PMO Worst Practices

If you are trying to setup or improve your PMO, you are likely starting by gathering resources. There are so many resources out there to choose from and frankly, Google can be a great place to start for many things we want to learn.

Heck, I use it daily to answer life’s many questions.

Where is the nearest Mexican restaurant?

How late is the library open?

What’s the weather like?

Is my favorite character still alive on the Walking Dead?

It took years of my family bugging me to watch it and I finally acquiesced. Now, we sneak it in when we are forced to sit still, which isn’t often! BUT, I always want to know who’s going to be around in the future and then I try to tell my husband while he’s covering his ears because he wants to be surprised! LOL! So much fun. ?

All the important stuff can be found on Google!

Of course, you can also google more serious questions and it can be a great resource for learning new skills. However, learning how to build and run a PMO that your business leaders are really begging for on Google can be dangerous.

Here’s the problem with using the Google approach to learning how to build a PMO:

You will come across a lot of worst practices

What do I mean?

So many resources out there follow the standard steps:

  • Create a charter
  • Put a tool in place
  • Create templates and process
  • Hire a bunch of people
  • Panic because the PMO isn’t showing value and it might not make the next round of budget cuts

OK, they don’t usually say that last part, but that’s usually what happens next.

After all this data telling us year after year that only about 50% of PMOs are successful and we are STILL seeing so much information out there on the process and tools as the focus, goal, and output created from the PMO.

And that, in and of itself, is the problem. Too much focus on outputs instead of outcomes.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching why this outcomes focus is missing for many PMOs and often it starts with where the PMO leader comes from. Many PMO leaders were tapped on the shoulder while they were busy running projects. They became the accidental PMO leader, just like many of them became the accidental project manager years before that.

Sound familiar?

And as a project manager, we are told that our success is defined by the triple constraint and that our very value is defined by how great our process looks. Well, that’s what the books and training were all telling us, so it must be true.

Now, fast forward to the project manager that got promoted into the role of PMO leader. The title changed, but the mindset didn’t.

Some of them fell victim to the thinking that what got them there would keep them there.

They neglected to shift to a business-focused leader and continued to leverage their process-focused role as a project manager.

The other scenario I have seen frequently is the PMO leader that came from another business unit and didn’t even know project management to start.

In both cases, they did what most of the PMO books and training said, which was just a process, tools, and people mindset now jacked up to an organization-wide takeover of productivity.

“Now let’s take over the world with our templates and checklists!”  (Said no true business leader ever.)

Many of these PMO leaders get busy with the templates, process, and implementing tools (sometimes starting there to their eventual demise) and then celebrate success for taking over the world with their process.

And guess what happens?

No one cares.


Nothing improves.

Projects don’t get done faster. In fact, they take longer now and are more expensive.

Plus we hired a bunch of people and now the PMO is costing a lot more and things are taking longer…with no value yet realized.

A lot of work is still happening on projects that should have been shut down or never started.

Everyone is busy, but the outcomes aren’t getting realized any faster. Throughput isn’t increasing.

Business leaders are still pouring money into the PMO.

They are getting impatient.

And it’s unfortunate because the PMO leaders are just doing their very best to do what many of the books and educators are telling them to do. It’s not really their fault.

Then, there is a third category of PMO leader I found along my 20 year journey in the PMO space. The ones that came from another business unit as a business leader but had the confidence that they knew what they were doing and didn’t bury themselves in the conflicting information about the “best” way to implement the PMO.

Interestingly, these leaders ended up being more successful PMO leaders because they knew how to be business leaders first and didn’t get caught up in typical people, process, tools approach.

This was very confusing to the PMs in the PMO or surrounding business units. “Why isn’t this person doing what we know best? They are going to fail,” they would say.

But they didn’t fail.

They didn’t read the books because they knew how to run a successful business unit. The services might be different, but the overall goal is the same. Drive ever-higher return on the investment the organization is making in the business unit and in creating change.

They talked to their business leaders about what was needed, they assessed the organization for opportunities to drive IMPACT, they created a business plan (not a charter), and they built a sustainable business unit.

They ran their organization like a business unit and they got outcomes, not just outputs.

As PMO leaders, we must make a shift. We’ve got to remember that the reason that the PMO exists is to drive higher IMPACT for the organization’s strategy.

And here’s where the yeah, but usually comes in…

Some PMO leaders and educators will say, “Yeah, but you are strategic. I’m more of a get it done kind of person.”


What, specifically, are you so busy getting done that isn’t tied to the strategy of the organization? It all ties back to the strategy. If you don’t see the connection, that’s where you start. If there is no connection, it shouldn’t be happening.

As PMO leaders, if we aren’t talking strategy, our jobs will be in jeopardy. We should all take the strategic perspective. We are business leaders, not administrators. Administrators are cheap and replaceable. Business leaders are the very fabric of the organization.

