I recently took an IT leadership role with a biotechnology company where software development is a critical capability and had the opportunity to build a Project Management Organization (PMO) from scratch. This essay represents my agile and pragmatic point of view on project management and organizational change management.

Have a Vision.

What does a Good PMO capability look like? Write it down as the PMO charter document. Your team will need this mission statement, principles, and responsibilities as well as SMART metrics for how you will measure success. This is your truth and it will seed the culture that grows and guides the team around you.

In my case, my mission statement went something like this:

“Our Project Management Office (PMO) is a service-oriented capability whose purpose is 3-fold:

  • Deliver successful projects and products (PP) that are on-time, on-budget, and high quality every time.
  • Establish a principled, standards-centric, evidence-based foundation for consistent PP delivery.
  • Evolve to a PP process and methodology that is repeatable, proactive, measured, and continuously improved.”

My interpretation of the essential PMO responsibilities are from the PMI PMBOK document with an Agile/Lean point of view.

  • Scope Management — understand business/technology requirements; define epics and stories in backlog.
  • Time Management — schedule PP based on business priority; sequence and estimate backlog items in WBS.
  • Resource Management — identify, allocate, and monitor resource assignments; balance supply/demand.
  • Financial Management — track project costs and align with financial objectives (e.g. budget, IRR, ROI, NPV).
  • Change Management — discuss, evaluate, document, and negotiate scope changes.
  • Quality Management — ensure that PP deliverables satisfy quality criteria set by Quality Assurance (QA) team.
  • Risk Management — identify, evaluate and mitigate project risks.
  • Vendor Management — procure products/services; monitor vendor performance and their PP deliverables.
  • Communications Management — report project status to leadership, project teams, and stakeholders.

Plan the PMO.

Yes, even the PMO itself must be planned like other projects and products. You need to answer the eternal question: what gets done when and by who? I had twenty items in my plan that lasted 180 days. But first things, first. Make sure you are aligned with your supervisor’s and organizational priorities.

  • Draft Project Management Office (PMO) charter.
  • Schedule introductory sessions with stakeholders.
  • Understand active projects and products (PP).
  • Determine PP priorities with stakeholders.
  • Manage active projects and products needing immediate attention.
  • Draft IT portfolio road map, PP dashboard, and standard document templates.
  • Imagine and design PMO future state.
  • Assess active projects, systems, and org processes.
  • Improve PP scope management processes.
  • Improve PP communication management processes.
  • Improve PP change control management processes.
  • Improve PP risk management processes.
  • Improve PP resource management processes.
  • Improve PP quality management processes.
  • Establish PMO project audit and review on monthly basis.
  • Assess PMO current state and org maturity after first 90 days.
  • Establish PMO portfolio audit and review on quarterly basis
  • Establish PMO KPIs, metrics, and performance goals
  • Improve PP financial management processes.
  • Assess PMO current state and org maturity after first 180 days.

Build good relationships across the organization.

Find out who are the decision makers, the influencers, and who gets the work done across different departments. Schedule meetings. Grab lunch. Connect over company happy hour. Get to know folks and what matters to them. First impressions matter a lot! Be patient; earn their trust with time. Once people are in your corner, then carefully cultivate wider alliances needed for transformative organizational change.

Hire the right people slowly.

Get the right people on the bus, but please do not rush or get desperate to fill the empty seats. Maintain high standards. Align roles and responsibilities with talent. Make sure people have the right incentives and decision rights so you don’t need to micromanage every situation.

Setup your team processes, technology, and document templates.

My individual project templates were minimalist to a fault, and I emphasized using the existing organization tools (e.g. JIRA, Confluence, and Google documents) rather than disrupt daily information flows. So when new PMO hires brought in fresh Microsoft Office templates to present our portfolio-level work to senior management, common sense dictated we use a mixture of tools and templates depending on the scenario and audience (e.g. JIRA and Google for day-to-day project and document management that was convenient for the engineers, Office for executive presentations).

Trust but verify.

Roll up your sleeves and get involved in the details. Whether it is sprint-level planning with the product owner or portfolio planning with executives (scope), dependency tracking across projects (risk), asking questions in architectural discussions that could affect multiple products in the future (quality), negotiating contracts with 3rd parties (vendors), reaching out to team leads to make sure they have enough folks (resources), or scheduling monthly checkpoints with key stakeholders (communication), you need to be alert to the different dimensions in which projects and products need assistance and be ready to render aid.

Deliver quick early wins.

Success is a snowball. The early wins build credibility and grease important relationships. Identify low-hanging fruit with maximum business impact.

Have fun!

Work can get serious fast, but when people can still smile, laugh, and get things done you will know that the right seeds have been planted for the PMO.


How to Build a Project Management Organization in 90 Days was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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