You’ve been tasked with the exciting idea of setting up a PMO from the ground up. How cool is that? No legacy, no bad habits or daunting stories of failure, but a greenfield for a PMO to be established and flourish. The trouble is, this is your first time. And, as with any first time, you have no clue of what you are really doing or supposed to do. You have heard stories of PMO failure, people who run away to the sound of ‘PMO’ and, let’s be honest, you are a little bit nervous about the whole thing and how to manage it on your own. Fear not, however: we are here for you.

If you are looking for a list of steps or hints and tips to set up your PMO, all you must do is continue reading. You’ve got this!

1) Treat it as a programme

First things first – setting up a PMO is a programme on its own, with several workstreams (or projects) to be managed.

This means that you’ll need to define:

  • What you want to achieve
  • Set up a team (hire, if needed)
  • Plan deliverables and milestones to be met
  • And, well, deliver. In simple terms, aim to answer the Why, What, Who, When, How much, and What good looks like.

These aspects should be included in the ‘PMO Charter’, the document that formalises the existence of this new project in the organisation. When setting up a PMO, remember also that you are altering the way projects are understood in the organisation and how people work, thus, as important as managing delivery will be to manage the change resulting and surrounding this project.

TIP: if possible, have a change management specialist as your ally.

2) Do some fact-finding

One of the first things that you’ll need to do is get a feel of what is already available and how many projects are underway. Often, there are already some RAID log templates that someone used in the past or a process for recording project costs by the Finance team, it’s just that only a bunch of people know about it, and they are not really standardised. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – if you have uncovered such a scenario, work with your project community to improve it and standardise it.

As for projects underway, creating a project portfolio register is a must even if it takes time to produce. Trust me, it will, but it is worth the effort. You may need to go knocking on several doors (or, actually, join several Teams meetings) before you have an accurate and complete view of the current portfolio. This happens because people don’t realise that that ‘little thing’ they have been working on is in fact a project and not just business-as-usual, or because there are several ‘submarine projects’ which just see the daylight when they need more budget to continue, or simply because there is no common understanding of what a project is – if that’s the case, this is one of your first challenges to cover.

3) Co-create the PMO

This is my ultimate piece of wisdom for anyone wanting to establish a PMO from scratch. The PMO is not about you, it’s about the ones who the PMO is going to serve – the PMO’s customers, i.e., the PMO sponsor, project teams, senior management teams, business units, amongst others. You can have this beautiful all-singing-and-dancing idea of what the PMO is going to be, yet make no mistake, if others don’t share that idea if what you are proposing does not address their pain points, then, it’s going to be a very hard ‘selling’, trust me.

At this point, what you really need to do is build trust, generate a sense of community, and get to know what challenges people are experiencing in their projects. ‘No one destroys what one helps to build’, therefore, the PMO customers need to be involved from the offset.

Consider establishing a community of practice for projects and start by asking some simple questions that will be the input to your to-be PMO:

• What keeps them awake at night (in their projects, of course!)
• What they want from the PMO
• How they will be judging the success of the PMO

4) Build a roadmap

Now that you have connected with your PMO customers and sought their feedback, let’s use it. You need a tangible roadmap with clearly defined stages of maturity and key milestones, which can be baselined with a maturity assessment and the results of your fact-finding. Do not attempt to boil the ocean – start simple! Building a high-performance PMO does take time and, if you have limited resources (who doesn’t?), you should set the expectation that it is a journey, a marathon rather than a sprint. Hence, when drafting your roadmap, it is fundamental to prioritise the services on your future service catalogue, ensuring that there are solid foundations in place – you may not be able to do proper benefits realisation yet, but as a minimum, all projects should articulate in a business case why they are needed, for instance.

Moreover, you should publish the roadmap – do not be afraid to share it, after all, your customers need to know what they can expect from the PMO. Also, make it exciting and relatable. PMOs shouldn’t be about bureaucracy and boring processes but about making working in projects a joyful voyage. We enable better projects, that’s it.

A final tip: pay close attention to the first 100 days of the PMO, that’s when people’s focus is at its peak and you’ll want to share some quick wins to keep it going.

5) Communicate, communicate, communicate

You may think that I’m exaggerating by having repeated the word ‘communicate’ yet many PMOs fail due to the lack of communication – they are very effective on producing guidance and templates to the project teams, however, they haven’t established any real connections with their customers who also don’t have a clue on how the PMO is performing. We need to communicate more and better.

You should give visibility of what is next for the PMO and how the PMO is performing in its roadmap. We ask for this kind of information all the time on projects, so why not do it in the same way in the PMO? Walking the talk it’s a fantastic way of building trust and credibility, so please do not neglect the power of good communication. This is not limited to a progress status, however – you can do an internal roadshow to mark the launch of the PMO, set up a set of bite-size lessons learned sessions, celebrate success in the achievement of an important milestone, etc. but whatever you do, be present and use it as an opportunity to engage the community. At the end of the day, the success of the PMO is the success of organisational project management, thus, let’s celebrate it together.

It’s difficult to be prescriptive when it comes to implementing a PMO – as humans, our lazy brain (mine, at least!) prefers everything organised and laid down as black and white, with no room for ambiguity. Yet, I have some news for you – we don’t live in such a world. PMOs, like projects, are contextual – they are rarely created as a blank canvas, in the sense that organisations already have an established culture and projects have been running whether the PMO existed or not or even whether they were called projects or not. Following, lists should always be taken into consideration together with some old good critical thinking. The fundamentals presented above, however, are applicable to all scenarios thus I’m certain that you’ll do great!

You’ll just need to keep in mind a little secret (the reason I’m whispering now it’s because it really is a secret, shhhhh): setting up a PMO is not (just) about selecting the appropriate PMO type (although at Wellingtone we don’t believe in PMO types!) or discussing processes and tools. You set up a PMO because you want to make people’s life easier when working on or deciding about projects. Thus, if you keep people at the heart of the PMO implementation, the rest will simply follow. That’s our secret now – people – so please take good care of it.

If you wouldn’t mind an extra help or want to know more about the joys in setting up a PMO, common challenges and how to overcome them, have a look at our PMO Practitioner course or get in touch for specialist assistance and advice from someone who lives and breathes PMO – our team at Wellingtone.

For the ones who have set up PMOs before – do these resonate with you? What else would you add?

For the ones of you who are embarking on the adventure for the first time: good luck! Do share with us your experience, we would love to hear from you!