10 Vital Success Factors for a PMO – Checklist for PMO Setup

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What falls under the responsibility of the Project Management Office (PMO)? And what does not? How do you achieve higher PMO acceptance as well as backing from top management? Finally, what are crucial PMO success factors?

If you are concerned with the PMO subject matter, you are most likely looking for PMO best practices and helpful answers to these questions.

You will find them in this article.

Whether your PMO is successful, and at what rate, depends on its responsibilities and means. Both must be individually suited to your company and the project management maturity level.

The good news: despite all differences, there are several generally applicable success factors to achieve your PMO goals. You can actively use these to your advantage. Find the most important points as a checklist below.

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You will find out the PMO goals and benefits of the following PMO success factors:

Outlook on a Successful PMO – Learning from the Top Performers

Before we go into the 10 vital success factors, we would like to share findings from our recently conducted PMO Survey 2020, as they might affect your approach.

We asked 120 companies intending to set up a PMO which were the chief responsibilities of their desired PMO. The top three areas they named were:

  • Methods / processes / tools
  • Multi-project management
  • Implementation of projects

Below, you can see an overview of their responses to the question: “What percentage of your PMO’s time should be spent annually on each of these duties? [The sum must equal 100%.]”

PMO Success Factors Checklist – Desired Responsibilities

Desired PMO responsibilities (annual percentage) of companies without PMO, Source: PMO Survey 2020

Our survey also questioned 330 companies that already had a PMO. We asked them how they would like to see their PMO’s time spent, i.e. what changes should be made to the current distribution of their PMO’s responsibilities.

“Strategic support” and “Education / training / coaching” were the areas they most desired to expand while they also desired improvements in “Multi-project management” and “Resource management”, see below

PMO success factors checklist – Desired changes in responsibilities of existing PMO

Desired change in PMO responsibilities (annual percentage) of companies with PMO, Source: PMO Survey 2020

Our analysis of what companies looking to set up a PMO could learn from companies successfully operating a PMO, especially top-performing companies (that complied with deadlines and budgets and quality requirements in more than 80% of their completed projects):

Recommendations for PMO Setup from PMO Survey 2020

It appears that companies wanting to introduce a PMO should focus even more on training and strategic support. At a minimum, basic training can be offered almost immediately in accordance with established standards. Strategic support also covers the selection of ideas and projects, which is one of the key aspects. Even if this was only established later in the existing PMOs, that’s no reason to delay this.

Transparency in resource management was mentioned above as an obstacle to the introduction of a PMO or should be increased in existing PMOs to boost the benefits. Here is where we see the greatest gap between the top performers and low performers: strategic resource management – the long-term capacity planning.

Source: PMO Survey 2020, Part 2, p.52

If you are interested in these topics read our articles about improved resource management and strategic capacity planning.

PMO survey 2020 TPG The Project Group

Keep these thoughts in mind when setting up your PMO. For now, let us get back to our checklist of success factors.

1. Get Backing from Top Management

Every PMO requires a promoter. Only with backing from management and accompanying change management, can your PMO setup be target-oriented.

Three things are vital for your collaboration with top management. They must:

  • understand the venture fully
  • be convinced of its benefits
  • actively promote the setup

With this kind of backing, you will be able to push through unpleasant things – even in critical situations.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Backing from top management smooths the way during setup.

2. Find the Right Position within the Organization

The PMO is a service provider. Its success depends on how happy the stakeholders are in their role as customers. This means you have to involve the stakeholders and their expectations at an early stage. Only then, will you be able to define the right goals.

Another interesting read: Learn about the latest PM Trends 

These goals, and the competencies they require, determine the PMO’s position within the organization. It must be a position that allows the PMO to enforce these goals.

PMO Success Factors – PMO's position in the organizational hierarchy

The PMO needs to have the right position in the organizational hierarchy depending on its scope of responsibilities (strategic or operational)

What this means: if the PMO has only operational responsibilities, it should have a position close to the department head. If it has strategic responsibilities, it should operate as an executive department of top management.

PMO Goal and Benefit: The right position in the organizational hierarchy provides the necessary weight in the perception.

3. Designate Responsibilities and Competencies Clearly

Stakeholders tend to overburden the PMO with tasks. So how can you arrive at a more realistic workload? Formulate a practical and individual mandate, which has been coordinated with all stakeholders.

PMOs cannot and should not please everybody. They have a designated mandate.

PMO success factors – Possible PMO responsibilities

Possible tasks of a Project Management Office

PMO goals and responsibilities aside, it is also important to define what falls outside the PMO’s responsibilities. This makes for clarity and delimits the competencies of the PMO and other organizational units.

What is crucial: communicate clearly, where your responsibilities begin but also where they end!

However, do not draw the wrong conclusions for the collaboration with the project managers. This does not mean the PMO, along with the provided support, will also assume their responsibility!

PMO Goal and Benefit: Clearly defined goals and competencies prevent misunderstandings.

4. Choose Only Qualified PMO Staff

The PMO staff’s qualifications and motivation are of high importance. For instance, the PMO staff must have a certain service mentality. Yet, PMO members also need to be able to say no.

Interested in more detail on PMO introduction? Check out our detailed guide!

