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Guidance in Setting Up a PMO

Setting up a portfolio management office (PMO) to oversee the plethora of projects and programmes in your organisation is no easy task. If you already have established a PMO, there may be areas for improvement you may wish to consider. There is plenty of information PMOs, and various toolkits are available. The practicality of setting one up varies and is highly dependent on the type and maturity of the organisation. Here are a few practical tips from our experience that may help you and very least serve to think about how a PMO may be able to help.

Build the Case

Building a case for a PMO is vital to provide a collective rationale for the organisation. Initially, describing it as a PMO may lock you into a route map of preconceived ideas and inhibit its implementation. In the first instance, discuss the challenges with key senior stakeholders openly. Responses will eventually start to build the evidence for a PMO. For example

Do projects deliver on time and within budget?

Are the benefits expected to realise?

Are there sufficient insights into projects and programmes to make decisions before and during project delivery?

Is there a framework to determine which projects should start and how do we best score between which projects to start or close?

Is there budget, resource, and risk visibility on projects for effective decision making?

The list is not exhaustive, and the responses will help build the case for a PMO. A structured workshop format using some live projects with critical decision-makers and executives will help shape the thinking and start to formulate a collective approach. An independent workshop facilitator offers the ability to ask focused questions in an open forum.

Distributing a discussion paper before the workshop provides focus, clarity in workshop objectives and purpose, and some space for preparation. Once a workshop is undertaken, summarise and note the actions. The paper should be fair, transparent, and open, reflecting the views of all concerned. It is about delivering coordinated change to meet your corporate goals, given limited resources, skills, and budgets. The purpose is to ensure that your senior stakeholder group can form a collective vision, taking all points of view and through measured debate. A good representation from all parts of the organisation in the workshop(s) will enhance the outcomes.


Secondly, educate your key decision-makers and executives on PMO concepts. Provide information, white papers, and even talk to similar organisations. Provide information on the types and how the PMO can potentially solve the problems in the first part. Therein lies a potential for a second workshop revolved around education, brainstorming solutions, and aspirations for this function. With the second workshop, you are building on the first to develop a vision and strategy for this function. Remember you still making a case for the ‘PMO’. At this stage and towards the end of the workshop, think about the investments and practical steps that would be needed, such as governance, people, investments, skills, processes and project information. Consider existing projects performance and the opportunity cost of not doing the right projects. Developing ‘hard’ numbers will support the business case and make the case for change. The leadership team must support the concepts and vision of a PMO function, and depending on the strength of support, may determine the type of PMO. It could be a small unit which gathers project data and report up, or it can be a function reporting to the CXO as a strategic driver for change directing resources and budgets to drive change.

Engage with Project Managers

Thirdly, engage with project and programme managers from across your organisation. They have a wealth of information and data on projects and will have the best ideas for improving project practices. Establish a project manager working group to help shape and develop the PMO. Part of a PMO may involve removing inadequate project processes and practices so engagement with PMs must be done with objectivity in mind. It may invariably mean project managers may have to change their methods, so using change management techniques may assist. Communicate and engage with PMs early and frequently. In many PMO frameworks, this could be the start or reshaping of the ‘centre of excellence’ concept.

Clear Mission Objectives

Fourthly, define and shape the PMO with clear operating principles, objectives, and mission. There are various types of PMOs, centralised, hybrid, reporting, strategic and delivery(non-delivery). Each type will need to be thought through carefully and in consultation with the PM group. Define the operating principles, setting periodic review points as the PMO evolves. Keep the PMO functions simple initially depending on the maturity of the organisation. Following the workshops, look to assign an accountable CXO for the PMO to drive this forward and given a mandate and resources by the leadership team and define a set of metrics and outcomes. You may use a balanced scorecard approach to the PMO.

Deliver the Change

Fifth, once the business case starts to take shape, the objectives and operating principles are refined, a delivery plan is needed. If the steps sound like a ‘project’ because it is. The delivery needs to cover personnel, budgets, process development, governance, project and portfolio software implementation, mission, remit, tools, templates skills, development, and delivery mandate. For reference, cover the areas of the P3O applicable to your organisation. Think also about how to ‘migrate’ to the new target operating model for existing projects and programmes. Reshaping the governance and oversight with accountable owners may also have to be reviewed.

Software and Tools

Consider how existing and new tools can support the new PMO target operating model. Invariably, there will be project software used in your organisation, like Excel, Microsoft Project or others like Trello, Asana, or more powerful portfolio solutions like KeyedIn, Edison365 or CoraPPM. Adopting such solutions will be essential to achieve many of the goals and will drive project productivity and decision making. For larger, more complex organisations, this becomes an essential requirement. Any project software should overlay and support the PMO and delivery of projects and the principles. The selection, procurement and implementation of a project solution will form an essential part of the implementation.

Thus far, we have not discussed project frameworks, processes, templates, training or indeed the rhythm of a PMO. These are all important, but for a successful PMO, the above key steps are critical. If your starting premise are frameworks and tools, then the chances of success reduce. Business outcomes warrant the attention of senior stakeholders, not the nuances of project and portfolio tools and processes. These points may also ‘jump start’ an existing sub-optimal PMO.

Once you have the buy-in and the building blocks, the maturity of the PMO comes with time introducing new processes and practices. These are all intertwined with each other, and the delivery plan becomes crucial on how quickly you wish to set up and operationalise a PMO.


To conclude, make sure you have substantial buy-in from executives who understand what they need from this function, be clear about what the PMO will do, take the project managers with you and grow the capability of the PMO taking a step at a time.

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