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My Top 5 Learnings from Creating and Running a PMO

[fa icon="calendar"] 27-Jul-2022 14:10:16 / by Iliyana Stareva

PMO officeIn my previous job at Cisco, I was put in charge of creating and running a PMO (Project Management Office) for the execution of the departmental strategy. 

I had never done this before but I took the challenge. It was incredibly interesting and rewarding to have to figure out something from scratch. It was also a big responsibility but this is what made it so exciting to work on. 

The approach I took was to examine the organisation and teams we had, look at what was going on already and figure out a way to make it work with what we had at hand and align with the teams and the existing projects. This PMO was focused on internal projects, not external so I think adapting to the organisation and your clients (internal or external) is extremely important. 

I learned so much from designing a PMO. When I reflect back on it, there are five key things I believe are key when being in charge of a PMO. 

My Top 5 Learnings from Creating and Running a PMO

#1. Structure is crucial 

A PMO consists of multiple projects and programs not just one project or one program. This is what creates complexity because you end up with a lot of people working on different priorities that are related and require alignment because of their interdependencies. To achieve successful execution of all projects and programs a consistent structure is required. We call this a governance model - basically, how do we collaborate and align, how do we execute the work in a way that's consistent but provides flexibility, when do we talk to each other via meetings, what other means of comms and reporting do we use, how do we make decisions, how do we escalate issues etc. All of this needs to be put down in writing.

When I began working on the governance for my PMO, I looked at it from three big categories (pillars) around which the key programs aligned to. I assigned a primary lead for each pillar to oversee the project execution with their project managers. I designed a meetings cadence per program and projects as well as per overall PMO plus put some organisation on where we store documents, how we communicate progress and how we create a track record of it. 

#2. Clear roles & responsibilities are so important

As part of a good governance model, you need to ensure people know what they are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to do. Usually, in organisations, we give owners to certain projects or tasks. Overall for the PMO, you need to know who owns comms and/or running meetings, who owns reporting, who owns which project, program or pillar, who are the decision-makers and influencers and at what level etc. This can be done on an individual or on a team basis - e.g. CX vs Sales. 

I typically use DARCI as a model to identify decision-makers, accountable, responsible, consulted and informed individuals. In my governance document for the PMO I had all of this listed and updated regularly. 

#3. Prioritisation makes it or breaks it

We have the tendency to always add more and consider everything important. That's especially true in fast-growing companies where people tend to want to do everything and do it now. Initiatives and new projects just get added but nothing gets removed so the workload keeps increasing, while the results diminish. 

When I began building our PMO, the original list of projects was concise but as things started to evolve the list increased and increased. We had to go through the exercise of truly defining the impact of each project and deciding where to put our energy and resources based on the biggest expected outcomes.

If there's too much, focus gets diluted and results suffer significantly as you end up achieving very little or not at all due to too many conflicting priorities or too much workload.  

#4. Continuous feedback and iteration drive incremental improvement

In alignment with the previous point, we had to build a way to get constant feedback and be agile in implementing it. Feedback was coming from all directions but as a leader, I was able to consolidate and look at ways to improve across the entire PMO. 

This way, we became more efficient, we encountered ways to consolidate certain pieces of work or found interdependencies that allowed us to save time in certain projects and prioritise specific areas differently. 

Feedback and iteration are especially important when you're dealing with a big group of people from different departments that you need to keep happy. Good stakeholder management and constant communication are key. It might sound as admin but note-taking during meetings, following up with them and assigning tasks and then closing the loop on the progress of those is what ensures focus and shows that you're learning from the feedback and are making progress. 

#5. Keeping it simple is key to making it work

When I first defined the structure for the PMO, there were a range of different stakeholder meetings planned and detailed reporting documentation. 

As the PMO grew (in initiatives and people involved), we had to reduce and keep things really simple. We made the decision to leverage tools as much as possible and use meetings just when we had to have an important conversation and make decisions. Everything else that was for information purposes was sent either via email or stored on a Sharepoint site so people could consume the content at their own pace and time. 

Keeping it simple like this removed workload from myself and especially for the PMs on the projects who were the ones preparing the meetings and the reports. 


So in the end, a lot of it was learning by doing and improving as you go. In today's enterprises, flexibility and the ability to pivot quickly is really what drives effective execution because it's based on what's working and what's not.


Have you ever run a PMO? Share your key learnings below!


Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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