The energy that runs through a start up can be massively motivating. The business moves at pace, can adapt and overcome challenges, and everyone knows each other.

As fun and invigorating as working in a small but ambitious company is, there are some tasks that need to be dealt with early on, including setting up a PMO for a start-up. We’re going to be looking at:

  • Pitching the need for a PMO to the founders
  • Choosing the right PMO style for the start-up
  • Initiating operations of the PMO
  • Pitfalls of introducing a PMO to start-up

To give you an overview of how you can tackle this big and engaging task. We’ll be looking at these, and other issues in future posts, too.

Why does a start-up need a PMO?

Project management offices, or PMOs, are generally associated with large companies and enterprises. They look after governance of all the projects in the organisation and ensure successful delivery.

When you think about it, a start-up probably needs these functions just as much, if not more. A new business has:

  • Lots of things that need doing
  • A short space of time to do it in
  • A loose management structure
  • Not a whole lot of guidelines in place

Introducing processes and best practices early on in a company’s life will set it on the right course.

Which PMO style should I choose for my start-up’s PMO?

There are two general styles of PMO, a business-focussed PMO and a traditional PMO. A business-focussed PMO ensures projects give a decent ROI and have a clear business case for being implemented. A traditional PMO ensures targets are met and metrices are monitored.

It’s also possible to introduce a hybrid of both of these PMO styles. Having a business focus along with providing monitoring can bring about structure and purpose to the work of a start-up.

How do I get started with my start-up’s PMO?

The first step to getting a PMO set up is to understand why you actually need it. A start-up faces a range of challenges, such as:

  • Runaway finances
  • Delivery delays
  • Misallocation of resources
  • Doubling up on tasks

Which a PMO can help solve.

You need to identify the stakeholders in the start-up who will benefit from having a PMO. Once you get their buy-in, it’s time to get C-suite level sponsorship from the officer who’s going to most benefit from your work.

Next, you need figure out a budget, plan a structure, and figure out the roles you need to recruit for. Once you’ve got your plan, it’s time to start making moves.

What should be my first steps in a PMO for a start-up?

It’s important to understand the culture in a start-up. Lots of people choose to work in a new business because they have a lot of freedom and there’s a dynamic and innovative atmosphere. Bringing in a PMO to watch over everyone’s work might face hostility.

To bring in the concept slowly, follow these steps:

  1. Find a way to offer value to existing projects with a fresh approach to a process or a new piece of management software or tools / templates
  2. Work across the business to understand the current, future, and necessary projects
  3. Identify project managers, in a start-up this may not be their job title so get to know everyone’s role
  4. Slowly bring in governance and process – listen to feedback about where the challenges are and work on processes to help

Balancing creativity and governance in a start-up a PMO

As great an idea as a PMO is for a start-up company, not everyone will see it like that. Some of the problems that you might come across include:

  • Structure of a PMO can inhibit the creativity and pace of a start-up
  • A resistance to change coming from above
  • A dislike of formal processes being introduced
  • Push back against financial and efficiency targets
  • Difficulty in identifying projects and managers in a loose structure

These issues are different to setting up a PMO in a mature and established business and need to be handled differently.

The take home

Start-up are all about energy, pushing boundaries, and taking risks. On the other hand, an PMO is about careful analysis, conforming to process, and doing due diligence. It feels like the two wouldn’t work so well together. Setting up a PMO in a start-up is going to be a challenge, but with the positives that can come of it, it should be a rewarding process, too.