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3 PMO Setup Hurdles (& Solutions)

Have you heard of #PMchat? I hadn’t, until someone mentioned it to me lately and I was blown away by it.

It’s been around for five years. It brings together an amazing community of project managers and business leaders on Twitter for an hour every Friday to talk about best practices on various project management-related topics. In fact, an Inc. article names it one of the top “15 Twitter Chats for Every Phase of Your Business“!

I’m always looking for ways to connect with PMO Leaders, and this was a fantastic opportunity to have a chat about setting up PMOs. So I got in touch with #PMchat’s founder Robert Kelly, and he was gracious enough to have me as a guest host on last August.

We had a diverse, global representation of PMO Leaders and project managers who were interested in learning new things about PMO implementation, getting insights from what’s worked for others, and sharing their own experiences. As expected, the conversation was focused on the hot-button themes of PMO setups: why they don’t work and what strategies and tactics can be used to address them.

Here were the key takeaways:

Hurdle #1: Lack of executive buy-in

Inability to achieve buy-in, especially from executives and sponsors, is a core and common issue in setting up PMOs. This can often result in PMOs not being set up for the right reasons due to non-alignment on the influence of a PMO within an organization. Not having support from the sponsor can also lead to difficulties in getting funding for PMO implementation. To OVERCOME this barrier, you must ensure the following:

  • The executives are educated and well-aware of what a PMO is (and is not).
  • Explicit alignment on the responsibilities of the PMO is established. It was also suggested that John C. Maxwell’s law of buy-in be exercised, i.e., establish relationships and get the executives to buy in to you before getting buy-in for your ideas.

Hurdle #2: No support from the broader organization

Interestingly, this was discussed separately from lack of executive buy-in, which makes sense because having support from executives doesn’t guarantee corroboration from the rest of the company. Further, addressing this hurdle requires a different set of actions. #PMchat participants ADDRESSED this challenge by doing the following:

  • Creating project frameworks in non-project management terminology so that it’s easy to understand for the entire organization. Others need to understand what they’re buying into before they actually become their champions.
  • Using pilot projects to validate and tweak standards/processes created by the PMO. Johanna Rothman’s book Manage Your Project Portfolio was recommended as a read to understand how the right pilot project should be picked.
  • Following the 4-step process of: (1) knowing who your stakeholders are, (2) understanding their problems, (3) providing their solutions via the PMO, and (4) demonstrating this back to the organization with authority. After all, PMO is a relationship business, not a project business.

Hurdle #3: Perception that PMO is slowing down business due to “new processes” and “gates”

This is change resistance at its best. PMO Leaders have to hear the music when there are no processes/standards/templates, and they also get pushback when they try to change that. To MANAGE this change, as PMO Leaders you must do these things:

  • Bend backwards to make sure that the processes fit the environment and that the templates are easy-to-use. Explain the templates in “normal” talk.
  • Market the benefits of the changes through industry results and social proof within the organization (e.g., recruit power-users early).
  • Keep things agile, so PMO processes are constantly inspected and adapted to add value.
  • Choose the right project managers for the pilot and invest the time to train and mentor them.

This is what our session produced—needless to say, the hour flew by quickly. It was a ton of fun, thanks to the active participation of the remarkable attendees!

There are more reasons why PMO setups are tough, and many other ways in which they can be countered. Which issues would be your top three? And what would you do to solve them?

I’d love to hear from you—just leave a comment and we can get another conversation going here!

About Hussain Bandukwala

Hussain Bandukwala is the Chief PMO Coach and Adviser at Parwaaz Consulting (http://www.parwaazcc.com/), which provides coaching, support and resources to facilitate the success of Project Management Office (PMO) leaders at high-growth small- and mid-sized organizations. He has led and facilitated the PMO setup at several companies and advised numerous PMO leaders through their PMO establishment. He has authored several PMO-focused publications, speaks at Project Management Institute (PMI) events and holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from The College of Wooster (Ohio, USA).

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