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How to Develop PMO Standards and Best Practices

leadership pmo pmo leadership project delivery project management Aug 08, 2023
How to Develop PMO Standards and Best Practices

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted from project manager to PMO Leader. With this promotion comes an entirely different way of looking at how you work and will succeed in your new management position. Gone are the days of running a project from beginning to end, following a predefined plan, and then moving onto the next project, only to rinse and repeat.  

You now own the PMO function in the company. This means that you steward the maintenance and improvement of all PMO processes and procedures, and ensure they are constantly evolving. Unlike a project that would previously come to an end, this is a never-ending job! 

A Word of Advice 

Want some advice that will profoundly impact your chances of success or failure in your new role? There’s a management principle that goes along the lines of: 

 “What you put up with, you end up with.  

You can only expect what you accept.”  

The principle is simple. If you put up with substandard or sloppy work from your team members, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Or, if you’re willing to accept work that is late, or not bringing value to the company, that’s what you can expect. 

You need to set up your PMO as a system of expectations, rather than a system of exceptions. Hold people accountable to deliver on these expectations. High performers will rise to the challenge, and low performers will find the door out. In the workplace, it’s better to be respected than loved. But, neither does it mean that you have to be a jerk to enforce your standards. 

Which brings us to the question, you do have PMO standards in place, right? 

Developing PMO Standards 

If you answered “no” to the question above, follow the guidelines below for setting PMO (high) standards and best practices. This will also propel your organization's PMO Journey forward. 

  1. Define a PMO Purpose Statement – To establish your PMO Standards you first need to define Why your PMO exists. To do this, work with the Executive Leadership team to establish a joint understanding.  Then document and distribute the Purpose Statement so all organizational leaders have the same understanding.  Now that everyone is aligned on Why the PMO exists, you can establish Standards based on a sound foundation. 
  2. Decide your Project Management Approach - Define the approach for your team to follow. Will you be a service organization?  Will you operate centralized or federated?  Will you define a specific methodology to follow such as Waterfall, Agile, Hybrid? Do you lead Strategic Portfolio discussions or focus on project delivery and execution?  First you define Why the PMO exists then you determine What is your approach. 
  3. Implement Standardized Processes and Templates – All great teams have a playbook.  The playbook let’s everyone know the expectations and rules of engagement for the roles within your PMO and the greater organization.  You don’t want your team of project managers to go rogue with what they use to manage their projects and you don’t want Sponsors unaware of the role they play on a project.  First you define Why you exist, then What is your Approach.  Third is to define How you will operate. 
  4. Define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - KPIs help us understand if PMO standards are being followed or working as expected. These metrics are different from what we use to track project KPIs that involve time, budget, and scope. Your KPIs should now focus on Overall Project Success Rate, Stakeholder Satisfaction, ROI of Project Portfolios, and other metrics that answer the question, “How does your project taste? 
  5. Conduct Training and Awareness Sessions - You can’t keep all the work you’ve done in steps 1 through 4 a secret. Develop training programs for your project managers and the broader organization to make sure they understand their responsibilities, processes and templates, and KPIs that the organization will be using to deliver projects.  Also, create Awareness campaigns that show stakeholders how your PMO will operate, and what is needed from them to make the partnership successful.  
  6. Keep Your Standards Current - This is not a set-it-and-forget-it exercise. It’s easy to invest all this time up front, and then shelve resulting standards and forget about them. Put bi-annual reminders on your calendar (ideally quarterly) to review PMO standards, ensure they are being followed, and make any adjustments necessary. 

The Result? 

Don’t take a random path to success.  Building and maintaining a successful PMO is a challenge, and you should be systematic and thoughtful with your PMO development.  Start with these 3 steps: 

  • Why does your PMO exist? 
  • What is our PMO Approach? 
  • How will the PMO Operate? 

These resulting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Best Practices specify what you will put up with, and what you yourself can expect to end up with. Discuss these SOPs weekly at PMO team meetings. Ask how they are working and incorporate best practices from your team as well as those from outside of your company.  

And, yes, there needs to be consequences if they are not being followed. These consequences could range from a quick hallway conversation reminding someone to follow the process, to termination for blatant disregard of standards. 

Remember, you can only expect what you accept. We expect that you’ll accept only the highest quality work. Putting PMO standards in place will help you make that happen! 


How to Develop PMO Standards  

You need to have standards in place in order to expect high performance from your PMO team members.  

  1. Determine Your PMOs Current Standards - Perform an assessment of current standards, if any, you have in place for your PMO. Look at areas such as communication, processes, templates, metrics, and other components that are important to running a successful PMO. 
  2. Fill in the Gaps - Review the assessment and come up with a plan to develop standards around any areas that may be missing. Then, treat “create standards” like a project, and assign the work to get done.
  3. Document Your Standards and Share with Your Team - Take the results of your work (templates, processes, procedures, best practices, etc.) and compile them into an easily shareable and update-able format. This could be on Google Drive, Teams, SharePoint or whatever tool your company uses.  This is your Playbook allowing your team and the organization to operate from a single source of truth.
  4. Enforce and Review Regularly - Ensure the team is following these standards. Reward those who are following the standards by recognizing them in front of others. Also ensure there are well-defined consequences for those who are deviating from the standards.  


SOPs- Standard Operating Procedures are detailed, step-by-step instructions or guidelines that describe how specific tasks or processes should be executed in your organization. 

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