5 Key Items to being a Successful PMO Lead


Having recently had a chat with Lindsay Scott regarding the House of PMO she asked me an interesting question.. ‘You’ve been in PMO for some time, what do you think are the important ingredients to success?’.  Being the introvert I am, my initial response waskeep it simpleandlet common sense prevail. Though I then felt obliged to dig into this a little deeper, why do I think I have been relatively successful setting up various PMO’s within organisations?   

Before we start, I must get my standard bug bearer out of the way.. what does the P stand for in PMO.. P in my instance has been historically Large-Scale TransformationProgrammes, bank mergers/takeovers orPortfolios,which have tended to be departments.If you are looking for a definition of each, simply click on the words for their associated links. (Oh and MO is Management Office..) 


At this stage, I also need to cover that typically there are 2 ways in which I have tended to arrive into any PMO:

  1. Upon the initiation of a new programme or upon recognition of the need for a Portfolio Office service. These are what I tend to call ‘green field’ sites. 
  2. Or more commonly, arriving into an existing underperforming PMO and either initially taking over with eventual transition back to newly recruited permanent resource, or bringing existing incumbents on the journey and assisting/mentoring them.  

By the way the latter one of these, I love! Creating the excitement, providing the tools, showing them how, then a quick turnaround, and finally continuing the relationships by bumping into these individuals at future PMO Events and Conferences. 

With an underperforming PMO I have always found it beneficial to both the client and own thought process to complete an initial assessment. This comprises of reviewing the following core elements within a ‘timeboxed’ period, with the main output being a report or presentation back to the sponsor or Head of Department on:

  • Environment:People in place and the culture of PMO and the organisation. 
  • People Capability:Current individuals within the PMO and individuals within the wider organisation. 
  • Toolsets:Tooling within the PMO and the organisation (usage and user friendly). 
  • Processes & Governance:Processes, Controls and Governance frameworks in place, and are they owned by the PMO or Centre of Excellence. 
  • Stakeholders:Stakeholder Management within the PMO, or in general.
  • Healthcheck: Maturity assessment of various PMO attributes and the organisation. Is it in a rhythm? Is there a need to upskill?

A typical ‘timeboxed’ assessment cycle will include the following:

  • Review of existing Programme or Portfolio Artefacts– These can range from reviewing existing MI, processes, guides, ToR’s, frameworks, PID’s, structure charts etc. 
  • Interview Stakeholders –Having likely reviewed some of the documentation, you will already be gaining some views or opinions. By then having these informal meetings, it allows you to delve a little more into the detail about what do they think success looks like? What’s preventing it from happening? Try having some form of initial questions set going into the session, though try not to allow this to limit you. 
  • Service Offering– After gaining an understanding of both of the above, you should then be able to gain either an initial view of current services being provided, what the organisation would like to have or is missing, the level of maturity of the service offerings, where there are current hotspots, areas for urgent attention or which level of maturity the organisation would like to get to. There are tools to assist this, likeP3M3. 

So, having completed the above, I think I have already given part of the game away on one of my first items within my top 5 key items to guarantee success… So here it is:

  1. Understand the ‘drivers’– Gain clarity of the expectations from the sponsor and relevant stakeholders of what the PMO service can/should provide. You can gain this through formal interviewing or ‘water cooler’ chats, which also provides a good opportunity to understand whether the stakeholders feelunder duress(the change is being done to them and they’re resistant/not that interested)or willing participants(they’re a champion of the change and will help you make it happen). Upon understanding the wider environmental context, certainly if going into underperforming PMO, you can start to build out what I would term a PMO blueprint/handbook, so everyone is clear of their roles, responsibilities, and the services on offer. KPI’s and maturity assessments can then be added overtime etc.
  2. Get into a regular drumbeat fast –With any new assignment, there is always a need for demonstrable early results and the embedding of consistency. Providing stakeholders comfort in a routine of how and when they’ll receive information, and the project team’s ability to plan the frequency and timing of providing data, will provide the structure most unknowingly craved for. This is assisted by the implementation of a simple governance structure, associated frameworks and forums to allow escalations, knowledgeable responses with recommended actions and auditable decisions to be made. I find many people believe they do not have the authority to make decisions or are unable to do so but are always willing to actively contribute to any forum/decision-making process.  By creating a framework and the right environment, more decisions are able to be made and you can reduce possible blockages and subsequent long delays. TIP!! Make sure all meetings have a Terms of Reference (ToR’s) with stated quorate members, objective/purpose, standing agenda, expected meeting behaviours, and inputs and expected outputs.  Ensure you also have a good chair or assist them by having an initial ‘dry run’ outlining possible timings, items which are likely to be raised, require a clear decision to be made, or need to be discussed.
  3. Make your reporting interesting– Ensure your clients/sponsors have simple reporting to allow them to make decisions easily. This tends to require a large amount of focus and analysis upfront. Ensure every meeting and pack presented is seen as a ‘show and tell’ and an opportunity to reflect the progression and maturity of the PMO service and the value it adds. Try adding graphical information and trends gained from previous packs to show the line of travel. TIP!! Create and report against agreedKPI’s or OKR’s to show progress being made.
  4. Always understand your numbers..be it the number of resources (including skills, level, mix (independent contractors, perm, 3rd party) and location) to deliver your outcomes, the Portfolio or Programme, or all of the associated costs. This way, you can reflect trends, spot opportunities and check does it align with the organisation strategic view and intent of resource allocation and usage.
  5. Always plan to succeed..have some form of plan and vision which is regularly communicated and improved upon as you learn more and understand the demands and outcomes expected…where do you want to be and by when? Be it MS Project, roadmap, release plan etc. it is imperative for everyone to know where you are going, what does success look like, is an MVP or the outcomes clear, and when is it expected or required to be delivered by.  


Obviously the above is not exhaustive, but just an opinion.  So, have I missed any or what are yours…?


Written by Gary Heath, PMO Discipline Lead & Principle Consultant.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss this article further with Gary or if you want to know more about our PMO offering.