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Pitfalls in Setting Up a PMO
By Simon Tang

Large corporations have been enjoying the benefits of having a Project Management Office (PMO) for awhile now. In the recent years, many small and mid sized companies have started to realize the need of having such a department to oversee the execution of their projects, both in-house and servicing external clients. According to PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession, nearly 7 out of 10 organizations have a PMO, up from 6 out of 10 in 2006.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when it comes to implementing a PMO. I have listed five common pitfalls that have resulted in slow adoption rate or even complete failure to take the initiative off the ground. By avoiding these pitfalls, one can enjoy the benefits of having effectively managed projects.

  1. Pitfall 1: Not establishing clear goals and objectives for the PMO

    The first and foremost is to make sure that the goals and objectives for the PMO is established and clearly understood by all stakeholders. Once everyone knows what to aim for, then a coherent plan can be created. The goals and objectives are also used to gauge the effectiveness of the processes introduced to the project teams.

  2. Pitfall 2: Not clearly understand the existing processes

    Unless a company is working on its very first project, its project team must have already been using some process or industry best practices. These maybe informal and undocumented but in order to formally define a set of processes, the existing ways of managing projects must be clearly understood. Not only can we uncover the things that have worked well for the team, but also sends a signal to everyone that the management team trusts and values their contribution. This leads to the next pitfall.

  3. Pitfall 3: Did not involve project managers while crafting formal processes

    To have the best result when rolling out a series of project management processes, project managers must be fully engaged in crating those processes. Only then will they buy into the initiative and give the least amount of resistance. Each project manager may have difference in opinion when it comes to the detail. Capture all the ideas and make sure that everyone is heard. Ultimately, the PMO director will have to decide the best approach to move forward with. The decision is based on clear rational reasons rather than personal preferences. By using a collaborative approach, the acceptance among the team members will be the highest.

  4. Pitfall 4: Not having proper metrics to measurable performance

    As part of defining the formal processes, it is important not to neglect specifying appropriate metrics or KPI to measure performance of the projects. Without proper measurements, it is impossible to know if any of the processes introduced has positive impact to the business. One of the mandate of PMO should be to continuously improve on its project delivery. Furthermore, project performances must be aligned to the overall departmental goals as well as the company’s strategic goals. Be aware that when high-level goals shift, the metrics must be changed as well.

  5. Pitfall 5: Failure to sell it to the management

    The last pitfall could easily be the most important. There must be someone champion the initiative to setting up a PMO. Typically, this is the PMO Director. Regardless who this might be, it is important to sell the proposed changes to the management team early. Without their buy-in, it would be impossible for the implementation to be successful. In many cases, process change requires collaboration across many departments. Therefore, it is crucial to have the various department heads to come on board. Lastly, as with any change, there will be associated cost to it. Getting the necessary budget approved, again, requires the support from the management.

These are the critical pitfalls that should be avoided when setting up a PMO. Obviously there are many other factors that can easily derail change efforts, but knowing the above four pitfalls can dramatically increase the chances of success. Please share your thoughts on other common mistakes that one would encounter when starting up a PMO.

Simon Tang is the Principal at AppSpire Solutions, offering project management and other technology related services. For more information, he can be reached at

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