6. How to set up a PMO

July 21, 2011

PMO setup


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PMO setup

You have been asked by senior management to set up a Project Management Office (PMO) to manage one or more projects or programmes.  So what do you do first?

The whole process of designing and establishing a PMO (especially where a PMO does not exist and is a new concept or where you have not had experience of setting up or working in a PMO ) can appear to be a very big, even unachievable, task.

Now for some good news.  It does not have to be hard or complex and  I am going to help by breaking the process down into simple steps based on my experience of designing and building PMO’s over many years.

Below are 7 steps that will help you to define and implement a PMO into your organisation.  Remember, you can get further information for free by downloading my guide.  You can also find more detailed information on each step in many of the other articles contained on this website.

Step 1 – Define the objective(s) of the PMO

PMO Manager looking bridge to objectives

Be clear on the objectives for the PMO

In the last few posts, I discussed the different types of PMO (Administrative, Pro-active and Hybrid).  It is important to have a clear understanding of the scope and objectives of the PMO as what needs to be established for a reporting PMO is a lot less than for a pro-active PMO.  It is important that you are clear on the objectives so that the PMO you implement is aligned to the expectations of the sponsor.  If not you may invest a lot of time and effort and the end result does not meet the objectives.  This will result in an unhappy sponsor (and probably not good for career progression)

Aim to capture the objective’s of the PMO in a number of small bullets that make it easy to articulate and agree with sponsors and stakeholders.  You may want to think about capturing these in a clear vision and mission statement.  The statement should clearly articulate what the PMO aims to achieve so that it is easy for everyone to understand.  As this is reviewed with stakeholders, make adjustments until you reach the desired level on consensus.

I find this is a good exercise as it also helps me to clearly define on what needs to be achieved.

Step 2 – Sponsorship

PMO Sponsor passing batten

PMO sponsor is vital for success

This step is an absolute ‘must have’.  Without senior / executive sponsorship mandating the requirement of a PMO, you will find it very difficult, even impossible, to implement.  Without this mandate, you will find that project managers and teams will resist.  The reason being that a PMO will provide transparency of project progress, including where projects are not going well.  Some project managers will be uncomfortable with this as they lose some control over controlling the message flow on project status.


You should capture the objectives of the PMO as defined in step 1 and then agree them with the PMO sponsor.  You should then get the PMO sponsor to communicate that a PMO is going to be formed, the objectives of the PMO and to confirm that you have the mandate to set up the PMO.  This communication should at a minimum be in the form of a clear and concise e-mail to all relevant resources.  Even better is if the sponsor provides the mandate in appropriate meetings, town halls, etc.

This step will help remove a lot of barriers and push back, which in turn will save time.

Step 3 – Define PMO tools and processes

Based on the agreed objectives, list the functions that the PMO will need to support.  Again to make it easy, consider what high level functions are required, and then go into more detail at lower levels within function,where necessary.

I use the following list of high level PMO functions that I have adopted from the Project Management Institute Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).  These are generic and I would expect to see them in every PMO.

  • Planning (milestones)
  • Financial planning (budget)
  • RAID management (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies)
  • Reporting (report types, reporting diary)
  • Quality assurance
  • Change control (scope, costs, schedule, benefits)
  • Resourcing (org design, recruitment, resource planning)
  • Communication
  • Procurement
  • Project document storage

All of these are part of project methodology and tools / processes (including supporting software).

On this website you will find numerous articles and resources that go into more detail on each of these important steps.  I recommend that you take time looking through blog posts 7 to 26 that cover these functions in much more detail.  You will also find targeted posts through out this website and I suggest that you use the search box located at the top right of every page to search for specific topics.

Remember if you have a specific question or topic, do not hesitate to contact me and I will look to add as a topic for future posts.

Step 4 – PMO organisation

PMO Functions and ActivitiesAfter you have worked out what tools and processes need to be established, you can then think about how many and what type (skills) of resources you need for the PMO.

Again it is important that you build a PMO that will be able to deliver the objectives of the PMO.  This step can be very tricky as, until the value has been demonstrated, senior management are reluctant to invest in resources.

It is a good exercise to map out the PMO organisation in an organisation diagram.  This will help you to think through the structure and how it will support engage with stakeholders.  It also will provide a very useful document that you can share with project teams, etc when they ask how the PMO supports and engages within the organisation.

To overcome this barrier, it is worth reminding the sponsor that the purpose of the PMO is to provide transparency through accurate reporting allowing the early identification of issues / risks that will impact successful delivery.  The upfront cost saves a higher long term cost when dates are missed, benefits fail to materialise, etc.

