Execution ExcellenceProject Management Office

The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO – How to Run a Successful PMO

Despite what you might read in the news, or hear at the water cooler, there’s a growing demand for information on building a PMO (project management office). Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to share my perspectives on this topic based on my book The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO. It has been a fantastic opportunity; people have enjoyed the presentation and have told me they now have some “amazing takeaways” that they can implement when they go back to work. Giving back to the PM community is a great feeling. I love those moments of feedback, when they come back to me and say that they implemented this or that. I know they’re setting themselves up for running a great PMO—and honestly, setting them up for a great career.

However, establishing a PMO is just the beginning. Running the PMO is the hard part. When you’re building your PMO, you’re in the “honeymoon phase” of the PMO lifecycle. You have everything going for you. Management is excited; you have a budget; you can hire as many people as you want; you can buy portfolio and project management tools; everyone is rooting for you to be successful.

Trust me. That fanfare dies quickly, leaving you in the position of running one of the most challenging organizations in the company. Let’s look at what it takes to run a PMO. But before we do that, consider a brief reminder of the inputs to running a PMO, covered in my earlier article “The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO – How to Build a PMO.” It contains 12 steps that are the core to building a stable and sustainable PMO.

Running a PMO is about leadership and tactical management. Today we’ll cover reporting, troubleshooting, day-to-day operating, and staffing issues. Here are the four tactical areas that you will be involved in when running your daily PMO:

  1. Developing executive reports
  2. Developing PMO reports
  3. PMO day-to-day operations
  4. PMO resources (mentor & buddy system)

Don’t let the small list fool you—there is a ton of work here. And not only is it a lot of work, but it is also going to be your full-time job. Most PMO Managers have to focus 100% of their time on these four areas.

I am seeing some companies that want PMO Managers to be Portfolio Managers, Program Managers, Project Managers, and run the PMO. That’s crazy and not sustainable in the long run for anybody, so if you are in this position, you have to talk with your manager and set some realistic expectations. Take it from me: I have managed several PMOs, and it is not sustainable.

Let’s jump in and provide more details on each of these four steps:

1. Developing executive reports: Those same executives that approved your PMO and gave you the world when building the PMO are going to want reports, lots of reports, and will want them to be updated and accurate all the time. Some of the reports you will run will be PMO dashboards, milestone reports, PMO resource reports, etc. This list goes on and on. Working with your executive to determine the reports they need will be critical.

2. Developing PMO reports: Some of the reports that the executives want to see are reports you the PMO Manager will want to see as well. A great example of that would be tracking progress on your efforts. There will be some specific portfolio, program, and project reports that you will need to create depending on the methodologies you use in your organization. Embrace reporting in your PMO; it will be the only way to keep on top of your organization and the value it’s been created to deliver.

3. PMO day-to-day operations: The day-to-day operations of your PMO will consist of PMO cadence calendars, PMO vacation calendars, PMO OOF calendars, and the main components of running a PMO. These components include the following:

  • Define color definitions.
  • Set up CR process.
  • Develop program/project playbooks.
  • Define PMO priority list.
  • Define PMO weekly checklist.
  • Setup project transition plans.
  • Develop PMO templates.
  • Execute PMO reports.
  • Review and select PMO tools.
  • Continue to support management and value discussions.

4. PMO resources (mentor & buddy system): One of the key components of running a PMO is the people. If you don’t take care of your people, you are going to have huge problems. One of the easiest ways of taking care of your people is setting up PMO mentoring or more informal “PMO buddy” systems. Each of these systems gives your PMO staff members an opportunity to turn to each other for help, share best practices, and learn from each other. I have set up several of these programs in the past, and they have been very successful.

As we summarize, running a PMO is a huge undertaking and most PMO managers struggle to be successful for a variety of reasons. I encourage you to step back, look at these best practices, and take some time to implement all of them in your organization today.


Bill Dow will be presenting a free webinar with ITMPI on March 30! Sign up here: Tactical Guide for Building a PMO: How to Run a Successful PMO (Part 2)

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Bill Dow

Bill Dow, PMP, ITIL is a published author with more than 23 years in Information Technology, specializing in software development and project management. For 10 years Bill has built and operated large Project Management Offices (PMOs) in two Fortune 500 companies. Bill has written and published two books “Project Management Communications Bible” and "The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO". Bill has a strong passion for Project Management, Project Management Offices (PMOs), and Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies. Currently Bill works at the Microsoft Corporation where he leads and drives Project Management across the IT organization and is a part time instructor on project management program at Bellevue College, Bellevue WA.


  1. Bill

    Very good article, thank you.

    Having defined the conceptual map for reporting (at all levels) – and taking into account the very common widespread use of spreadsheets and some MS Project – how would you go about transitioning from that to:

    – Maintaining a clear, trusted, *holistic* view of status, issues and risk across one or many major programmes
    – Efficiently managing large numbers of risk-compounding *interdependencies*
    – Effectively enabling integrated planning and execution throughout the entire programme

    The transition dilemma as far as I understand can be summarised:

    PPM, or Project Portfolio Management tools have matured over 20 years. PPM tools were developed primarily for IT project portfolios. Will they solve the aforementioned three challenges … for example, in situations where the team encompasses diverse experience and skills outside of IT – i.e. all business change programmes?

    While they can add some value beyond IT departments we’ve seen a pattern of adoption problems that frequently leads to protracted failure.

    Are we are left with a dilemma or have I not understood something? Do we do our best with desktop tools or attempt to deploy a PPM tool?

    What’s been your experience here?

    Thanks, Ian

    1. Hi Ian,

      Great points, and yes that is something many companies face for sure and what tools do we use or not use. Every PMO manager faces this same question. I have lots of experiences in this space, let me share some of my background and experiences.

      First of all, you are right, there are a ton of Portfolio level tools out there that do amazing things and there are others that don’t. I believe that you need Portfolio level tools, if your PMO is doing Portfilio Management and you have the mature processes in place to handle that level of rigor. I have seen many of PMO’s put in tools that don’t have the processes in place to support the tools. Huge problem.

      So, if your PMO put the right level of processes in place to support tool, then implement the tool, but it it can’t, then I would say Pilot the tool, determine the rigor that tool will require, understand the acceptance that management and PMO team members are going to tolarerate and then go from there.

      No, you are not stuck with desktop tools, you can’t be in this day in age, you have to move your PMO forward, get to onto the cloud, move off the desktop, and incorporate both into your day to day operations. I am all for not rushing out and buying every tool out there though, and making sure your organiztion is ready to handle the processees that the tools brings when you do implement it.

      Thanks for the comment, let me know if that helps, and if you want to followup for more information, let me know at billdow@dowpublishingll.com

  2. Hi Bill,

    I have bought your book so far a great read.

    Your companion website is down at the moment, any plans for getting it back up so I don’t have to type the plan out manually. 🙂

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