Introducing and building the project management office using the ADKAR change model



The term Project Management Office (PMO) has a rising role in many industries; its role varies between being a support office for other entities of the organization to a strategic entity that helps senior management in implementing strategies on the ground.

The term PMO is new in many industries; many organizations bring the best experts to help them in designing the best processes and best templates without taking care of the human factor in introducing project management and the PMO as a change.

To this end, introducing the PMO to any organization has become a challenge because it is a change, the challenge comes from the human factor and how they can accommodate change with the least amount of resistance. Many project management experts have implemented many PMOs around the globe; these PMOs were only around designing new processes aligning them with the operational processes and tried to focus on the profit as a business value from the PMO, and forgot to prove the business value that comes from the human factor.

In today's market, different definitions of successful projects came into place — the new definition exceeds meeting the cost or the schedule of the project to meet the benefits of the project and align them with the organizational strategy and the value management system of the organization. To do that, one should guarantee the buy-in of the PMO stakeholders that will support and implement the processes and discover the PMO business value of implementing the new project management methodology in their projects.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how to introduce and build the PMO using the ADKAR model; we are going to cover not only the normal steps in building a PMO but cover the human factor of the change in order to insure the readiness of the organization in receiving the PMO.


The common concept of good processes along with good templates is usually the popular definition of a good PMO, but is this concept right?

Why do some changes fail while others succeed? Is introducing a PMO to an organization a change or is it just only about using new processes and new templates? Based on that, how can we make sure of the buy-in of our people in implementing our PMO?

Success cannot be found in excellent project management alone or even with the best software but the matter is beyond that: how to facilitate the new PMO with one person; in other words, how to facilitate the change and cover the human side of the change.

The ADKAR model presented in this paper is a framework for understanding the change at the individual level; this model is then an attempt to increase the probability of a successful change.

1. What is a PMO?

PMO is an organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain and it has various roles in an organization:

  • Providing the policies, methodologies, and templates for managing projects within the organization.
  • Providing support and guidance to others in the organization on how to manage projects, training others in project management or project management software, and assisting with specific project management tools
  • Providing project managers for different projects, and being responsible for the results of those projects

The mentioned functions are the normal functions of the PMO in any organization. What about the new function in what is called the next generation of the PMO?

2. What PMO roles are included in the change?

What are the main roles of the PMO included in the change? Once we introduce the PMO, we have six major pillars of change in building any PMO, and they are:

  • New methodology
  • New policies and procedures for the projects
  • New knowledge base
  • New repository for the project managers
  • Alignment with benefits and strategy
  • New software

These are six new things to the organization. First we need to ask about the readiness of the organization to match with new repository, new policies and procedures that we need to follow, Second, we need to ask about the readiness of the people; simply put: Are our people ready to receive the change?

In fact, the change process has to go in parallel with introducing each pillar of the change; we have to match between the new pillars, the organization, and the people.

3. PMO value and the impact on the change:

How do PMOs initiate and maintain their value in the organizations— this is the main challenge in today's business culture. Over the last ten years, surveys have indicated that many PMOs have their value questioned in their organizations, and some of the major issues were:

  • Adapting to change and business uncertainties
  • Becoming responsible and accountable for the project success rates
  • Moving beyond successful project delivery to benefits realization and business value.
  • Proving when many costs are being reduced.

For that and in order to initiate and maintain our change process, we need to start explaining why we need to change, why we are encouraging people to follow our new methodology, policies, and procedures related to projects, which is why we have to shift our thinking during the change to:

  • Show the business value of the PMO and shift the people's perspectives about the PMO from the Service and Support to Ownership and Accountability, which is why PMOs are usually challenged to show their business value to the organization.
  • Focus on adaptation rather than usability: Usually, PMOs are focused on project delivery, not on the usage of the deliverables, and this is crucial.
  • Focus on business-oriented Governance rather than following the new methodology.
  • Move from Change Management to Change leadership through assessing the organizational readiness for the change and show the focus behind the change.

