Five Key Steps To Successfully Setting Up a PMO

I have managed projects for over 20 years and have experienced many different project management set-ups over the years. Having set up PMOs and their processes in 2 different companies myself, has taught me a number of essential lessons that will help anyone wanting to set up a PMO.


  • There are many different formats of PMOs and it is hard to find 2 identical PMOs.

  • They can be in all levels of the company hierarchy and can have totally different functions ranging from actively managing projects to strategy & compliance.

  • The 5 things mentioned in this article will help you prepare the ground for successfully defining the PMO required.

  • Thereafter you can start setting up the PMO or project processes that best suit the company you are working in.


I suggest to follow these 5 steps in the suggested order, but depending on the situation you might chose to mix things up either by changing the order or by taken 2 steps in the same meeting.

STEP 1) Assess What the Management / Directors Want the PMO to do

· This is probably the most important assessment.

  • A PMO in one company or even your department can have a totally different role than the PMO in another company or department.

  • A company can even have different PMOs, with different functions, on different levels with totally different KPIs.

  • It is hence essential to pick the Managers & Directors minds to get an idea of what they envision for this particular PMO.

  • If you are dealing with Managers on different levels, it will even be good to have several meetings either with different groups or one-on-one.

  • Take notes of what they express.

  • This is also the best time to pick their brains on the values & the vision they believe in, not only for the PMO or the company but for themselves.

  • You need to ask very clear questions to help them formalise & verbalise what they want clearly.


1. Is the PMO meant to manage projects?

2. Is the PMO meant to manage Project Managers?

3. Is the PMO meant to provide Quality Control?

4. Is the PMO meant to develop processes or provide guidance?

5. Is the PMO to audit projects – compliance?

  • You can easily see that either one or several of the above questions will be answered with yes.

  • However if all the questions are answered with yes it will become way too complex.

  • Then you need to sit down and prioritise with the team.

  • Pick the 2 top priorities and decide in which order the others will be addressed later.

  • You will probably end up with several independent PMOs or a Head PMO with several sub PMOs where each has a clear function and clear KPIs.

STEP 2) Assess the Corporate Maturity

Again an essential step, since an immature corporate structure might not be able to handle a more complex PMO set-up.

You need to assess the following questions:

  • Does the company have clear reporting lines?

  • Does the company have an org chart which is shared with all employees – so that everyone knows where they fit in?

  • Is it a functional set-up or a matrix set-up? Which level of matrix?

  • If you have a functional set-up then you will need to do a lot of sensitizing and teaching to the managers in order to be able to implement any form of complex set-up.

  • If you already have a matrix set-up I recommend to work closely with the Senior Managers & the HR department in order to strengthen the matrix.

  • Should you be working in a project based organisation it will be a lot easier, since every Manager is a Project Manager and you will be speaking the same language in terms of project management.

  • But there is only a handful of truly project based companies in the world, hence most of us will never be privileged to experience this.

  • Your assessment will need to include essential steps required to bring the company to the corporate maturity you need for your type of PMO to be successful.

STEP 3) Get Buy-in from the Major Stakeholders

  • Once you have established what the management envisions and what it needs the PMO to do and know the corporate maturity level it is now time to get the buy in from the major Stakeholders.

  • Without their buy-in you will fight a losing battle.

  • Please refer to my article “How To Get Buy-in from Different Stakeholders” for suggestions on how to get the buy-in.

STEP 4) Understand what is currently being done & identify the Pain points

  • In order to plan the role-out of your PMO you will need to identify what is currently being done & what the pain points are.

  • It is important to build up on the current setup and adopt whatever works well.

  • As you are talking with the Managers and Heads of Department (HoD) ask them clearly where the shoe pinches and if they can verbalize what they think is going wrong or should be done differently.

  • At this point you should not give any suggestions, but simply note down what they are saying.

  • This often works best when done in one-on-one sessions.

  • First of all the relevant Manager / HoD will feel more free to open up and talk and it will help you build a relationship with them.

  • Since you will be working very closely as you implement the PMO, getting to know each other and understanding each others viewpoint will make it easier during implementation.

STEP 5) Define your vision & ideas and present them to the Management

  • Since the whole idea is for you to shape the best model PMO for the company in the current situation this has to be the last step.

  • You use all the information and input from the previous steps and from this build your vision.

  • It is important to remember that this is a suggestion to the Directors and the Senior Management, hence this will be a draft.

  • Once you have prepared the plan and are able to explain why you want it this way and how you think it should be implemented, you can now present it to the Directors for their input.

  • Have a detailed plan ready in order to keep the discussions on track, but present the High-level view, so that they can have input and do not feel like you are trying to push your idea down their throats.

  • They will need to own the process in order to give you the support required to make it a success.

  • Depending on the corporate structure this will be either a 2-step meeting first with the Directors and once they have bought in you meet the rest of the Senior Managers, or a combined meeting.

  • Set it up as a Workshop, where you first present your findings, then explain your suggested solution, then you need to give time for all to ask questions and give an input.

  • There needs to be plenty of time for discussions.

  • You will need to guide the discussions and take notes of their comments and input. In this kind of meeting it is essential that you make notes personally and prepare the summary / minutes.

  • If you leave this to someone else, you can easily get the discussion off track and lose sight of the goal.

  • Remember you are the specialist here, that’s why they tasked you with setting up the PMO.


  • In Summary you need to understand what the Management want from the PMO and you need to understand the organisational set-up and maturity.

  • Then you can understand the current processes and the pain points.

  • All this will help you formulate the corporate vision for the PMO and you can now work out the details in collaboration with the Managers.

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