try to really understand why the PMO is needed and then take it from there.

Don’t try to set up a PMO that you may have seen someone set up somewhere else or done it yourself. Don’t try to just try to plug and play into your organization because there are very good chance that it’s not going to work.

So having a lot of consulting background where doing the cycle was sort of second nature for me. Every time I went to a new client with a fresh big name, getting to learn new people, getting to understand what the current pain points were. Our current PMOs do just like that. Just that in itself is so fantastic.

And then I think the way PMOs can have an impact from an organization, I think that’s just wonderful because if PMOs are done right, their goal much like other departments in an organization is to make sure that organization benefit its strategies successfully. Using project management as a tool forward to get there.

So once all of those things get into action and then seeing the beauty about how PMOs and PMO leaders have that vantage point to see and touch everything within the organization and be able to successfully move the needle for it, I think it can be a very, very powerful asset to any organization and that’s something that really draws me to it.

Cornelius Fichtner: And what is the definition of a PMO in your own words?

Hussain Bandukwala: Simplistically, Cornelius, I do believe that PMO is just like an IT Department, just like a Finance Department. It’s nothing more than just a department for a company. A lot of people think that oh my God, PMOs need to make sure that project management is the key that the projects need to get done on time, on budget, on schedule. Yes, that’s absolutely true but that just a means to an end.

The end goal for PMO is to make sure that whatever the needs for the organization for it are whether it is being an administrative body where just some standards and governance needs to be in place, that needs to happen or whether it needs to also be executing body where it needs to also make sure that those standards in governance that you are putting into place for project management are also getting executed the way you had requested or required them to be. Or it could be a strategy body as well making sure that the right projects are happening at the right time and then by the right people in the right way.

And it really could be any function, but the beauty is that you need to determine where the organization wants you to be and overtime that can change for the organization and it change from its functionality but then it can also change in terms of its scope.

So for instance a project management office could be for a program or it could be for a certain department or it could be for a certain region, and then once it finds some success in its original scope that could change it. It could go to multiple departments. It could go to multiple regions and eventually it could you know permeate throughout the entire organization.

So in a nutshell, it’s just a department set to make sure that organization’s business goals are met and it’s done for the effective execution of project management.

Cornelius Fichtner: Our discussion today is based on an article that you wrote. It is titled “Setting up a PMO for the first time, no PM experience, wow them in 100 days.” So you’re suggesting that somebody without PM experience can set up a PMO in 100 days. Is that even possible?

Hussain Bandukwala: Yes, it is possible. The chances are slim but it’s possible. I’ve seen that happen personally where one of the clients that I worked with was a business analyst and he was completely fed up by the way projects were being run within the organization. There was no consistency; no predictability and he decided to go about getting up how to set up a PMO on his own. He connected with me. He came up with a pitch to the leadership. He decided to do this on his own as a side project. Again, this was a small company not a large or mid-sized organization, a small company where it was needed.

And then slowly and surely, he was able to go out and set up a PMO and that reaped some positive benefits and dividends for him. So kudos to him for that! Is that even possible? Yes, it is possible. But is it always possible? No, absolutely not. You know in larger organizations, the scope of PMOs is usually much greater. The need of the hour in terms of the maturity that the PMO needs to get to very quickly, that’s different and so you need to have someone experienced over there and then we’ll talk a bit about that as we get down into it as well.

But then there’s a lot of questioning around: Is project management even a skill that you need as a PMO leader? The answer is yes, but you don’t have to be an absolute guru or an ace to do it. You know having some knowledge and experience is good enough because ultimately you are not a project manager. You are going to be a PMO leader and that’s what you need to make sure you are focusing on.

Cornelius Fichtner: So let’s jump right into this. What are the main differences between a project manager and a PMO leader?

Hussain Bandukwala: That’s a great question, Cornelius! Firstly, there are a couple of differences. Actually, there are lots of differences between just a leader and a manager, right? A leader focuses on doing the right things. A manager works on doing things right. A leader eyes the horizon. A manager focuses on the bottom line. But these are differentiations between a leader versus a manager, right? So we can talk all day about that.

So let’s maybe just stop there about those differentiation and just talk about the functionality and responsibility and accountabilities of a PMO leader versus a project manager. So a PMO leader in a nutshell is someone who is responsible for the setup, evolution and operation of an entire department which is the PMO and that includes you know making sure that its culture, its working style, all of that is within the periphery of a PMO leader.

A project manager on the other hand is a member or an associate of the PMO. The reason why I say a member or an associate is because a member is someone who is directly reporting into a PMO but in certain organizations, project managers are indirectly reporting to the PMO in which gives they are associates of the PMO.

PMO leader is ultimately responsible for the success of the entire portfolio of projects that is within its periphery. Project manager is only responsible for the success of his or her projects that he is doing. A project management office leader really is driving the forefront of setting the standard methodologies, tools, templates, processes, et cetera for the organization, understanding what the benefits for the entire portfolio are, prioritizing all of those things.

The project manager usually takes all of these and runs with them. So essentially if you take a direct comparison of the two really project manager’s success is a PMO success and a PMO success is the organization’s success. So really, while the project manager is shooting for the performance of his or her team which obviously indirectly impacts the PMO, which obviously directly and indirectly impacts the organization, the project management office leader’s accountability for the performance of the entire project portfolios team, as well as all the stakeholders, et cetera that come in working and then contact with it.

Cornelius Fichtner: That is a great way of putting it. I’ve never heard it put that way. A project manager’s success is a PMO success because the project was completed successfully and the PMO’s success is the company’s success. I like that! That’s new! I have never heard that before!

