A project management office (PMO) is as vital in a new business as in a well established one. As with any change process with an organisation, there will be challenges to introduce a PMO to a start-up company.

Whether you’ve spent years working and running PMOs, or you’re on your first shot, there’ll be barriers to overcome that are particular to start-ups. We’re going to look at:

  • What’s different about a PMO in a start-up?
  • What challenges will be face introducing a PMO?
  • What tactics can be used to mitigate these challenges?

So that you know what you’ll be up against and how to overcome it.

How is a PMO in a start-up different?

Start-up companies are known to be bustling, ooze creativity, and staffed by bright young things. The aim of a start-up is to fix a problem or give a better solution than competitors.  

Bringing a PMO into this business dynamic can be tough. You may be accused of stifling creativity which is rarely a concern with a long-established organisation.

A start-up company will also want to be responsive to markets and ready to adapt fast. The structure and procedures of a PMO can be viewed as running counter to that aim.

Your PMO is a start-up needs to be carefully designed to fit what the company is doing now, but also prepare it to scale up. Once you’ve got the look of the PMO sorted it’s time to mitigate your challenges.

1.       Employee pushback

Not everyone will be as enthused about your new PMO as you. People generally resist change and have worries about things being different. A lot of people choose to work in start-ups because of the free-wheeling, dynamic nature and a PMO can feel like a threat.

Find some quick wins to introduce through your PMO to keep everyone calm. If you decide to go for the Kanban structure for project management, for example, bring in Kanban boards quickly. This will introduce the core of the concept and demonstrate that things can still be bright, creative, and dynamic.

2.       Setting direction

A start-up will have an overarching aim that’s clearly defined; how it plans to get there can be murky. An energetic company sometimes forgets about solidifying its goals, mission, and values. Bringing in a PMO can make these things necessary. You may find yourself working on the general direction of the business with your project planning, alongside running the PMO.

Be sure to interact with your C-suite sponsor. Don’t take on too much; you might identify the need for company values but it’s not the PMOs job to make them. If you need a strategic aim to be elucidated, ask for it.

3.       Maintaining C-suite engagement

Those at the top of a start-up tend to have a million things to do. They might expect that your PMO will just tick along without the need for support. The expectation will be that your office is there to take tasks off their plate.

Keeping your board level director informed is important. With a dynamic business you need to keep the office relevant. Be sure to deliver regular reports evaluating the KPIs of the office and keep a monthly face-to-face session in your respective calendars.

How do I get the buy-in of the project managers for the PMO?

Your project managers are the people you really need to get on side. Adding a new layer of management can be a worrying time, with extra accountability and new processes to learn.

It’s important you outline why you’re bringing in a PMO. You’re there to make the company a success, just like them, so bring the idea on those terms. It’s not about the benefits of having a PMO, but rather why the business needs the functions of your PMO.

Focussing on what everyone is out to achieve should harness the desires of the project managers. Be sure that you work together with project managers in your development time and bring about changes that they need.

The take home

The challenges of introducing a PMO to a start-up are different to a normal company. The people that you work with are more likely to be outcome- rather than process-led and be hostile to anything that brings structure. The structure of a start-up can easily be enhanced. Communicating that message to your colleagues through clear added value and providing personal development will help you overcome the challenges faced.