PMO Possibilities

How to Become a Program Management Office Manager, and Why Switching Sectors Doesn't Require a Pay Cut

By Lindsay Scott

I work as a program office analyst and have ambitions to become a program management office (PMO) manager. What avenues should I explore?

If you think your technical skills are advanced, you certainly have the foundation in place to take the next step up. The managerial role will require you to develop team management skills, take responsibility and accountability for PMO decisions, and show leadership and confidence while working with people at an executive level.

Rather than focusing on just doing projects and programs in the right ways, for example, enterprise PMOs focus on doing the right projects and programs.

My advice is to look at the two sides of the PMI Talent Triangle® beyond technical skills: strategic and business management, and leadership. Most of your future development needs will be in these areas, so it's worth understanding what type of business management development you'll need and how you can gain the proper knowledge and skills. Make sure you also seek insights from other PMO managers.

You might find that you have enough managerial skills and the self-confidence to take on a program management office managerial role right now. But remember: There are other types of PMOs to think about for your future development. Your PMO might play supportive and/or controlling roles, but many organizations are seeing the value of implementing units that direct—such as enterprise or portfolio management offices—as well. These might require you to develop new skills.

Rather than focusing on just doing projects and programs in the right ways, for example, enterprise PMOs focus on doing the right projects and programs. In these PMOs, working in a management role is about ensuring the organization has the right resource capacity and capabilities to deliver projects and programs; prioritizing what should be delivered and in which order; contributing to business planning cycles and ultimately helping the organization achieve its strategies through programs and projects.



In terms of different avenues to follow, you have many—but not necessarily in your current organization.

You also could work as a manager in any of the three types of delivery-focused PMOs—supportive, controlling and directive. You could choose to focus on temporary PMOs set up for a specific initiative, or work in permanent PMOs. You could specialize in setting up PMOs for the first time or choose to manage one in the long term. You could aim to work in a departmental PMO that only supports projects and programs in one business area.

That's a lot of options to explore. Talk to people who have jobs that intrigue you. And consider attending PMI's annual PMO Symposium®, held 5-8 November this year in Houston, Texas, USA. I recommend it not just for the educational sessions, but for the wide variety of people you'll meet and the conversations you'll have in between those sessions. All of those experiences can open your eyes to what is possible in your PMO career.

I'm a PMO manager at a U.S. engineering firm, but I'd like to get into the healthcare sector. Can I make the transition without taking a pay cut?

It's easier for a PMO professional to move industries than it is for a project or program manager. You'd be surprised how many organizations like hiring PMO professionals from different sectors because of the new and fresh thinking they can bring. To avoid a pay cut or to gain a greater paycheck, you need to demonstrate just how valuable your PMO experience is—regardless of the industry sectors you have worked in.

To do that, you'll need to understand the healthcare sector and the environment in which the PMO you're targeting operates. But it's more important to understand the specific organization: how it operates, its strategies, and how projects and programs deliver on those strategies. That's because a PMO manager's focus is not only on program and project deliverables but rather on providing the right frameworks, methods, processes, tools and techniques for those projects and programs to thrive. All these skills are fairly transferable across sectors.

So should you start talking to people in the healthcare sector right now to understand its challenges? Absolutely. But know that the skill sets of PMO practitioners aren't bound to any one industry. If you demonstrate that you can provide expertise in the context of a healthcare organization, there is no reason why a hirer should pay any less for that.

You'd be surprised how many organizations like hiring PMO professionals from different sectors because of the new and fresh thinking they can bring.

I'm working in an entry-level position in an enterprise PMO and want to develop my PMO knowledge. Where should I start?

There aren't really specific PMO training courses, mainly because PMOs vary so much across businesses and PMO functions are often carried out in the context of a specific business. Instead, knowledge development is often done by looking at the various functions and services of the role, and then looking at how these parts can be developed. For example, PMOs involve a lot of data analytics and information management, so training courses, books, web articles, webinars and “how-to” webcasts focused on this area can all offer value.

In effect, you are developing your own individual development plan based on the role you're performing today. So look at all the functions and services areas your PMO offers to the business, and talk to your manager and start planning how to increase your knowledge in the areas most needed by your business. PM

img Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.
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