Step 5 – Engage and communicate

PMO CommunicationThis is a very important step.  You need to identify the key stakeholders to the PMO, especially those responsible for managing the projects and programmes.  Make sure they understand what you are aiming to do, what is expected from them and most important, how you are going to help them.  Remember, communication is 2 way, just because you have delivered a message it does not mean it has been received, understood or accepted.  Make sure you gain positive confirmation.

A good way to do this is by following up with stakeholders by asking if they have any questions and if they would like any further information.  This has the added benefit that it allows you to engage and build working relationships.

Tip: If the information flow is one way with the PMO demanding information (usually by threat of naming and shaming), you will not get the required level of engagement and you will fail.

The most successful PMO’s that I have built is where a PMO provides support to the project managers, becomes a partner fostering an environment of trust.  In this situation the project managers will be honest, tell you about the problems and then you can work with them to help them solve them.  This means more projects stay on track and everyone is happy (especially you as leader of the PMO as you can demonstrate the value of the service).

Step 6 – Monthly PMO routines

PMO Reporting Calendar

Quickly implement the PMO routines

Each month or more frequently, the PMO will be expected to provide a status of the projects and programmes.  Therefore, it is important to get these routines up and running as quickly as possible.  Even if you have not built out all the tools and processes, you should aim to get the reporting routine up and running as quickly as possible.  This is a quick win and will give senior management confidence that you have everything under control.

Make sure that the routines are documented and communicated to all relevant parties.  This will help ensure that project teams no what is expected and by when.  This allows them to manage their time and will ensure that the regular requests are not seen as “fire drills”.  Project managers can get very agitated with what they think are last minute requests and they will be very vocal to their own project sponsors.

It is imperative that once you have set out schedules and routines that you adhere to them.  If you don’t it will frustrate the stakeholders as they will not know what is going on, result in more fire drills and sends the message that meeting dates is not really important.

Step 7 – PMO charter

Steps 1 – 6 covers a lot of information.  Therefore, it is a good idea to capture these key elements in a project charter.  A good project charter will cover all of these points in a way to clearly articulate:

  • PMO objectives
  • What the PMO will / won’t do
  • Organisational model (including roles & responsibilities)
  • Tools and processes
  • Monthly reporting requirements
  • Key contacts

You can find out more information on PMO Charters in the following post, http://www.practicalpmo.com/50-pmo-charter/.  You will also find a PMO Charter / PMO Handbook template in the PMO Resource Template resource pack within the member’s area.


Additional PMO Setup Resources

PMO BookIf you would like a complete step by step guide to designing and implementing a PMO, please take a look at my book, How to design a PMO that works.  This provides a wealth of information based on my many years experience designing, building and implementing practical PMO’s.  The book breaks down each aspect into separate chapters with action plans, examples, 4 week mobilisation plan and much more.  Visit PMO Book for more details.



Defining and setting up a PMO does not have to be complex and take a long time.  If you follow these steps you will quickly be able to design and build a PMO.

  1. Define the objectives of the PMO – clear statement what the PMO will achieve
  2. Sponsorship – ensure sponsor provides PMO with mandate and publicly communicates
  3. PMO tools and processes – what functions / services will the PMO provide
  4. PMO organisation – roles and responsibilities, engagement models, etc
  5. Engage and communicate – make sure stakeholders know what is going on and that there is a 2 way flow of information
  6. Regular routines – get the reporting up and running as a priority to demonstrate progress and to start providing value
  7. PMO charter – capture all of the key points in a charter that can be shared

Remember, you do not have to have it all perfect and ready on day 1.  You can implement in phases.  This is a good approach as it will provide incremental value and will help stop sponsors getting nervous if the investment will provide value.

I personally like to have the day 1 plan, the week 1 plan and month 1 plan.  You can lay this out in a simple road map so everyone knows what to expect.  There are a number of chapters in section 3 of “How to design a PMO that works” that explain a 4 week plan to setting up a PMO.

PMO Template Framework ProductAnother tip to help accelerate the PMO setup is to consider buying professional PMO templates, especially if you do not have any templates you can reuse.  The small cost far outweighs the time to design and develop your own.

I originally developed the PMO Template Framework and the PMO Quality Assurance Framework to be used in conjunction with my book to allow anyone to quickly design and implement a practical and pragmatic PMO.

If you have any questions about setting up a PMO, please contact me using simon@practicalpmo.com.  I will be more than happy to provide thoughts and guidance to help you on the journey.


Good luck with your PMO setup!

Kind regards

Simon Wilkinson, PMP – founder Practical PMO

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About Simon

Founder of practical PMO with a passion to share insights on designing and building practical, pragmatic PMO's. Posted by Simon Wilkinson, PMP

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