Hussain Bandukwala: Thank you, Cornelius! I know, Cornelius, that there probably a lot of project managers listening to this right now and I just want to make sure that this is not to lessen the role of a project manager. It is just to call out the differentiation between these two roles because there might be a fallacy that I am an expert project manager so I can automatically become a project management office leader. I think that’s a myth.

Similarly, you can get 15, 20, 30 as a project management experience yet you may never get a PMO leadership role. That may be by choice or because there are other skills that come with the territory of being a project management office leader that you need to work up on as well to ultimately get that role.

Cornelius Fichtner: Well let’s go right there then, skills! What are the skills that I will need to set up a PMO? Remember, we were talking about your article: Setting up a PMO in 100 days…

Hussain Bandukwala: Yes.

Cornelius Fichtner: So what are the skills I need to set up a PMO in a hundred days?

Hussain Bandukwala: Sure! As a PMO leader, I do categorize skills into four main categories. The first bucket is obviously project management. I don’t want to discount the fact that project management is not a required skill. It is a required skill but not to the point that you absolutely have to be a complete ace. If you’ve done it, if you’ve done it a bit, that’s totally fine. You know the tricks and trades. You know a bit of how to ride the ropes, that’s totally fine.

The second element is the organizational skill so anything around call center accounting, what are the HR policies, how can you instill some culture within your PMO department, how to go ahead and work towards understanding the right strategy, deploying the right strategy, connecting strategies and tactics, those are all the organizational skills that are important and necessary for a PMO leader to have.

The third skill is a functional skill. So these skills are very departmental-specific. So let’s say if you are running a procurement, if you’re a PMO specifically for the Procurement department, it’s great for you to have that knowledge of how procurement actually works, how the supply chain work so that once you can roll up the sleeves and dive into how you can help that department really become efficient at what it does and not just making sure that the projects are getting done and the projects are adding value but doing more to making sure that the department is doing better as a whole and really being a peer to that departmental head.

Similarly, if it’s a Marketing department, if it’s an IT department, if you’re a PMO for a specific function or department within an organization, just having very intimate knowledge and skills in or background in that specific function can be extremely useful.

And finally, to me the most important skills are the people skills. So this can be negotiation skills, communication skills, facilitation skills, presentation skills, all those skills is rolled up into one. How do you deal with people? How do you communicate with them? How do you deal with politics? Those are all important skills that I believe you need to have when you become a PMO leader.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay, so we have project management skills, organizational skills, functional skills and people skills. I’d like to go a little bit deeper here because setting up a PMO in 100 days is not as easy undertaking. You have to have the right mindset to do this. Even if you have these four skills, you got to have the right mindset. What kind of a mindset do I need to pull this off in a hundred days?

Hussain Bandukwala: That’s a great question once again because mindset and skills go hand in hand right? Before I answer that question though, Cornelius, I do want to mention that while I do believe that PMOs can be set up in 100 days, I also do believe that not all PMOs can be set up in a hundred days. I think that having a hundred-day mindset though is super important because the first hundred days I do believe is applicable to any leader not just to the President of the United States, not just to any Head of State or government but to any leader and for PMO leaders, that’s usually not an expectation. So if you do have that mindset and are proactive about it, you’ve already put a fantastic foot forward to your organization, to the leadership of your organization that you’re in there to mean business, right?

So just within yourself okay if the scope within your findings if you do determine that you can set up the PMO in a hundred days, totally fine. But if you can’t, you must still lay down the roadmap for your leadership what you can achieve within those hundred days and then constantly go ahead and communicate your progress on that roadmap to your leadership, to your stakeholders, as well as your team. So the first and foremost is having that hundred-day mindset, that is key, right? There are a couple of layers that I’d like to talk about that are associated with that.

So firstly, how do you come up with that? You need to have the right awareness. When you came into the organization, so let’s say for instance, you know you are a new person in that organization and you are setting up a PMO, you need to make sure that you to understand who are the key players? Why is the PMO really needed? Who is asking you to do that and why are they asking you to set up a PMO? But then you need to go about connecting with other people and stakeholders within your organization. So having that broad awareness is key.

Also what are the skills that you are bringing in and what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? So which people should you be looking at in terms of who can complement you and the skills that you have? Having that awareness, working with the right people, that’s key.

Number two is looking at the right attitude. Always have a can-do attitude, right? If it’s not new, it’s not now but at this time, right? So making sure that you have that can-do attitude. One of the things that PMO is really notorious about, Cornelius, is the fact that they are gatekeepers. They slow things down. That’s the perception that PMOs have. So if you already are right at the start will say: “You know what, yeah, sorry I can’t do this.” That’s not going to help. Be welcoming. Have an open-mind. Have that can-do attitude and that will help you just build those relationships that you need to succeed in your PMO setup.

And then finally, urgency. So we talked about that hundred-day mindset. Let’s have a bit of urgency as well because some of these things can take time in terms of the planning, in terms of understanding why you need the PMO to happen. As you are understanding what needs to happen, why it needs to happen, you might really identify a few things that you might be able to implement immediately which I like to call quick wins, right? So if you are able to identify some of these quick wins and can deliver on those while you are doing some of the planning and while you are creating your roadmap, et cetera, people will perceive you to be someone who not just talks and plans but is also taking action and taking action effectively in the sense that when you are rolling out those things, they are actually making a difference to the organization and having these mindsets together that is the hundred-day mindset, having the right awareness, the attitude ensuring urgency, I think with that, you are good to go to go about setting up your PMO.

Cornelius Fichtner: In your article, you outlined a four-phase approach in setting up a PMO in 100 days. When I asked you about the skills, there were four skills as well and you gave us a great, quick overview over these four skills. So we want to jump in to each of these four phases in more detail, but can you maybe give us sort of a high-level, 10,000-foot view briefly so a minute or so of these four phases, a quick summary to get us started?

The full transcript is available here

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