6 Steps to a Successful Project Management Office

project management office setup

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

I received an email from a fellow Tactical PM who asked :

I’m looking for more information about the functions of a PMO.  What are the day to day activities and expectations of the PMO?  Where can I read more about how to structure and run a project management office?

It’s a good question with a lot of answers all depending on the needs of the organization and the overall project management maturity.  Let’s assume you’ve been given the task of organizing a PMO for your organization.  Where do you start?

Step 1:  Conduct an Assessment

When establishing a PMO’s set of services, it is important to understand how the organization is currently performing and the desired target state. PMI’s OPM3 assessment will provide you with a framework for projects, programs and portfolios.  The Kerzner PM Maturity Assessment will also provide with an assessment framework for maturity and improvement.  The Project Management Body of Knowledge also provides a framework to assess how projects are being managed.

I like starting with common PMO functions including:

  • Project and Program Governance
  • Performance Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Financial Management
  • Risk, Issue and Scope Management
  • Resource Management
  • Quality Management
  • Communications Management
  • Supplier Management

I cover these functions in detail in my PMO Form and Function article.  These functions can be applied at program, program and portfolio level depending on the organizational need.  By examining the day to day execution of the projects in the organization, a PMO can identify opportunities in project initiation, governance reviews, project portfolio planning, PM training, knowledge sharing and status reporting.

Step 2:  Make a list of recommendations

Once you have your list of gaps. make a list of the recommendations to help close those gaps. Some recommendations could include:

  1. Provide governance and better decision making through gate reviews
  2. Track program and project progress and identify risks to the C-level leaders
  3. Provide resource management by analyzing resource requests and commitments for projects initiating and executing in the portfolio.
  4. Provide quality assurance reviews to ensure projects are following the defined project methodology
  5. Consult and mentor new PMs on project management processes
  6. Foster a community of practice and collaboration ensuring knowledge sharing and best practices are implemented.

Ask the employees in the organization for their feedback and they will tell you where they see weaknesses and opportunities.  I consulted for one organizations where one of the PMO analysts admitted “the level of PM maturity here is nearly non-existent” and this person was in the PMO!  Employees and managers will provide you with plenty of feedback.

Step 3:  Build an implementation plan

Once you have your list of improvements, prioritize the recommendations and develop and implementation plan.  I’ve recommend identifying the tactical improvements and the strategic improvements.  The tactical recommendations can be implemented faster that the more strategic ones.  You don’t need a full fledged PPM system in place to start doing gate reviews or periodic portfolio status reviews.

Each recommendation will have its own timeline, cost and resource needs.  When you present your plan to the management team, be ready to explain the prioritization and how you arrived at the implementation costs.  They may want to reprioritize the plan based on their strategic view of the organization.  The key is to get buy-in and get ready for the next phase – Implementation!

Step 4:  Implement the plan

I know – easier said than done.  Focus on the tactical recommendations to get your first few “wins” underneath your belt and demonstrate the PMO’s value.  If the PMO can simply help decision makers prioritize when to start another project or improve a project’s readiness through gate reviews, the PMO will have made a difference in the organization.  As long as you’ve demonstrated value upfront, then you’ll have a greater chance at succeeding with your longer term recommendations.

I’ve facilitated gate reviews where projects were given a conditional approval even though their documentation wasn’t 100% compliant to the methodology.  The benefit wasn’t in confirm a document was filled out in perfect detail.  The value was bringing the various stakeholders together to confirm the team was ready to move forward.

Step 5: Communicate the wins

Implementing a PMO is an exercise in organizational change management.  You’re going to experience push back as team members, project managers and executives ask you to justify the implementation of your recommendations.  It is important to highlight the “PMO wins” and where you’ve made a difference in decision making, prioritization and organization.  Assuming the C-level executive (CEO/CIO) is sponsoring the PMO, you’ll want to ensure those leaders have seen the value.  In hierarchical organizations, if the topmost leader believes in the PMO, the other direct reports will align even if they don’t necessarily agree with the template, methodology or recommended process.  However, it is much more easier to gain the buy-in at the management levels before requesting the the CEO/CIO to be the enforcer.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

The road to project maturity is an iterative one.  Assuming your PMO plan has short term and long term recommendations, you’ll want to reassess and develop new opportunities each year.  Perhaps the first year or two, you focus on project level maturity and then tackle program and portfolio management processes as the organization improves.  Nearly every maturity model has a final level of continuous improvement.  This step is just an extension of evolving the value a PMO provides based on changing business needs.

Sample PMO Services

If you’re looking for a catalog of PMO services, here are a few to consider:

Portfolio Management

  • Project Identification and Selection
  • Project Prioritization
  • Project Execution
  • Project Closure

Project Management Standards

  • PM Methodology Development
  • Portfolio Dashboard and Executive Reporting
  • Program and Project Status Reporting
  • Project Artifact and Configuration Management
  • Lessons Learned and Best Practices Replication

Project Management Consulting

  • Project Mentoring
  • Project Scope Definition
  • Project Cost, Duration and Resource Estimation
  • Project Planning and Scheduling

Project Management Tools

  • Microsoft Project
  • PPM Tool Administration
  • Collaboration Tool Administration

Project Management Training

  • PM Process and Tools Training
  • Curriculum Development
  • PMP Preparation and Certification Training

Project Management Community Development

  • External PM Event Communication
  • PMI Education Events
  • Host a local PMI Chapter event (Roundtable or Chapter Meeting)
  • Project Management Community of Practice

PMO Resources

You can find a lot of presentations, white papers and books on PMO management with a quick Google search.  A lot of PPM software vendors provide useful  white papers and their vision of PMO implementation. Ofcourse, each implementation looks best in their tool but their white papers provide a good framework.  Take a look at:

PMO Books

Below are 3 books that I recommend to anyone looking to start a PMO.


There is even a podcast dedicated to the art of the PMO!  Mark Price Perry hosts this podcast and it is definitely worth a listen!  Ofcourse, I’m kinda partial to episode #135

There are a lot of different approaches to forming and improving a PMO office.  The above 6 steps are just one approach that I’ve used successfully in the past.  If you’re looking to build a PMO or improve your current organization’s PM maturity, give these steps and resources a try.  You don’t alway have to implement the world’s best in class PPM system to make a difference.  Sometimes just getting the project organization to submit a status report in time is enough.

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