As business leaders, we must provide real strategic value and always look to the outcomes we are creating and stop spending so much time and energy on simply creating outputs.

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10 replies
  1. jado123
    jado123 says:

    Hi Laura
    Thanks so much indeed for often checking on me and see how am progressing with my PMO career.

    Your insights are often great and hitting the nail on the head.

    However, it sound pretty confusing sometimes as seemed as contravesry or contention that some agreed to use charter while others use business plan and others think of using business value driven or stakeholder bias so it’s really I guess what matter most is what make sense to us as pmo leader and executives as well to use and give it a try.


    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Hey, Ahmed! Thank you for writing. It’s always great to hear from you.

      I know that it can be confusing with so many different ideas out there. As you might see from Mark Price Perry’s (the father of the business driven PMO) message on this thread, we are very much in sync. The goal IS to be business driven, always. That means creating a business plan for your business unit, not a charter.

      A charter is for a temporary endeavor, a.k.a. a project. Why would we start the PMO with the mindset that it’s temporary? You gotta jump in with both feet and be committed to the outcomes! You can learn more about that here:

      Mark has a great approach with the stakeholder bias to help you prioritize stakeholder needs (you can watch him talk about it here: This is exactly what we do in Module 2 of the IMPACT Engine PMO training program you are in. We Assess the Organization for IMPACT Opportunities, first and foremost, by talking to your stakeholders and executives. We discover the pain points and what matters most to the stakeholders and use that to help us prioritize the PMO efforts.

      Later, in the Delivery Module, we use that same technique of evaluating stakeholder bias to help prioritize the projects in the portfolio as part of the services we are delivering.

      Don’t worry! You’ve got this. We’re here for you.

  2. jado123
    jado123 says:

    But most importantly what I have realized since I joined your IEPMO training program and went through some of the PMO impact summit recordings I come a cross the fact that I know nothing about PMO and I needed to get it done this time as it seems becomes a chellange to me got to do it . So pls. I want really to get a very practical training and intensive one through full guidance of you to help me to get it done. Could you promise to help me.
    I am ready to do whatever it takes to do it right. But be reasonable in your price Lol.

    Thanks alot Laura.i learned alot and I beg for me from you .

    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Ha! Well, you are definitely in the right place, Ahmed. We’re all here for you.

      As a member of the IEPMO training program, you will have the opportunity to join the group coaching program shortly and I will send information on that and what to expect. I really appreciate your questions and continued engagement. Keep at it! We will do this together. 🙂

  3. Stuart Easton
    Stuart Easton says:


    Loved this blog.

    “[Most PMO leaders have] too much focus on outputs instead of outcomes.”

    —- Like you Laura, I reckon the outcome is ALL that matters!

    “Some PMO leaders and educators will say, “Yeah, but you are strategic. I’m more of a get it done kind of person.”
    What, specifically, are you so busy getting done that isn’t tied to the strategy of the organization?”

    —– I hear comments all the time like, “I’m too busy to improve the strategic alignment of your portfolio” and it’s a sure sign that a PMO is struggling (and is likely to continue doing so)

    Keep ’em coming Laura.

    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Thanks, Stuart! Yes, I’m sure you do hear this a lot and it is absolutely a sign that the PMO is struggling, will get shut down, or people will stop engaging. You can never be too busy to align with strategy. That’s the whole point, after all.

      And you have the perfect software to help PMO leaders and executives prioritize easily. Thank you so much for offering your TransparentChoice software free of charge to members of the IEPMO training program. Your investment in our PMO leaders globally is so greatly appreciated!

  4. Mark Price Perry
    Mark Price Perry says:


    Another nice article and pearl of wisdom. PMO worst practices? Yep, you hit the nail on the head. And coincidentally your sidebar on The Walking Dead was not just a good example of Google use, but also a subliminal reminder that these PMO worst practices can and often do lead to a “walking dead” PMO.

    Also, your callout about the tactical PMO crowd is really important. I have seen many tactical PMO operators get so busy in quickly setting up tools, following their roadmap, and delivering outputs that lost in their thinking is the why of it all, a very bad way to think both initially during PMO setup and afterwards throughout ongoing PMO management. I refer to these folks as an example of the difference between years of experience and 1 year of experience many times.

    I echo Stuart Easton. KTC – keep them coming…!

    • Laura Barnard
      Laura Barnard says:

      Thank you, Mark!

      LOL! So funny that you picked up on that “walking dead” reference, but not really surprised. 🙂 Yes, that’s exactly how we are perceived when our PMO is filled with the worst practices.

      I really hope those reading this understand how very much those writing on this thread are truly and passionately dedicated to furthering the PMO and the careers of those that lead them. We have seen it all and we can tell you from so many decades combined experience that the PMO can be an incredibly valuable strategic asset to the organization.

      …but to get there, you gotta focus on the outcomes…


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