You should staff the PMO manager position with a senior employee. This person should have both organizational skills and many years of project management experience.

In addition, you are advised to select individuals with high-level social skills for the responsible positions.

They need to be able to meet seasoned project managers, team leaders, and others in the company, on an equal footing.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Only individuals suited to the job will obtain the necessary acceptance.

5. Produce Quick Successes

Establishing a Project Management Office tends to be a politically delicate issue. Hence, you need to report positive changes.

If your PMO manages to produce quick wins at an early stage, this will have a beneficial effect. Stakeholders will be happy that at last someone is addressing issues that have been neglected for too long.

The stakeholders will be open-minded towards the PMO.

A step ahead already? Read this article on the PMO’s future role!

A quick success could be a complete project list, which is also:

  • up to date
  • substantial
  • prioritized (ideally)

This would show all stakeholders what people are actually working on.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Quick, small successes will increase acceptance and create trust.

6. Document Progress Regularly

From the very beginning, you need to scrutinize existing processes in your company’s project management.

You also need to check the effectiveness and efficiency of the tools and methods employed.

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Among others, the form of organization (line / matrix) and the PM training or career area are of consequence in this regard.

These allow you to determine the initial maturity level of your project management in the company. It is vital to document this maturity. What you document will help you demonstrate the improvements you achieved.

It will provide you with important arguments to persuade stakeholders in difficult times.

PMO Goal and Benefit: By demonstrating your progress at regular intervals, you prove the additional value of the PMO.

7. Promote Transparency in the Company

The company culture plays an important part for PMO success.

It is the task of the PMO to actively cater for transparency in the project environment.

The success of a PMO can also be measured in terms of transparency. How much transparency is actually pursued in the company by all involved? It is common to advocate transparency – but only for others.

Missing a practical example? Read this Interview about a PMO manager’s experiences, tips, and lessons learned during PMO setup!

Transparency is something you will have to fight for – at least in part. You will find that hardly anyone has an interest in exposing weaknesses in their own area of responsibility.

Especially with respect to resource management, you are likely to encounter resistance.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Increased transparency will expose weaknesses.

8. Ensure Communication between All Parties Involved

One of the PMO’s main responsibilities is to further the efficiency of the company’s project management.

You can achieve this by preparing the regular meetings well. Make a point of informing the right body of people beforehand which decisions will have to be made.

Inform the right body of people beforehand about the decisions that will need to be made. Afterwards, communicate the results you arrived at.

After the meeting, you should make sure that the decisions you made are communicated to all levels. All involved need to find out as soon as possible what has been decided. And how this will affect their work.

Moreover, one of the most important tasks of the PMO is to practice smart self-marketing – “do good and talk about it”.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Good communication makes for a common understanding and a comprehensible approach.

9. Obtain the Trust of the Project Managers

At the outset, the PMO will probably have to face a certain mistrust from the project managers. The latter fear a new supervisory body. They assume the PMO will keep them from operational project management with further administrative tasks.

So, it is important that the PMO builds trust and positions itself as a helper. One thing will soon become clear. The PMO actually increases the time stakeholders can spend with their operational work by:

  • optimizing administrative tasks or
  • even taking them on altogether.

PMO Goal and Benefit: The right kind of support will create trust and acceptance in all roles involved.

10. Do Not Start with Too Many Areas of Responsibility

Last but not least: see to it that the new PMO employees can carry out their tasks dependably. So, do not start with too many responsibilities at once.

Check out this article on creating KPIs for the PMO to measure its value.

Stakeholder expectations will be easier to satisfy, which will support acceptance.

PMO success factors – Acceptance curve for PMO setup

The acceptance curve for PMO setup

At the same time, the organization needs to cope with the changes. Change management should accompany all PMO setup activities.

Looking to advance acceptance? Read about 7 Measures to Increase PMO Acceptance.

Take small, but goal-oriented and successful, steps in the right direction. Do not tackle too many things at once.

In the end, only a PMO functioning in the long run will bring about the desired success.

PMO Goal and Benefit: Extending responsibilities gradually will support acceptance.

Conclusion – 10 Vital PMO Success Factors

This article has introduced you to ten fundamental PMO success factors.

With the aid of this checklist, you will be able to prepare the setup of your own PMO. The following article will likewise be of interest to you: > How to Set Up a PMO and Be Successful.

The checklist may also help you to increase your project management maturity level in this or that regard by implementing some of the above points.

Do you have any questions? Or is there a success factor you feel we have missed? Please, leave your feedback in the comment area below. Thank you so much.


Johann StrasserAbout the author: Johann Strasser, a certified engineer, has been a managing partner at TPG The Project Group since 2001. After many years as a development engineer in the automotive and energy sectors, Johann Strasser spent a decade as an independent trainer and consultant in the field of project management. During his tenure, he also served as project manager for software projects in the construction industry and provided scheduling and cost management support for large-scale construction projects. At TPG, he applies his expertise in product development and consulting services for international clients. His special focus is on PMO, project portfolios, hybrid project management, and resource management. For many years now, he has shared his knowledge through presentations, seminars, articles, and webinars.

You can read more about Johann Strasser on LinkedIn and XING.

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