Therefore, we can conclude the PMO values that should be shown to the organization in two major parts:

  • Strategic: through focusing on the PMO role related to the core business of the organization and future benefits.
  • Tactical: Through focusing on showing the value of implementing the needed parts of the methodology, that maintain the strategic value of the projects related again to the core business of the organization.

4. How to build a PMO?

All the PMO experts know the basic phases of building the PMO, and these phases are:

  1. Selection of the PMO type: the objective is to select the PMO type that suits the business model and the existed operational processes that will interact with new project management processes.
  2. Induction and Education: the objectives are to:
    1. Clearly introduce the importance of project management in general and the PMO in particular, explain the exact role of the PMO.
    2. Train and coach selected employees on project management.
  3. Methodology and Change Management: the objective is to design the PMO processes and methodology taking into consideration the customization to suit the organization through a change management process.
  4. Governance: the objective is to install and introduce a governance model to review and approve project progress at each stage of the project life cycle.

However, how can we manage each step in our change management process and how can we introduce each step in a smooth way to the organization?

5. Change Management Analysis:

5.1 Forces behind the change:

Before the commencement of any change, we have to analyze the organizational readiness for the change, the forces behind the change and forces against the change.

We have to ask a simple question, why do we need the change, how can we overcome the main forces against the new change, and how can we introduce the PMO in a very smooth way to the organization.

5.2 The Coping Change Cycle:

Stage 1: Shock and Denial:

When significant change like building a PMO is first introduced, the initial response might be:

  • Feeling threatened by anticipated change
  • Denying the need for change (“We have always done it this way, We tried that before, but it did not work”)
  • Feeling immobilized (people shut themselves up in order to protect themselves)
  • Feeling unsafe, timid and unable to act, much less take risks

Stage 2: Defensive Retreat:

The characteristics of this stage are:

  • Early discussions of changes lead to concrete plans and programmes of change
  • Realities of change become clearer and people must begin to face new tasks.
  • Awareness of new realities leads to feelings of anger, depression, and frustration (because it can be difficult to decide how to deal with these changes)
  • This leads to defensive behavior, as people cling to accustomed ways of doing things, attempting to defend their own jobs and territories. People perceive the situation too unsafe for risk-taking
  • This defensive behavior seems to have the effect of creating time and ‘space’ to allow people to come to terms with the changes.

Stage 3: Acknowledgment:

At this stage of the change people stop denying the fact of the PMO and acknowledge their new situation, and the PMO team can take many actions, such as:

  • Invite for risk taking: encourage direct reports to try new things and take some new risks. With each risk success confidence will build and prepare people for the next stage.
  • Be a sounding board: the PMO team should focus on asking about complaints against the new introduced PMO; for example, asking: “How do you feel about this? And then start fixing the situation by mentioning the business value and positive impact of the PMO on their projects.

Stage 4: Adaptation:

At this stage, we can note the following:

  • Mutual adaptation emerges.
  • Rarely do new systems, procedures or structures work effectively the first time. Individuals begin to test the new situation and themselves, trying out new behaviors, working to different standards, and working out ways of coping with changes
  • Individuals, fellow workers, supervisors, and managers all learn and adapt as the new PMO processes are being tried out.
  • Finally, technical and operational problems are identified in the new PMO and modifications are made to dealing with them.

Although most people work through the five emotional stages—some more quickly than the others—some will get stuck in a defensive retreat and channel their energies into resistance.

6. ADKAR Model Analysis

6.1 Overview:

The ADKAR model is a framework for understanding change at the individual level; the model was extended to cover many business industries to increase the likelihood of a successful change.

The ADKAR level has five elements; all the five elements must be in place for a change to be realized.

The question about how we can implement this model in introducing and building a new PMO to an organization, we will discuss after each element of the ADKAR model.

6.2 Awareness:

The first step is to enable our PMO to create awareness of the need for the PMO; awareness is achieved when each department in the organization understands the nature of the new PMO as a change, why it is needed, and the risks of not changing.

