Five Phases for PMO Leader Success in the First 100 Days

Jun 24, 2016
9 Min Read
Five Phases for PMO Leader Success in the First 100 Days

Five Phases for PMO Leader Success in the First 100 Days

In March, Gartner analysts Mbula Schoen and Michael Hanford outlined their recommendations for new PMOs in a detailed report, The PMO Leader’s First 100 Days.

Schoen and Hanford defined project management office, or PMO, as a function designed to facilitate and improve the management of projects through the application and use of PPM disciplines, such as project management and program management.  The PMO also participates in business and IT governance activities by providing some degree of execution, analysis, and visibility into proposed and existing initiatives.

New PMO leaders must balance the need to build relationships, meet expectations, and gain acceptance and buy-in. The analysts suggested that they view target outcomes in terms of five phases that often overlap: Prepare, Assess, Plan, Act, and Measure.

Prepare Phase (Days −10 to 15)

As with any new strategic role, it helps to optimize your chances for success before you “officially” begin. “Prior to starting work, you must work with your (almost) new boss and major stakeholders to be sure you're all on the same page regarding expectations and a shared view of what success is and what it will be,” said Schoen and Hanford. “Check, at a minimum, that the following are in place as you go forward.”

  • A reporting relationship to an influential, well-positioned executive who embraces the value of the PMO. His/her authority and political connections are one of your major assets.
  • A good understanding of the purpose of the PMO, ensuring it is aligned with organizational objectives. Many new PMO leaders wrongly assume their purpose is to institute tighter controls, often slowing down the system, when the actual purpose is to speed the system up.
  • A set of expectations by those leaders who agreed to the need for a PMO. Determine that the PMO can (mostly) meet these expectations inside the current culture, its proposed organizational location, and the political climate and organizational maturity.
  • A proposed level of staffing and resources that’s a realistic match to the expectations.

Assess Phase (Days 0 to 30)

The Assess Phase is all about listening, learning, and taking small steps. “You don't yet know where the cultural and political land mines reside,” said Schoen and Hanford. “Use this time to map out the environmental and governance landscape, PPM maturity, past PMO experiences, and the robustness of current program, project, and portfolio management (initiatives).” Target outcomes for this phase are as follows:

  • An organizationally aligned purpose for the PMO.
  • One to three challenges that can be successfully addressed in your first 100 days. The Gartner analysts recommended that you judge these by “real value” (actual delivery of results) and “perceived value” (how people view those results).
  • The key organizational and operating needs and deliverables that must be addressed immediately, those that can be deferred. “Avoid making significant changes unless these are truly pressing,” said Schoen and Hanford.

Plan Phase (Days 15 to 45)

This phase can be fraught with danger, because too much detailed planning can lead to paralysis and inaction. "PMOs succeed (or fail) based upon the perceptions of others and rapidly establishing credibility,” said Schoen and Hanford. “Make any plans you come up with lightweight and simple. Be ruthless in responding to events by changing your plans.” By Day 45, you should have accomplished:

  • A clear goal of two or three specific issues to be addressed by the PMO in its early stages of operation.
  • Targets or milestones for the core dimensions of PPM: people, practices and processes, value and financial management, tools, and relationships.
  • Buy-in from your boss/sponsor and other influencers who have clearly indicated their endorsement of the target issues.
  • Two plan outlines: one for the whole of Year 1 and one for the second 100 days.
  • Identified resources, that is, internal staff and candidates, contracted outside staff, and/or an outsourced PMO provider to carry through on the target issues.

Check out Gordon Tredgold's FAST principles to make sure you're focused on the right things and have the tools to succeed.

Act Phase (Days 30 to 80)

The Act phase overlaps the Plan phase, but requires focusing tightly on critical actions that must be taken in your first 100 days.  Your ability to shepherd these initial actions through to a successful conclusion has permanent implications for the future of the PMO. According to Schoen and Hanford, your target outcomes should be:

  • Well-communicated early successes as part of the execution of your communications plan.
  • Agreed-upon expectations with your boss/sponsor, stakeholders, influencers and peers for success of the PMO, evidenced in a signed-off charter.
  • Active pursuit of a Year 1 strategy with at least one major milestone completed.
  • Engagement with IT and business management — within the scope of the evolving PMO charter — and acceptance of their advice, assistance, and/or PMO-provided assets.
  • A working stakeholder group with its first meeting behind it.

Measure Phase (Days 45 to 100)

This phase, especially the last month of your first 100 days, cements a solid foundation for your PMO. Use your last month of the first 100 days to finalize a solid foundation for the PMO to move forward, but don’t obsess too much over numbers. “The PMO head's first 100 days success has lots to do with people, their perceptions, some degree of attitude adjustment, and little to do with things,” said Schoen and Hanford. Keeping that in mind, your target outcomes for this phase are:

  • A shared vision of what the PMO can do and will be, together with agreement upon the initial actions and their organizational impact among your boss/sponsor, and stakeholders and influencers.
  • Positive feelings displayed on the faces of colleagues and potential service consumers as you interact with them, discussing where the PMO will and won’t go. “At 100 days, accept your successful interactions and relationships as your mandate to go out and do the real work of engaging with, supporting and facilitating major organizational success with improvements in PPM practices, execution, and added value to IT and business goals,” said the analysts.

If you’re a new PMO leader, be sure to check out Gartner’s full report. It is chock full of additional advice, recommended actions, and resources for getting started on the right foot.

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