Setting up your organization’s PMO in 5 “easy” steps

Setting up a PMO


The worldwide recession might be ending, but most organizations are still in risk reduction and cost avoidance mode. Line of business teams are constantly trying to dip-dodge-duck-dive to do anything they can to improve the bottom line. To succeed in a fast moving business environment they need to evolve and that means they need ever more efficient and agile teams to support them. That means new projects, changes to existing ways of doing business, increased productivity... and did I mention support for EVERY platform that exists?

Many organizations turn to a Project Management Office (PMO) to provide tools, standards, procedures and trained staff necessary to deliver successful projects. I know what many of you are thinking. “Not a PMO! We tried that in the early 2000s, it meant lots of overhead and dealing with a centralized inflexible overlord”. Don’t worry; things have changed a lot in the PMO world since then.

While the scale, scope, and responsibility of the PMO may vary from organization to organization, todays’ PMO is different than yesteryears. To begin with the PMO at its core is there to help teams coordinate plan and execute, not to “aggregate status reports”. The PMO is there to make sure that resources are not under or over allocated, with the purpose of protecting team members from getting burned out. Today’s PMO, while trying to standardize some aspects of project delivery needs to be as agile as the business and delivery teams. Without flexibility and adoption it will fail.

If your organization does not have a group dedicated to improving project delivery success, I urge you to consider forming one. To help you get started, I provide these 5 steps to get started.

Step #1 - Establish Senior Management Support and Buy In

The first step in establishing a PMO is gaining executive and management support. Look at the title of this blog. Notice how the word easy is in quotes? It is often challenging to get senior support and by in, and even if you do it can be difficult to keep them engaged. Trust me when I tell you, that while this step is hard, it is vitally important. Without it, your PMO is DOA.

Once you have this support it is important to keep senior management engaged and involved. The best way to do this is to show quick wins early in the process. Show value early, and continue to enhance your value proposition over time. If you go three months without being perceived as a value add…you PMO is dead.

Step #2 - Assemble the PMO Team

The next step in building a PMO is to determine the structure and develop the team. Each organization will require a different PMO team structure. In some organizations project managers within the PMO manage the day to day execution of the project like scheduling, budgets, assigning resources, human capital, oversight, and communication. In other organizations the PMO does not manage the projects directly, but rather provides the infrastructure, tools and resource management for project managers in different groups within the organization.

When formulating the PMO structure for your organization you need to consider the best way to balance between the PMO, organizational culture, roles and responsibilities, and management style. Remember the PMO does not exist just to exist. Its purpose is to deliver value to the organization. Before assembling a PMO team, it might make sense to do some fact finding and find out what project delivery challenges your organization is experiencing today. From there you will have a much better idea of how to deliver value early.

Step #3 - Develop and Document Standards

“Here we go…the evil overlord of the PMO is back! He’s going to force us all to use the same templates, document standards, formats and procedures. Ugh…”

Another great way to fail with your PMO is to disappear for 3 months and come out of the conference room with a binder or flash drive of the “mandatory, approved, standardized project artifacts” like Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. While you spend 3 months working on the artifacts, senior management was considering dismantling your PMO because it is not effective.

The best way to approach this is with a phased rollout that has by-in from the project teams that will be using the artifacts. Again, do some homework, find out what the biggest organizational pain point is and start there. Maybe the project managers are having a hard time putting together solid project plans, or maybe the business analysts are having a hard time creating requirements documentation. Whatever it is, put together some standards and templates, then roll them out. Then move on to the next pain point.

Step #4 - Identify Skills and Train the Staff

“Training…sure…I have plenty of time for that…and my boss is really into spending money on training”

Training does not need to be 1980s style training! It does not mean getting on a plane and going to Vegas for a week like in the old days (though that does sound pretty cool). Training can be as simple as every other week ordering some pizzas and do a lunch and learn about your most recent artifact release. Get creative; You can learn almost anything online today, and in many cases for free. Don’t know how to use MS-Project? Ever hear of

Step #5 - Measure Success and Continuously Improve

Remember what I said about showing value early and how important it is to maintain senior management support? So…how are you planning on showing that value? You need to gather statistics about each improvement you have put in place. As an example, did your PMO implement a project scoring approach that helped better align projects to business objectives? Prove it; Gather metrics showing exactly how aligned projects are over time. Be sure to capture a list and budget of projects that did not get approved because they were not aligned. Was your organization able to go from 60% of its resources fully utilized to 90%? How many projects failed over the last 3, 6, 9, and 12 months?


Every organization is different, but some things remain the same across all successful PMO implementations. Executive support, solid PMO organizational structure, document standards and templates, training, and measuring success and improvement, are the key building blocks.

If you are having trouble setting up or coordinating your PMO, drop me an email at, I will do my best to give you some guidance.

Level 5 Partners offers mentoring and guidance to help organizations achieve these results. In addition we offer the vPMO, a completely integrated web based solution that can be used to implement the processes discussed in this blog entry.

Please be sure to check it out: Virtual Program Management Office (vPMO)

We love sharing our knowledge and information about our offerings. If you find the vPMO interesting, contact us for a free no obligation demonstration.

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