How to Build a People Focused PMO!

People Focused PMOs – Do they exist? 

I have been in Project Management for over 30 years, and I’ve been in the Project Management Office (PMO) space for the last 19 years and managing ten PMOs. What I have noticed over my time in the industry is that PMOs come, they go, start up, shut down… etc. I have built Directive PMOs, Supportive PMOs, PMOs of one, PMOs of thirty, every shape and size across four different companies. I’ve run Agile PMOs, Waterfall PMOs across Information Technology, Services, Data Warehousing, Marketing, Operations… etc. When you run seven PMOs at one of the largest software companies in the world, you gain a ton of experience. I have also put every PMO process in place, every project management tool in place, and over my career, have seen a lot of different software products. I have also seen that PMOs rarely last that long for a variety of reasons. One reason I have seen over and over on why PMOs shut down is what I have documented for years in both of my PMO books, this concept is called “The PMO Cycle” and essentially what it says is that PMOs will last 3-5 years maximum. 

Before we get into the article, I have a webinar on this that I would love to show you the introduction for if you want to check it out. Have a watch.

Remember, it is not the full webinar, that is a paid because it is information that is going to take your PMO to the next level. If you are interested check it out here:

How to build a People based PMO Webinar

Otherwise, let’s keep going.

Figure 1.0–The PMO Cycle

How to Build a People Focused PMO!

Why is that? Well, it’s mostly because executives only last 3-5 years, and when the executive goes, so does the PMO! So that means PMO Managers need to be smarter about how they run their organizations and they must stop talking about processes, ROI, governance, and business value, and start talking about how they are caring for their people. Well, do not actually stop talking about those things, just don’t make them the one and only thing about your PMO. PMO Managers need to talk about their people first, and everything else second, until you do, nothing will change. PMOs will come, go, startup, shutdown… etc.

James Carville

There is a statement made by James Carville in 1992 that I just love. Mr. Carville was an aid to candidate and soon to be President Bill Clinton. The quote was “It’s the Economy, Stupid”. It resonated so well that it got Bill Clinton thinking about the most important thing he should focus to win the election. He won. I guess it was the economy.
Well, I have a saying, less harsh of course, that I tell PMO Directors, Managers… etc. that goes like this “It’s the People, St***d”. I am certainly not as direct as James was in his quote, but after that conversation, people walk away with the knowledge of the fact they must change their focus from process and tools and move to people. It’s that simple. Focus on your people and your PMO will be sustainable. Focus on tools and processes and your PMO will be gone! 

Remember the saying “PMO’s will come, will go, come, go.” You see where I am going here, right?

So, how do PMO Managers make that switch? First, let’s think about this for a second. This is difficult and it’s not something that will happen overnight, so start slowly – and I understand if you need help, I got you. Just follow this link– Bill Dow’s Mentoring/Coaching Program for any support you may need. By starting this people focused approach in your PMO slowly, I simply mean that you first need to think about what it means to be people-focused, and then second, create one or two of these people-focused programs (see below) in place inside your PMO. Those programs will speed up that shift for you and get you and your PMO more people focused. But the big question is, how do I take my focus away from the process, governance, and ROI and be more strategic and think about my people?

Well, it’s difficult, really the project management industry is so focused on process, governance and hitting that key date than they are on people. The industry pressure of having all these PMO functions, such as Governance, ROI, Business Value, all drives how PMO Managers operate, and it becomes less about building a sustainable organization and more about hitting a key date or completing an executive pet project. I’m sure you’ve seen that as well.

It also takes a mind shift for every PMO Manager out there that is not focusing on their people first, to genuinely believing that “People are the most important resource” of any organization. If PMO Managers do not focus on people, their PMO will fail. When PMO Managers really believe that, then they will focus their organizations not only on Governance and ROI, but on their people. If PMO Managers do not believe in their people first, and they don’t talk that way, or act that way, it will catch up to them. The individual contributors throughout their PMO will take notice. Lose that credibility as a leader, and you will be in trouble.

What do I mean, you will be in trouble? Well, I’ve seen it, experienced it, and frankly, it is just part of running a PMO. Project Manager(s) come and go frequently in PMOs. That’s the nature of running these organizations. When I was running a PMO during Y2K (I know, I know, I am old); it was an amazing time for hiring project managers. The economy was excellent and project managers could get a job anywhere. Some of my vendor project managers left my PMO to work for another company for an extra $5.00 more an hour. Yep, they would jump from vendor to vendor and company to company for that extra bit of cash. Hey, a project is a project, so they figured they would jump and grab the money when they could during these exciting times. Those were my vendors, but did your employees jump as well? Yes, in that Y2K era, they sure did. When the economy is good, project managers leap for a variety of reasons.

Why does that happen? Well, that is because those employees see you care more about processes and tools than you do them. If you do not care about them or their careers, they won’t care about your PMO, so you must put people-focused programs in place to show your dedication to them and their careers. The funny thing is that we are just today talking about PMOs, but what about Finance, what about HR, IT. Of course, they are all affected as well, but sometimes those leaders of those organizations suffer the same problems, when they don’t put people-focused programs in place, their folks will leave as well.

