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Everyone starts from somewhere, so it’s not totally far-fetched to think about someone setting up a Project Management Office (PMO) for the first time. But to do so with NO project management experience?

Isn’t that unheard of?


Is that even possible?


I recently spoke at the PMI Lakeshore chapter in Toronto (Canada) on the topic and had to reiterate that while it is uncommon, it’s definitely in the cards.

As my friend Russell St. Hilaire says, “You cannot become the PMO Leader by becoming a better Project Manager – because IT’S NOT THE SAME JOB!”

In this (pretty) long post, you can expect insights on:



What career path do you take? Is there a sure shot way to get there?

This is very interesting to me. Let’s take a look.

There are two broad categories that offer ways to become a PMO Leader.

  1. The Conventional Way

So, you could be a Business Analyst who becomes a Project Manager and then a Portfolio Manager and then a PMO Leader. Or you could be a PMO Analyst or a Consultant (doing project management work) who becomes a Program Manager and then a PMO Leader. And we haven’t even thrown some other roles like Software Architects or Designers into the mix. Even though this is a conventional journey, there’s no exact mapping to the role of a PMO Leader.

And then there’s the…

  1. The Non-Conventional Way

And you thought that the Conventional Way was convoluted?

Depending on the needs of an organization, you could jump into the role of a PMO Leader straight from an Operations role – because you know:

  • the INs and OUTs of the company really well,
  • who to work with,
  • what to work on, and
  • how to get things done

Similarly, you may be frustrated with the way that projects are being managed with no common structure within your company and feel that you must take it upon yourself to rectify this by creating a PMO.

It’s rare that you would see the Unconventional Way pan out in a large, established firm. It’s usually not the first time that a PMO is being set within a large organization, and in their truest intent, they apply what they learnt from their previous attempts at setting a sustained, scalable PMO. These companies also typically have the resources to hire someone (consulting firms or experienced individuals) or promote someone from within (with the right mix of skills and experience) to fix issues in process, structure and all things PMO.

It is more common to see a PMO being setup for the first time in mid-size or small companies (experiencing tremendous growth). The reasons for putting a PMO in place could vary, but all have the general theme of bringing order to chaos. Getting in consulting firms may not be the best option financially, and there may be a limited budget to attract the most qualified external candidates for the job. Monetary reasons aside, and especially for small-to-mid-size organizations, it is more crucial to put someone at the helm of forming a PMO who understands the pulse, culture and dynamics of the firm. Positioning someone from within, who has the interest, inclination, and working relationships, is the best bet then for these companies to get a PMO set up successfully. With this, having project management knowledge or experience becomes a definitive plus but not a showstopper.

Take the case of this PMO Leader I know:

  • Part of a small company witnessing turbo-charged growth
  • Had a new CTO who wanted to see a PMO setup
  • Had no project management background – had strategy consulting experience and was working within the firm with a strong knowledge of the company’s culture
  • Armed himself with a 5-day crash course on project management and with the right support structure, was off to the races

Are you in a similar situation? Do you know anyone else who is?


So, what do all these permutations tell us about the role?


  • There are countless ways to get the opportunity,
  • It requires different facets, AND
  • Every organization has varying needs and requires a different skill-set

Let me be clear.

Before starting the role of a PMO Leader, you NEED to have a basic understanding of the processes, standards and techniques involved in project management.

But you can still skip away without having PRIOR project management experience.

It is NOT YOUR JOB as a PMO Leader to manage projects.

It IS your job to:

  • set standards and governance
  • align the project portfolio to the organization’s strategies
  • prove the need and value of the PMO
  • support your team by removing roadblocks out of their way

While these responsibilities DO need project management understanding, they ALSO require

  • Organizational knowledge (strategy, culture, regulatory needs, pain points, etc.),
  • Business-specific know-how (HR, Marketing, Procurement, etc. – especially if it’s a function-based PMO) and most importantly,
  • People skills (relationship building, influence, negotiating, facilitation, etc.)

PEOPLE skills and PROJECT MANAGEMENT understanding are non-negotiables for the role. ORGANIZATIONAL skills are a strong nice-to-have while possessing BUSINESS-SPECIFIC knowledge truly depends on the nature of the PMO.


Even if it’s your first time setting up a PMO, you’ll be considered THE expert immediately within your organization as soon as you get your foot through the door. In order to prove that you’re the right choice for the role, you must demonstrate your readiness by:

  • Showing AWARENESS: Bring your big-picture thinking to the table, and also quickly identify the context of the PMO setup, assess the immediate challenges you may face and know who you can possibly count on
  • Having the right ATTITUDE: This is everything! Your willingness to have a “can-do” attitude and be flexible where required will serve you well throughout your PMO setup journey
  • Moving with URGENCY: Time is of the essence and the success of your PMO lies in your organization’s perception of it. Take actions quickly and don’t hesitate to show that you’re on the move. In fact, make it a point that you’re sharing your plans, actions and results with the right audience

Here’s how you can make a mark.


The first 100 days for any leader entering office marks a major milestone. He/she is judged on the performance during that period and the opinion set during that time persists throughout his/her tenure.

As a PMO Leader, you should take this standard upon yourself.  This will most likely not be set as an expectation by your stakeholders, but this plan of action will be largely appreciated by them.

We will get into the details and cover these topics in-depth in Part 2 of this article

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Article – To read Part 2 – CLICK HERE


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Hussain Bandukwala

Hussain Bandukwala

Contributing Author

Hussain Bandukwala is the Chief PMO Coach and Adviser at Parwaaz Consulting (, which provides coaching, support and resources to facilitate the success of Project Management Office (PMO) leaders at high-growth small- and mid-sized organizations. He has led and facilitated the PMO setup at several companies and advised numerous PMO leaders through their PMO establishment.

Hussain has authored several PMO-focused publications, speaks regularly at Project Management Institute (PMI) events and holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from The College of Wooster in Ohio.


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