So, you’ve made the big decision: you are going to implement a PMO in your organization. You already know having a PMO will enable a leap forward in PPM performance, resource efficiency, and project strategy alignment. You’re aware your investment in PMO staff, tools, and infrastructure will reap great ROI and serve your business for years. But you’re still unsure. What’s the best way to go to implement your Project Management Office successfully? What are the key steps that you should follow? What are the dos and don’ts?
There is no ultimate, one-size-fits-all PMO roadmap, but here are a few guidelines and best practices for how to implement a PMO.
Make a plan… but don’t get trapped into it
As a preliminary consideration we’d like to underline a key point. It is important not to engage in the implementation of a PMO without a clear and well-thought roadmap.
View your PMO implementation as a long journey to a faraway, exotic country you know little to nothing about. Even if you’re the devil-may-care type, you do need some amount of forward planning. It may not be smart to just land there with no idea whatsoever of what’s to be expected. Not only could you miss out on great attractions and experiences, but you might also end up in tricky or even dangerous situations.
A step into the unknown
Although creating a PMO hardly compares to a trip to the rainforest, it is, too, a step into the unknown. You need to formulate a course of action that clearly sets directions and expectations for your future PMO. Taking the time to engage in proper preparation and planning can improve your chances of success significantly.
However, it is equally important not to go overboard in the other direction. It can be tempting for detail-oriented PPM leaders to immediately make and set in stone a very detailed 5-year plan. Don’t forget: creating a new corporate function from the ground up involves a lot of organizational change management. This primarily requires agility and consensus. So, by all means please do make a plan, but make sure to keep it simple and lightweight at first.
PMO Implementation Tip #1: Secure buy-in and build a network of supporters
To set up a Project Management Office, you simply cannot go at it alone. The very purpose of your initiative is to improve PPM activities. To improve things, you need to change them. Meaning that you are planning on disrupting the status quo. If there is one thing that people fear, it’s change. So, in order to dispel doubts, overcome resistance, and gain acceptance, you are going to need the support and active engagement of a network of sponsors, champions and advocates across the business.
It is often smart to start from the top, since you already need to secure funding, resources, and means. Identify high-level, influential leaders who agree to the necessity of setting up a Project Management Office or who have a stake in the success of your initiative, and try to establish solid relationships with them.
It is essential to be on the same page, share a common definition of success, and address their expectations. Share your first ideas with them, refine or adjust if needed, and have them validate your assumptions. Your executive sponsors will be of tremendous help in your journey towards implementing a PMO. They will advise you, provide guidance, and place the weight of their authority, clout and connections behind you to help you power through obstacles.
Build a cross-functional manager network
In addition to these high-level sponsors, you should also build a network of supportive mid-level managers across the various departments, functions and business units. They, too, can help advance perceptions of the value of your new PMO throughout the organization. To create your network, start by identifying a group of influential stakeholders in different areas of the business. Try to engage them, explaining the rationale behind the establishment of a Project Management Office and the outcomes that you’re hoping to achieve. By seeking their advice and acceptance, you will make them feel involved in the success of your initiative. Don’t forget to let them know how you plan on including them and when you’ll get back to them with news and updates.
The ability to establish solid working relations with a network of key partners, stakeholders and sponsors is instrumental in the success of your Project Management Office. This is why, when recruiting your PMO staff, you’ll want to place the focus on soft skills and relational abilities. The people you recruit (either from inside or outside the organization) should be able to collaborate effectively with:
- project teams
- managers from other departments
- occasionally executive leaders and customers
In fact, according to Gartner: “Project managers within the PMO need a broad range of ‘soft’ skills in communication, conflict resolution, persuasion and facilitation.“
PMO Implementation Tip #2: Assess and listen to people’s expectations
Your Project Management Office succeeds by its ability to make things better for the business. So you need to make sure that you implement the PMO in a way that actually addresses the challenges and expectations of the organization. While you may well have your own thoughts and ideas on the matter, particularly if you’ve taken the time to observe and analyze past and active projects, it is always useful to listen to the ideas of all the people involved.
Reach out to business and IT managers, resource managers and project staff members, arrange meetings, and prepare sets of probing questions to understand where they stand, what they need, and which of their challenges and problems your PMO could help address. Ask them how satisfied they are with the processes and tools currently in place, what they would change if they had the chance, what are their priorities, their most pressing issues and their most severe pain points, and more generally what they expect. Identify those who need most immediate help.
