Building a Project Management Office from Scratch
LOS GATOS, Calif. Sept 25th, 2015 -Not every organization needs a project management office (PMO) – I realize that. And I also know that not all project management offices work or end up serving any good purpose at all. I’ve seen or been a part of several that have failed for various reasons. I’m not a PMO expert, but I have created one from scratch on my own and helped start two others that did withstand the test of time and growing pains, so I have at least some successful PMO creation experience under my belt.
First, is it worth it?
PMOs are not necessarily best option for smaller organizations that aren’t likely to require lots of structured project management processes. It’s always good to have some standard practices and policies in place, but if your company doesn’t have the flow of project dollars going through the organization to warrant it, then spending the money to actually set up a structured PMO and stock it with several experienced project managers may prove to be both a waste of time and a waste of money.
That said, let’s assume your organization is of the proper size and structure to benefit well from a well designed and planned project management infrastructure. What needs to be done to get started? What needs to be in place to help ensure project management office – and project management overall practice – success in the long run? What key ingredients should go into this newly created project management office?
From my experience, it comes down to a handful of key concepts, actions and considerations that seem to go into or stand behind the best project management offices that I’ve witnessed or been part of. As you read through these, please consider your own PMO experiences and share your thoughts on these and other ingredients that go into building viable and successful project management offices.
Here’s my list:
Make sure you have the backing of those at the top of your organization.
Senior management buy-in is absolutely critical to the success of the project management office. Without that backing, everything will be an uphill battle and you will likely not succeed in creating a viable, sustainable PMO. You need this buy-in for funding, you need it to ensure that all projects go through the PMO (otherwise it can become irrelevant quickly), and you need it to ensure that project roadblocks can be removed at a high level when needed.
Start with policies and templates.
The most successful project offices have solid policies and project templates in place that have been successful in the past and that will help guide the project managers successfully as the PMO is gaining footing in the organization. These policies and templates will be re-hashed and refined by the PMO director and the individual project managers – together – as the PMO grows and matures.
Hire a strong leader for the PMO.
If you can find a good leader within your own organization, that would likely be best. Someone from inside will already have connections and, hopefully, some pull as the project office goes through the creation process and the growing pains that follow. You need someone who is a proven leader, not afraid to knock on doors and set policies that they will stand behind. The connection angle is good because projects need resources, project managers will need access to information like financials and accounting output for the projects they are managing, and the PMO will need ongoing support from the company’s senior leadership if it is going to remain viable for the long term. The PMO director should be a leader/manager, not a leader/project manager. This individual should be guiding the PMs, not leading individual projects on the side.
Stock the PMO with a mix of experience and talent.
I personally believe in experience over certification any day because the experienced project manager has been there and done that and is more adapt, Day One, to take the project, engage the project customer and lead the team while making tough decisions for the project. Certification is great, but I never believe that it should be a one and only hiring criteria. Likewise, some new project managers are also a good idea. They will save some cost, and can be mentored by the experienced PMs in the organization as the PMO is maturing.
Summary / call for input
How about our readers? What are your experiences with PMOs that you’ve worked in? Do you think this list matches up well with the best PMOs you’ve seen or do you have more to add or perhaps a different list of ingredients of your own? Please share and discuss.