Should we fire our PMO director?

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Should we fire our PMO director?

Is your PMO director getting the job done? Is he or she focused on leading the project management office and helping the project managers successfully manage projects and careers?

Project management office (PMO) directors. They can be helpful or they can be a necessary evil. Someone has to steer the ship. But does it have to be that person? Have you heard yourself and/or your colleagues talk that way about your PMO director? If so, then this article may be for you. I’ve been involved in creating, participating, and leading several PMOs over the years and I have some definite opinions about what works as well as what doesn’t. I’m may not be 100 percent correct, but this is a starting point…let’s hear your opinions on this topic after you read the article a couple of times. In my opinion, the PMO director must:

Be a leader for the PMs

The PMO director needs to be a leader for the people. He must be ready to get PMs training, understand roadblocks and remove them, champion the cause and fight for it, get the tools in place for his PMs, set processes and procedures that will work (with the help, of course, of his PMs), and respect their opinions and input. It’s not a role for the meek or faint of heart - he’ll earn his stripes along the way. Leadership is key.

Be a manager, not a project manager

Don’t take this the wrong way. A PMO director should be a project manager by experience, but not an active one. Once you take on the role of PMO director that’s the mantle you must carry. Sure, the PMO director will get involved when critical issues arise on projects. But actively leading projects? Forget it. From every experience I’ve had or witnessed, it’s a recipe for disaster. You'll need to turn in your PM badge while running the PMO. Managing those PMs and working for everything they need and what the PMO needs to be successful in the organization - that’s what you need to be doing. If you're trying to do both, you’ll likely be spread too thin to be successful in either role.

Have the right background for the industry

I realize that great PM skills can translate pretty well from industry to industry. But it does help project managers to come in with a background. It helps when they are presented with estimates from their team members for project change orders. It helps when they are “talking” the technology with the team, with company leadership, with outside vendors, and with the customer. The same is true of the PMO director. Maybe even more so. So, yes, in certain industries having the right background is helpful - and maybe critical... especially for the PMO director.

Be respected and connected in the organization

The PMO director must have the rest of the organization on board for the PMO cause. The best way to do that is to be well connected and respected in the organization by company leadership, other department heads, and some of the stakeholders that PMs will likely work with along the way on their project engagements. It will be beneficial when hoping for cooperation and smooth sailing on projects and when trying to acquire resources, get financial support and get priority when needing help or services from others in the company.

Be networked with PMs and leaders in other organizations

Finally, having outside network connections is helpful, too. Being a respected leader and subject matter expert (SME) by his peers in the profession and even the industry is helpful. The PMO is often in need of help, advice, direction, new templates and guidance on tools so these types of connections can come in very handy when issues arise or PMOs hit bumps in the road. The ability to reach out to colleagues is often helpful. Plus, when new PM resources are needed, this type of connectivity will help fill roles faster.


I realize some may not share my opinions on this. I’m sure there are many PMO directors who are wearing both hats successfully. I’m just saying from my experience it’s best to separate the two and it’s best that a “regular” manager is not appointed to lead the PMO - they should be a leader but also an experienced and successful PM so they understand the concerns, needs and issues that arise.