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Author  Emma Arnaz-Pemberton – Director of Consulting Services, Wellingtone Project Management

August 3, 2023 |

 8 min read

  • Blog
  • Project management
  • MSP
  • PPM

In the past, the Project Management Office (PMO) used to be seen as a purely administrative function, but now businesses are increasingly recognizing its value. If your organization has challenges or opportunities, projects are needed to overcome them and a PMO is likely to help.

Before setting up a PMO, seek to understand the company’s specific challenges and culture. Sometimes the right answer is to have a full team that colleagues can see and speak to in the office, but not all companies are large or mature enough to justify this. Instead, some may opt for a distributed team comprising existing staff – for example, representatives of finance, project accounting and quality assurance.

Ask yourself whether now is the right time to invest in a PMO: is the organization pushing for growth or defensively preserving cash flow? PMOs are not always clearly defined and can sometimes fall victim to cuts during hard times, so consider these questions before deciding to invest.

Understand who the PMO is for

Tailor the PMO for the specific environment and take care not to over-engineer it and introduce unnecessary bureaucracy. Instead, consider who the internal ‘customers’ are and speak to them about their needs and wants, rather than assuming what you think they should have. The PMO should meet pre-existing needs, not impose a one-size-fits-all approach.

Use MSP® and build a business case

Treat setting up a PMO like a programme, defining logical tranches of work and the personnel and skills required to deliver it. MSP provides sound guidance for structuring the programme and this will help to position the initiative in terms of organizational change management and build the cross-functional support vital for long-term success.

It would be unusual to embark on a project without first defining the business case, but we rarely see business cases for PMO projects. This is a mistake, as it is essential to consider the costs, benefits, and risks at the outset. A sound business case should identify the internal customers, their needs and consider the best approach for meeting them.


Build a community around the project, and fully commit. Without this, the PMO is unlikely to succeed. Change projects typically fail when they do not enjoy widespread support, so start building bridges early and involve all the functional teams that have a stake in the outcome.

Once the PMO is in place, it can help create virtual communities, bringing virtual teams together and facilitating greater productivity. This contributes to staff well-being and organizational health. In the post-Covid world, the PMO could almost be considered a “wellness management office”.

Develop a roadmap

PMOs tend to evolve organically, without a roadmap to guide them. By mapping the organization’s project management maturity – using a tool such as the P3M3 maturity model – you can set a benchmark. Then consider how to build on it and develop a roadmap for ongoing improvement, with clear milestones and goals. Without this, it is easy to stagnate and focus on the tactical rather than the strategic.

Focus on change management and engagement

Setting up a PMO will change the way the organization thinks and talks about projects and may develop a new project management ‘language’. It is important to bring change management expertise into the PMO programme to consider how best to tailor this terminology. Change management will help smooth the path.

Know yourself

If you’re a project manager tasked with creating a PMO, think “What are my strengths?”, “Have I done this before?” and “Is this the same?”. Be mindful of your ego and do not try to do everything yourself. This does require some emotional intelligence, as you will be dealing with internal customers at all levels and sometimes having difficult conversations. To navigate these, surround yourself with allies, think strategically, and be aware of the internal political landscape. This mindset is more akin to leadership than management.

Final tips

1.Before you begin, first speak to three people who are involved in project delivery, and ask them:

  • What do you want and need from a PMO?
  • What is already working well?
  • What is not working well?

2. Keep learning. Project management is continually evolving, so it is vital to maintain a growth mindset and keep your knowledge up to date.