How to launch a PM office in a small company

Three steps to setting up an excellent project management office.
Written by Tom Mochal, Contributor
I am in the process of implementing a project management office (PMO) for the IT department of a small, growing company. I have been instructed to roll out a project management process slowly and try to achieve buy-in from the rest of the organization.

There is some question as to what our role should be and when we should get engaged in projects. Should we get involved only when the work involves an IT project? Should we be involved in the sales process? I talked to my boss, but he is not sure how we should implement. What is your advice?

PMOs are great organizations, and many companies are looking to implement them to help deliver projects more successfully. However, there are almost as many models for a PMO as there are companies implementing them. The first thing to do is recognize that there is no right or wrong way to implement a PMO. The bigger question, and the one to ask first, is what value does your company intend to receive from the PMO? What is the mission and vision, and what are the goals and objectives of the PMO?

Some PMOs are centers of excellence where all the project managers are assigned. In other companies, the PMO is responsible for setting project management standards and processes and developing a consistent set of templates and tools. In other organizations they maintain overall status on all active projects. There are other models as well. In general, I think of PMOs as a feature of large companies. Your firm seems pretty enlightened to try to establish one for a company your size. Here is how to set up a PMO.

First define your mission and goals
As you start up your PMO, you have an opportunity to define your mission. Talk to as many company stakeholders as possible. They should be able to tell you about the needs of the company and what areas need improvement. If every project were implemented successfully, there may not be a need for a PMO. They usually come into existence to help ensure a higher level of overall project success, and the overall mission of the PMO is usually established to deal with the pain the organization feels today.

As you talk to project managers and some other stakeholders, I think you probably understand that many people will see your role as a bottleneck. The key is for you and your sponsor to talk about the PMO in terms of the value it provides. Then make sure that all of your actions try to bring value. For instance, is your role one where you must approve project management deliverables? If so, you may be perceived as a bottleneck. Are you helping build project management skills and capabilities? This provides value. Does your management team want a consistent set of reports on how projects are going? If so, then you can provide value by creating common status reporting mechanisms.

Keep a project focus
You asked specifically about whether your PMO should be involved in a project when it becomes part of the IT organization, or whether you should extend your influence into business processes as well. As you might expect, my answer is: it depends. It depends on what makes sense for your organization. However, in general, I think of the sales cycle as part of the ongoing operations of the business. Usually a PMO is active in company projects and not the continuing operations. So, on the surface I would say that it is not an area that you would be involved in. On the other hand, the Sales organization performs projects, just as every other part of the business does. It might make sense for a company your size to have the PMO involved in projects from all over the business—not just IT projects. But again, that is something your organization needs to think through.

Transition your organization into place
I agree with a transition approach. Get people used to your role, and show them the value you can provide. Don't be threatening, and don't even be controlling, unless that is specifically part of your mission. For a small company, this go-slow approach does not mean you must take five years to implement your vision. Perhaps it is just over a six-month timeline. But start small, with early successes that you can build upon. As people see the value your organization provides, they will be more comfortable helping you implement your full mission and vision.

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