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Building a Project Management Office from Scratch

~ By Brad Egeland

Blue building with the words project management office

Not every organisation needs a project management office (PMO) – I realise that. 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 by any means, either. But I have created one from scratch on my own and helped start two others that survived growing pains and withstood the test of time. So I do, at least, have some successful PMO creation experience under my belt.

First, Is It Worth It?

PMOs are not necessarily the best option for smaller organisations 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. I cannot argue with that.

But if your company doesn't have the flow of project dollars going through the organisation to warrant it, then spending the money to actually set up a structured PMO and stock it with several experienced project managers likely isn't worth it. It's more likely to be both a waste of time and a waste of money.

That said, let's assume your organisation is of the proper size and structure to benefit 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 overall project management – 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. What would you share when it comes to these and other ingredients that go into building viable and successful project management offices? I'd love to hear them later, so save those thoughts!

For now, here's my list:

Make Sure You Have the Backing of Those at the Top of Your Organisation

Senior management buy-in is absolutely critical to the success of the project management office. Without that backing, everything will be an uphill battle. 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. Those policies and templates will also help guide the project managers successfully as the PMO is gaining footing in the organisation. They'll also 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

Finding a good leader within your own organisation is usually the best route if it's possible. 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's a proven leader, not afraid to knock on doors and set policies he or she will stand behind.

The connection angle is good because projects need resources. Project managers will need access to information, such as financials and accounting output for the projects they're managing. The PMO will need ongoing support from the company's senior leadership if it's 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'll take experience over certification any day. The experienced project manager has been there and done that. The experienced manager is also more adept, from 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 the one and only hiring criteria.

Likewise, some new project managers are also a good idea. They will save some cost. They can also be mentored by the experienced PMs in the organisation 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 in the comments.


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