It is essential not to be deceptive. Only commit to addressing stakeholders expectations if you are 100% sure that you can deliver based on the resources and capabilities that are available to you. Like with senior leaders, the goal is to create a shared vision of what your future PMO really can and will do.
Mapping out key roles
Based on that consolidated feedback and on your own observations, you’ll be able to get a good, realistic sense of the lay of the land. This will enable you to map out the key roles and responsibilities that shape project management practices, to evaluate the overall PPM maturity of the organization and the soundness of the current PPM process, to assess the extent and reliability of the resources that can be mobilized for your PMO — including the strengths and weakness of tools and staff. This will help understand what should change and what can be changed.
Identify key PPM challenges and opportunities, triaging them in order to give priority to the areas that call for immediate action and to those issues that could be addressed in the short term.
This assessment is what will enable you to determine a consensual, organizationally-aligned mandate for the PMO you’re about to implement.
PMO Implementation Tip #3: Create a roadmap based on expectations
The gaps, expectations, and challenges identified thanks to your work in the initial assessment stage can now be consolidated into a “shopping list” that will serve as a backbone for the roadmap of your Project Management Office implementation.
Match each item on your list of prioritized challenges with a possible PMO action in order to draft a near-term action plan, ensuring that the proposed measures are really achievable in the current conditions. Your outline should include milestones and objectives for key PPM areas such as process, resources, tools, financial management, collaboration, and so on.
After iteratively refining and validating your roadmap with your sponsors and possibly with some of your key stakeholders, develop messaging and communication material to socialize the consolidated plan and disseminate it across the organization.
PMO Implementation Tip #4: Take the quickest route to demonstrating success
The reason why it is so important to single out the challenges and problems that can be addressed rapidly is simple: people usually put short term benefits before longer term value. “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” as they say.
In order to gain acceptance in the organization, your newly-founded Project Management Office will need to earn credibility by creating a perception of value-added. And the sooner the better.
So you need to demonstrate quick wins by concentrating your PMO’s early effort on a handful of issues that can be tackled right now and yield immediate positive impact. These rapid improvements will help demonstrate your PMO’s effectiveness and ability to deliver real value — as long as you don’t forget to communicate on these early successes to make it known throughout the company that your Project Management Office is there to take positive action and deliver on its promises.
PMO Implementation Tip #5: Be prepared to iterate based on feedback
Even if you have built solid foundations for your PMO, you probably won’t get everything right the first time around. As a cross-functional body, a Project Management Office is at the crossroads of so many issues, functions, and expectations that reaching the optimum will require some amount of test and learn. The first few times, there will still be resistance to overcome, and true consensus can only be achieved as a result of multiple iterations.
Through feedback collection and discussions with your sponsors, stakeholders, colleagues and staff, iteratively evolve and refine your plans for your PMO: its purpose and scope, its mandate and responsibilities, its directions and roadmaps, etc.
That’s what it takes to be an organizational change agent!
After PMO Implementation, Don’t Forget to Monitor Progress
Once your PMO is up and running, you should take time to assess what you have achieved and reevaluate your chances of attaining the goals that you’ve set.
Circle back to your initial assumptions and plans, assessing which stood the test of reality. Try to measure progress, based on metrics where possible, and keep evolving and fine-tuning your plans. Always make sure to communicate what you are doing and what you have achieved with your ecosystem of stakeholders. While you do need to publicize your early successes and demonstrate the progress achieved thanks to your new project Management Office, it is important not to make overblown claims.
Thanks to your candid interactions with your stakeholders and to the iterative improvement of your plans for implementing your PMO, you’ll eventually reach a point where you can take your Project Management Office to the next level and start actively pursuing your long-term strategy to improve your organization’s PPM processes and practices.
When implementing a new PMO in your organization, you should have the end goal in mind at all times: success hinges on your ability to create a perception of value. It is key to understand and manage stakeholder expectations so that you can meet them and demonstrate the effectiveness of your new structure. You’ll have to juggle with different time frames: Pick the low-hanging fruit to deliver rapid results that’ll show your organization that your PMO is an action- and outcome-oriented function, while at the same time staying engaged in a longer-haul process to iteratively improve and refine your long-term plans.