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The First Thing to Do When Setting Up a PMO

Setting up a Project Management Office (PMO) can appear to be daunting. And let’s not kid anyone. It is. It actually is. It requires careful planning, deliberate relationship building, flawless execution, and continuous improvement. Throw in a mix of doubters, “We’re not going to change”-ers, and differing demands, and it makes the situation even more challenging.

It could lead to one resorting to endless planning and constant people-pleasing, all while stitching a roadmap with a shoestring.

Avoid it! Take over the steering wheel. And even if it takes time, this is the first thing you should do.

Identify why a PMO is needed in your organization/department.

If you want your PMO to be accepted by your organization, and get its permission to exist, you must focus on determining why your PMO is really needed. It’s not enough to just get cursory viewpoints of a couple of people. It’s not enough to hear the problems you might come across in hallway conversations. It’s not enough, what you were told when you were hired or promoted for the top PMO role.

You must get this information directly from the horse’s mouth.

Let me walk you through a systematic way to do this, so that when you go about setting up your PMO, you are confident that you are truly addressing the problems your organization expects the PMO to solve.

Step 1: Identify who you are solving problems for.

Before you figure out which problems you need to solve for your organization, you need to determine who within the organization is facing them, whom the PMO is likely to interact with, and whose lives you’ll make easier with the PMO coming into being. In other words, you’re identifying your PMO’s stakeholders.

It’s going to be difficult to get a complete list right off the bat, but you need to start somewhere and let the process guide you through. Here are some ways you can start:

  1. You can ask your boss, someone who hired you into the PMO leadership role or promoted you from within, about whom she thinks you should speak with.
  2. Use that as a starting point and brainstorm others you could connect with. For example, if the focus of your PMO is limited to the IT department, then you should probably speak with the CTO/CIO and VPs/Directors of Application Development, Infrastructure, Business Development, Quality Assurance, Architecture, and any other IT department heads that might be there in your organization. Additionally, since IT typically interfaces with other departments within the organization, identify which departments it usually works with—whether it is finance, HR, legal, or any other departments—and seek to connect with their department heads.
  3. Lastly, if they are currently placed within your organization, don’t miss out on the program managers, project managers, project coordinators, and others who will actually work directly or indirectly within the PMO. Once the PMO is in place, it is the immediate work of this team that will reflect you and your PMO, so it is crucial that you get them involved in this process, hear what they have to say, and understand what challenges they are facing on a daily basis.

Step 2: Meet your stakeholders and ask them about their challenges.

Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, get a 30-minute meeting on their calendars and meet with them in person if possible, or speak with them over the phone or video conference.

This process may take some time, but this is an investment worth making. In addition to the point already mentioned about identifying the problems to solve, you will be able to do the following:

  • Develop a relationship and a sense of trust with the stakeholders
  • Understand who are truly enthusiastic about this and who are not and create a game plan to tackle that accordingly

Depending on the stakeholders you are speaking with, you can customize and organize your questions for them. Be sure to design the questions so that they are open-ended. The idea is that you can engage in a conversation and go deeper into it, instead of just receiving a “yes” or a “no” as an answer.

Here are a few examples to consider:

  • What are the biggest project management challenges that you see here?
  • What do those challenges mean for your department or company?
  • Describe how you are currently requesting new projects today.
  • How do you find out which projects your team members are working on?
  • What do you think can improve the execution and delivery of projects here?
  • What will motivate everyone here to adhere to some new standards and processes?

Through this line of questioning, note that you’re focusing on pain points, process/people/tools maturity, and readiness for the organization to change. And by the manner in which the answers are provided to you, you will be able to judge who are “in it,” who are on the fence, and who will be the naysayers in the process.

Step 3: Collect, analyze, and playback all the answers.

Once you’ve met all the stakeholders on your list, go through their responses and pick out common themes for all the questions asked. These themes will essentially tell you three things:

  1. Why you should set up your PMO
  2. The areas (in terms of process, people, tools, quick wins) that you should focus on
  3. The things that you should do to make it easier for your organization to adopt the PMO

When your analysis is complete, share it with everyone whom you spoke with as a courtesy, to get their reaction and also to give them a heads-up on what might be coming their way.

And with that, you can be on your way.

To quickly recap, you need to set up yourself and your PMO for success, and in order to do that, you need to understand why your PMO is truly needed. In order to achieve this, you must understand who your PMO’s stakeholders are, meet them and ask them what pain points they’re facing, and—using their own words—describe the common themes of why the PMO should be created. Once this is done, you are ready and armed to go about setting up your PMO.

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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