019 Transcript: Questions to ask before starting a PMO2019-11-05T12:27:24-05:00

Transcript: Questions to Ask Before Starting a PMO

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Welcome to the PMO Strategies Podcast + Blog, where PMO leaders become IMPACT Drivers!

Today we are going to talk about what you should do BEFORE you setup a PMO. Now, I know that many of you listening already have a PMO and I’m going to you to stick around and listen to this episode, too. Because, this is a good way to have a litmus test or just double check that you have all the right steps you need to ensure that you have the right stakeholder engagement, the right ongoing funding, and everything else you need to make sure your PMO is not just setup correctly, but sustainable for the long term, and really making that IMPACT you know your PMO can make.

Stick around for this episode as we dive into the critical questions to ask and steps you need to take before you ever start building that PMO.

I know that many of you are thinking, “But, I just really want to get started. I have to hurry up and show value. I have to make an impact quickly. I am not going to get a lot of time to get this right.”

And I totally hear you.

And you’re right.

You DO need to get started quickly. You WON’T have a lot of time to get that credibility and sustainability and get that critical sponsor and stakeholder engagement you need. I’m going to ask you to slow down so you can speed up. Having answers to these fundamental questions will be a game changer for you, for your PMO, for your organization, and most of all, for your sanity!

OK, let’s dive in with the first question you want to ask.

What business problem are we trying to solve?

If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you have heard me talk about the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset series episode 001 through 008.

First things first. You need to know your purpose. Before you even get into the list of services you will provide, you need to know your mission, a greater purpose that you are fulfilling through the PMO construct. Your mission is not to manage projects. Your mission is not to create templates and tools or to put governance in place. Your mission is to get to outcomes that positively impact the organization you serve. To do that, you need to be very clear on the business pain points, challenges, or new opportunities that your PMO will help solve. Get crystal clear on that before you do anything else.

And this is where I see some PMO leaders go down a dangerous rabbit hole. They say, “Yep! I already know our mission. I know exactly what this organization needs. I know the medicine my organization needs to take” and that is extremely dangerous.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here.

If you build it, they will not come.

That’s right. If YOU build it, they will NOT come.

And why is that?

Because YOU built it. Anytime you are setting up a PMO or creating any change in your organization, whether it’s for a project or an organizational change, if I you do it to them, they will not come along for the ride. Even if it’s in their best interest. Even if they know it’s in their best interest.

Because you’re doing it TO them.

What you want to do instead, is build it WITH them.

If you build it together, not only will they  come, they will be in the driver’s seat with you and that is exactly what you want.

Doing it together helps ensure that everyone that needs to be involved, a stakeholder in the outcomes you are creating, feels like they are part of the process. Think about it, any time change is done TO you, you instinctively hold back, don’t trust it, and don’t want to be involved.

The same is true for your stakeholders. The PMO, even in it’s simplest form creates change for the organization. That is the whole purpose of a PMO. You are either helping to govern projects, or manage portfolios, or implement projects, or provide tools/service/support for the PMO.

Whatever it is, you are about change, so the fact that you are about change and you are bringing change to the organization, means you need to put your foot on the brakes and think about ways you can engage stakeholders and sponsor in the process. Everybody that will be IMPACTed by the outcomes of the PMO needs to be a part of the solution and build it together.

Oh! And whatever you do, do not assume you know what’s best for the organization. Whether you’ve been there 1 month or 20 years, you still aren’t inside the heads of the business leaders that are creating the opportunity for the PMO. Ask them. Talk to them a lot! They will eventually tell you what you need to know.

But what if I do know what’s best for them? Who cares? Not them. Sometimes we won’t take the medicine we really need until we trust that it’s really going to make us feel better. So, make them feel better first. Solve some easier to reach pain points for them to build trust. Then you can get their engagement to consider the medicine that they really need.

Here’s why I push so hard on that. Being a keynote speaker, I have the pleasure of meeting PMO leaders and PMs and I like to take time to get to know the audience at the beginning. I will ask them what they believed the purpose was for the PMO.

Many of the people that are brave enough to share only echoed my fear and concern for PMOs of the future. Many of them share their thinking on the purpose of a PMO, saying that it was there to create standards, process, templates, tools, governance, oversight, etc.

Then, I asked them what they thought the stakeholders for the PMO thought about the PMO in their organization. Not at all surprising, was the outpouring of answers here: overhead, process heavy, “gotcha” organization, enforcer, box checkers, “not real work,” and on and on.

Wow. That stinks, doesn’t it?

It’s not at all surprising to see that when your focus is on process, tools and best practices, your stakeholders are going to think of you and your team as “not real work.”

Why is that?

Because without the outcomes to show that using those processes, tools and best practices will create gains for the organization that it would not achieve otherwise, you are just doing “busy work.”

Creating tools, templates and process is not the purpose of the PMO. What? “Sure, it is,” you say. Nope. It’s not. Often when I ask why the PMO is there, the answer they give is quite frankly, wrong. Templates, tools, process, best practices, standards, etc. are a means to an end, not the end itself.


Projects are investments. The company is investing money and in return, they want to achieve a particular result. They don’t just want to break even; they want a return on that money invested. They want to achieve the business outcomes the project was undertaken to create, and in a way that it isn’t costing them more than those benefits. Think about it…why would you do a project if it was going to cost you as much as the benefit that you could possibly achieve?

If you spend all of your time, energy and resources creating tools and templates, shouting out from the mountaintops that there is a best practice here for everyone to flock to, you will quickly become an organization that is thought of as “not real work.” Why is that? Because the rest of the organization is responsible for getting to some kind of outcomes that benefit the company. And, so are you.