Why do you think we should focus so much on our employees in the PMO? Employee turnover, it’s that simple. The cost of employee turnover and you having to ramp up new employees, or better yet vendors in place of employees, is tremendous. When you search facts about employee turnover, on average, it costs ½ to two times an employee’s salary when they turn over. Employee turnover is costly for any department, including your PMO.

Ok, so for today, can we agree to shift our minds to our people? Are you ready? Great, we are now ready to build our first People Focused PMO.

But one more thing before I start, I must state that your PMO is still going to have project portfolio management, program management and project management, that’s a given, and I hope I did not mislead you. See, clearly that is what a PMO does, so I am not proposing we change that. We are still going to focus on Governance, ROI, Business Value, Tools and Process. But you are also going to lean in and focus on your people as well. That might be a new concept, so let’s keep going so I can keep explaining exactly how we do that for your PMO.

How do you build people focused programs inside your PMO that clearly focus on improving their careers and their skills within your organization? This is what I’m going to cover. Remember, if you don’t do it, they will leave and find someone else who will, which is costly and causes tremendous problems? in your organization. You will not find this material anywhere else. Trust me, Google it, Bing it, it is not out there, that is why I am so excited to share today!

Ok ready?

There are ten steps to building out a People Focused PMO. These include the following in Figure 2—Ten Steps in Building a People Focused PMO.

Figure 2–Ten Steps in Building a People Focused PMO

Please note, steps 7–10 are COVID era focused, and very important in the current environment we live in today.

What do you think, great right? With these programs in place and active in your PMO, you have now turned your PMO towards being more people focused. You have put programs in place that show the people in your PMO that you care about them, their careers, and how important they are to your organization. Amazing, isn’t it? No, I need to tell you more? Ok, let’s do that now.

You are a PMO Director/Manager, right?

Well, let’s play a little game. Imagine for a second that are an HR Director. You have an exceptionally large HR organization; you have HR Managers reporting to you. Each manager has 10 HR analysts reporting to them, so you have an organization of 35 people, give, or take, including your managers, admins… etc. Remember, you are an HR Manager, not a PMO Manager. Play along, I am going somewhere here.

Ok, so as an HR Director you have 35 people working for you. Let me ask you this, do you think you ever wake up in the middle of the night screaming that they are going to shut down your HR org? Do you ever lay in a pool of sweat so stressed out that one wrong move and your org is going away? No, because HR Directors don’t have that pressure because those organizations never get shut down in any company. Finance never gets shutdown IT never gets shutdown. It never happens because HR, Finance, and IT are all backbone organizations for any company. Their business functions exist to support the company and so shutting them down really is not an option.

So, how was your sleep last night? Did you regret saying something at yesterday’s meeting? Kidding, of course, but am I?

Why do I tell you this? Because as a PMO Director/Manager, you might not have the same priority of, say HR, but you are also the backbone of any company, and you need to treat your PMO like it’s just as important as HR, IT, Finance… etc. That’s what the “O” in PMO means, Organization. When you make that mindset shift, you look at your PMO differently, and you understand that people ARE the backbone of your PMO. You are now set up for long-term success. Therefore, if your people are your backbone, you really need to get programs in place that show them you care about them and their careers. That’s the whole reason for setting up a People Focused PMO! The programs we covered in those ten steps will do just that for your organization. It will put programs in place that will help the people of your PMO (project management office) grow in their careers and make them want to stay put for a while. Will some jump? Of course, they will, but let’s try to limit that jumping where we can.

If you would like more information on this topic. I have a paid webinar that is pre-recorded and ready to go. No, it’s not free, but remember, this information is not out on the web). In this 44 min webinar, I will walk you through each of these programs and give you the tools and templates we covered in the material that you can use immediately in your PMO. You may have to tweak them for your organization, but you have a starting point and as a PMO Director/Manager, you should be ready to implement them in your respective organizations.

Here at this link to the pre-recorded webinar – How to build a people focused PMO, I am excited about you moving your PMO into the future.

Really, at ½ to two times the cost for every employee who leaves you, can you afford not to put these programs in place?

Want to try my “How to Run a PMO” ChatBot?

Click the image below and get started! If you don’t have one, you will be prompted to sign-up for a FREE account on Poe.com. It is no different than signing up for a free account on ChatGPT. Grab your free account and start playing with this new chatbot today!


What do you think?

If you like this article, I know you are going to like this one:  Top 20 Best Project Management Office Director / Manager Interview Questions for 2021

However, not everyone, can create these people focused PMOs right away, I get that, so maybe to get you going, check out this article as well. The Ultimate How to Build a Project Management Office(PMO) Checklist in 12 Steps!

Of course, if you need to shut down your current PMO I have you covered as well. Check that article here: How to Shutdown a Project Management Office (PMO)

I am here to help!

Bill Dow, PMP

Relevant YouTube videos:

Connect with me on Socials

Want to see all my Products, Courses, Templates….? Check it out here:
Facebook Business Page: 
Facebook Group for support/questions: 
Join my newsletter: 
YouTube Channel Link: 

Related Posts:

Bill Dow, a PMP-certified expert in Project Management Offices (PMOs), has co-authored books on the subject. With over 20 years of teaching experience and having built 10 PMOs across 4 companies.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap