Managing Your PMO Career

At the last PMO Flashmob in July we spent the evening talking about our careers. One of the questions asked – and one that I frequently get asked – is how to manage a career in PMO. This is primarily for people who have been working in some kind of project support role who are keen to develop their capability – perhaps into a PMO analyst or PMO management role.

In this post I’d like to encourage PMO practitioners at all levels to leave your own comments, offering advice, guidance or just your opinion.

Here’s our case study:

I’ve been working within a PMO environment for over three years now. Initially I was just providing support to IT projects – the usual things like attending project meetings, writing reports, creating templates and writing control & governance processes. More recently I have been working in a PMO which is more aligned to a Centre of Excellence model in areas such as providing tools, training, support and guidance, and  facilitating the exchange of ideas and adoption of best practice project management. I’m working in a team with other PMO practitioners.

I would say I now have good grounding in assessing control gaps and creating process. I can guide project managers in process and governance however I feel that as I have not been a project manager the missing piece in my experience is practical experience. I think the PMO is often accused of not fully understanding the day-to-day issues of project management and we face challenges with our governance processes and their practical application.

I have often heard that people end up in a PMO having been a ‘failed project manager’ or like myself have come from a support function and lack the relevant experience to become that centre of excellence to the PM community. I am really keen to add value to the project managers as well as our other stakeholders and improve this image as well as enhancing my skills to better support projects.


So what advice would you offer? 

Does this PMO practitioner have to gain experience as a project manager? Are there other options to pursue? Should the focus be on developing softer skills or greater business skills rather than project management?

My instinct tells me that an ideal situation would be to manage a small project if possible. If the PMO practitioner thinks this is a major hurdle perhaps that is the only way to get over it. Maybe purusing this path is a way to build self-confidence and belief in yourself.

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PMO Flashmob talks about careers

On the other hand, I would also think about the current working relationships between the PMO and the project managers. Don’t listen to hearsay about what a PMO is and isn’t and the type of people who work within them. Concentrate on what you can change and that’s the immediate project management community you work with. I’ve come across many PMO practitioners over the years that fall into both of these camps – and it wasn’t totally their previous experience that impacted how great they were in their PMO work.

It was a combination of things like – being both analytical and creative; being persuasive and restrained; challenging and conceding; facilitating and leading; seeing the big picture and the small; keeping a foot in the business camp and the projects. All those weird opposites that a great PMO practitioner takes years to hone.

And remember, a PMO practitioner often has much more experience of “projects” than any single project manager. They see and work with so many projects and project managers over the course of a year. A project manager may be great at delivering a project but it doesn’t make them qualified in working to increase the capability of all the project managers in a business.

Is that it then? You don’t need to have delivered a project before to make you capable of creating or supporting  a department that oversees the projects?


So what advice would YOU offer?

I’d love it if – after reading this – you have some insights to share. After all, PMO Flashmob is all about connecting and sharing 🙂



photo credit: Loïc Lagarde

About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.


  1. Nicole Reilly

    I’m in this situation myself; I’ve reached PMO Manager level but feel that my credibility would benefit from a stint in a delivery focused role ie project management. There is also the though of where to go next, and the desire to increase the portability of my skills.

  2. Lindsay:
    Wow, this article really hit home with me. As a member of a PMO I had the opportunity to help integrate it into the culture and help develop and launch the organizational practices around strategy, program, portfolio, tools and templates. It was a perform storm for the really big projects and consulting work I do today. This is a quote this should resonate with many PMO practitioners. ~ “… a PMO practitioner often has much more experience of “projects” than any single project manager.”

    Naomi Caietti, PMP

  3. I would advise in this circumstance that the individual does actually run a project using the toolset and processes that they have developed for the company. This doesn’t need to be a large project, in fact I got the people who worked in my PMO to run continuous improvement activities as a project. That demonstrated that they can follow the process and gave them empathy with the rest of the PM community that they did know how to run a project.
    If they wanted to move up then deputising for a project manager at a steering group/project board /team meeting can be a good way of deciding which way to go.

    Nowadays I see more people come into PMO from being a project manager rather than the other way around. Why do I see that well I see individuals who have seen how badly projects are run wanting to improve things not only for themselves but also for everyone else in the organisation.

    What the PMs I have spoken to relish is someone who can understand the pragmatism of it all

  4. A PMO should be a business function, not a project function. It should exist to help the organization solve the project related challenges that it experiences – whatever those might be within a particular organization.

    If we compare a PMO with other organizational functions – sales is an obvious example, we would expect that the Head of Sales would have some experience as a sales person, but we don’t require all sales support functions to have frontline sales experience. I see the PMO as exactly the same situation.

    I would never say that project management experience would be harmful, and it would increase the number of PMO roles that someone is qualified to do – especially if growth to PMO leadership is desired, but it absolutely should not be a requirement

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