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standard methods for getting the work done, but DO get the work done!

The PMOs of the future, and those that have been successful, are usually integrating into the mindset of the business by focusing first and foremost on the outcomes they are trying to achieve for the organization as a whole, and are not necessarily as obsessed with how many templates they have in their library.

Keep your eye on the ball of what work needs to get accomplished and how your team is going about accomplishing that work. Are they spending 50% of their time filling out templates people aren’t ever looking at again? Then you may want to reconsider the direction you are giving them.

It’s OK, no, it’s mandatory to spend time on the right level of documentation. How else are you going to effectively communicate (and have for reference later) what is agreed to, how you are progressing, etc.? What I’m talking about it making sure that the efforts are high impact – that every bit of time spent on defining process, leveraging tools, and filling out templates can be directly linked to the work of the project and is required to move the ball further down the field.

Also, it’s prudent and crucial to your sustainability of a PMO to make sure you are showing that value you are creating in some sort of metrics. While there are countless metrics out there (stay tuned to an upcoming article to read more about which metrics are good to start with in your PMO), I suggest keeping it very simple. How long did projects take before the PMO started providing support and how long do they take now? How have we increased project team member productivity? How have we helped increase project throughput across the portfolio? How much money have we saved the organization by making timely decisions or turning around issues more quickly or managing risks more effectively? You get the idea.

Notice what’s missing from that list of examples…I didn’t say how many tools we have created, the number of templates in our library, or the list of procedures we must follow to get a project started or request PMO support. No one wants to hear about those numbers unless you are streamlining, reducing, or optimizing any of those items above so people can get to the business of getting the work done.

How are we going to show value quickly?

Your leaders are going to invest time, money and resources in getting this PMO up and running. Even if it’s only part of a single person to start (as I know has been the case with many of you and also how I started with my first PMO in 1999), your time is still an investment that the leadership is making and they are expecting to see a result. That result has to equate to greater impact than the time/money/resources they have invested in the PMO. Therefore, your job is to figure out how you take the business problem you are trying to solve with question one and determine how you can ease the pain on your stakeholders quickly.

It may not be in the way you would have originally thought. For example, does the business area you serve have a project that is just hemorrhaging money? Get in there and help them rescue that project, and fast! Please don’t stop and say, “Wait! Let me build 15 templates first before I help this project get back on track!” Just go Get. It. Done. for them. You will build credibility and engagement – you have created advocates that will support you as you build out your PMO.

Who is my primary sponsor?

Every project should have a sponsor and the build out of your PMO is no different than any other project. The organization that sustains should have a sponsor/champion for the organization outside of the PMO leader themselves and the project to build the PMO should have a sponsor. They can be one in the same, but they need to be identified.

It’s awesome if you can have this person be the CEO or department leader for your organization. The higher up in the organization, the better. If you can’t gain interest or support from the higher ups in your organization then you probably shouldn’t be building the PMO. Go back to question one and figure out what business problem you are being asked to solve and how that impacts your stakeholders.

Who’s with me?

To keep things simple, I like to think of three types of stakeholders. The lovers, the haters and the just don’t cares.

The lovers, those are the folks that are with you. They support the PMO, they agree with what you are trying to do, and they will go out of their way to help you succeed. They are often inside the PMO, the sponsor, the PMO leader (I hope!) and those that think they can benefit from the PMO being in place and supporting their efforts.

The haters, those are the people in your organization that are very vocal about their lack of enthusiasm for the PMO. They are often the long career types that have been at the company for a long time and have seen the PMO construct come and go without ever really gaining any traction. Or, it’s been such a thorn in their side that they just can’t get behind it. If it’s the latter, you may want to go back to question one and understand how you can solve business problems for these folks to help them turn the corner. You can also work with the haters to engage them in the process. What? Why would I do that? They hate what the PMO is doing! They won’t help me.

Well, they might. The haters are at least talking to you. They are vocal and engaged in a conversation. It may not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s a conversation nonetheless. Talk to them about their concerns. Let them vent all they want about how the PMO doesn’t work. Then, hand them the white board marker and put them in front of the whiteboard and have them show you how they would fix it if they were you. Bam! Now you have them engaged in problem solving. Guess what happens when people feel like they have a stake in the outcome because they helped you “solve the problems” with the PMO?

The category of people you really need to worry about are the just don’t cares. They are the ones running around acting like your PMO doesn’t even exist. They are the ones that think they are better off without you or feel like what you are doing doesn’t impact them. And maybe it doesn’t…or maybe it should, but they are moving along nicely without you, further proving the lack of need for a PMO. Spend your energy here. Get these folks onboard or the fact that they are being “allowed” to ignore your existence will encourage others to follow suit, leading to the demise of your PMO.

How? Figure out their WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and figure it out quickly. What do they care about? What problems are they having that you could possibly solve? Don’t take on too much too fast regarding new services or making commitments but see if you can find a way to ease the pain they are feeling. You will give them a reason to care.

Once those questions have been asked and thoroughly answered, the next set of questions you may want to consider…

  1. Assess – Where will we start?
  2. Define – What services will we offer (based on questions one and two above)?
  3. Plan – How many phases do we want our PMO implementation to have?
  4. Deliver – How are we going to make an IMPACT and show value, bring people with us through the change process?
  5. Sustain – How do you know what you’re doing worked? How can you continue to meet the evolving needs of your stakeholders?

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