Establishing a project management office (PMO) in any company can be a challenge. Bringing a new, structured, and focussed setup into a dynamic and responsive start-up company creates even more pain points, but the effort should be worth it.

Where to position a PMO in a start-up is one of the first issues that needs to be addressed as you begin the PMO journey. Does it belong with the chief executive, finance, operations, or even talent officer? We’re going to look at how you can make that decision, covering:

  • Some of the questions you need to ask of the start-up
  • Which style of PMO you opt for
  • What you need to understand about the business

What do I need to know to position my PMO?

Start-ups have a very different culture compared to most bigger enterprises. It’s exemplified in Facebook’s motto when it was first starting out, “move fast and break things”. In the fast-paced, creative, and sometimes a little reckless business environment, you need to see why a PMO is needed.

Whether you’ve been bought in to set up a PMO, or you’ve used your initiative to decide to pitch, you need to understand what the current challenges are:

  • Do current projects lack financial control and discipline?
  • Is work getting duplicated and are workflows going uncontrolled?
  • Will the business be going for a big scale-up push soon?
  • Is talent being misallocated in disorganised project structures?

Where the current project management issues lie will depend which board member you put your PMO under.

You need to look what the needs of the business are now, and the direction it will be heading to determine future issues. Figure out what problems your PMO is going to solve to know where in the business the start-up PMO belongs.

Does the type of PMO determine where it sits in a start-up?

Although there are lots of different ways of running projects, with agile and waterfall being the two common frameworks, there are two main styles of PMO to consider. Which one you choose for your PMO in a start-up will affect which area oversees your office.

Traditional PMO

A traditional PMO focusses on governance and process. It’s there to ensure projects have the skills and resources to be delivered on time and on budget. A traditional PMO would sit in a business either directly under the CEO or the operations remit – it’s there to make sure the business functions well.

In terms of start-up, you’d implement this style when preparing to enter the scale-up phase and processes need to be defined. It’ll ensure efficient allocation of resources and that management systems become more organised and effective.

Business-focussed PMO

Ensuring projects deliver on the strategic goals of the business is the main aim of a business-focussed PMO. This office ensures that projects adapt to changing markets and have a clear effect on the bottom line. It’ll bring finances under control and provide an overall direction for what projects should achieve.

Because a business-focussed PMO is about making the right decisions for the future of the business, it would fit under the CEO or CFO. If you set up a business-focussed PMO so that talent gets to the right places in the business, there’s also a case to position it under the chief talent officer.

Does the industry affect where to position the PMO in a start-up?

The type of projects a start-up runs will have a strong bearing on where a PMO sits. In a tech-oriented start-up, there’s a case to be made to put the PMO under the chief information officer. Most of the projects will be tech focussed and ensuring the right expert has oversight is vital.

Similarly, a customer-led business or one that delivers tangible products could be led by the C-suite leader in charge. A PMO is there to support the strategic direction of the business in general, so look at where the business needs to continually develop to know where to find your business sponsor.

The take home

Positioning a PMO in a start-up isn’t as clear cut as in a long-established business. There will be many elements of the business that aren’t so well defined and there will lots of challenges that need to be overcome. A PMO isn’t a silver bullet to fix everything, but you can bring about financial discipline, better procedures to ensure better business continuity, or a more efficient allocation of resources when you place your PMO under the right board member.