In the beginning people tend to seek information about the change and ask many questions, such as:

  • Why is the PMO change necessary?
  • Why is the PMO change happening now?
  • What is wrong with the way we run our projects today?
  • What will happen if we do not change?

Studies showed that many companies undergoing major change projects face a resistance to change, the reason behind that was simply lack of awareness.

In fact, there is one very important question any employee facing the change might ask, which is “What is in it for me (“WIIF”)?

To answer these questions, we need to show the individuals the PMO business value, the value for their projects as early wins, and the value for the core business of the organization.

To make sure that awareness will be implemented in an effective way, we need to take into account many factors, such as:

  • A person's view of the current state
  • Credibility of the sender (spokesperson, CEC, etc. )
  • How a person perceives problems
  • Circulation of missing information or rumors.

6.3 Desire:

Represents the motivation and ultimate choice to support and participate in the PMO change. To avoid the resistance to introducing the new PMO, we have to understand how we can influence their desire to accept the implementation of the new PMO processes. Many factors can control the desire, such as:

  • Nature of the PMO change and positive and negative impacts from the new PMO change.
  • The individuals’ perception of the organization and their experience with past changes and how successful they were.
  • An individual personal situation.
  • What are the suitable motivators for each individual? And, in this context, it is not crucial to have monetary motivators, but we have to think beyond that and think of what can truly motivate the individuals impacted by the change. Early wins from the change should be planned as part of the motivation for individuals.

6.4 Knowledge:

Knowledge is the third element, knowledge includes:

  • Training and education on the skills and behaviors needed for the PMO change.
  • Detailed information and coaching on how to use the new PMO processes.
  • Understanding of the new roles and responsibilities associated with the new PMO.
  • Training on the new introduced systems and software program attached to the new PMO.

Many factors will impact the successful achievements of the PMO knowledge, such as:

  • The current project management knowledge base of an individual or department.
  • The capacity or capability to gain additional knowledge
  • The available PMO resources for education and training
  • Access to the required knowledge.

6.5 Ability:

Ability is the fourth element. Ability represents the demonstrated capability to implement the PMO change; it is simple turning knowledge into action.

Several factors can impact the individual's ability to implement the change, including:

  • Psychological blocks
  • Physical abilities
  • Intellectual capabilities
  • The time available to develop the needed skills.

In order to overcome many of these factors, it's recommended to apply two solutions:

  • Workshops: The workshops break the barriers and enhance the ability to apply knowledge either in a formal or informal way.
  • Pilot Projects: Once you prepare your individuals, you can involve them in mini pilot projects to test their abilities to apply the knowledge on real-life pilot projects and thus foster trust in their ability to turn their acquired knowledge to practice.

6.6 Reinforcement:

Reinforcement is the final element, which includes any action or event that strengthens and reinforces the PMO change with an individual or an organization.

Several factors can contribute to effective reinforcement, such as:

  • External reinforcements could include recognition, rewards and celebrations that are tied to the realization of the PMO change; a proper reward system should be designed to suit the nature of the projects of the organization.
  • Internal reinforcements could be a person's internal satisfaction with his or her achievement or other benefits derived from the change on a personal level; the PMO team should try to enhance the self-esteem of the project managers who represent the early change agents of the PMO change.
  • Policies and procedures that can guarantee not returning to the old practices before the PMO, the support of senior management and other functional managers in matrix organizations is mandatory in this task.

7. Conclusion

We can use the ADKAR model to introduce the new PMO change to organizations. The following points summarize the main points that we can manage PMO change using the ADKAR model as follows:

  • Manage Personal Transition: Individuals can assess where they are in the PMO change process and identify their own personal barriers to change.
  • As a Coaching Tool: For managers to use with their employees.
  • Focus Conversations: Communications with employees can be targeted to where they are in the change process, thereby enabling productive and focused conversations centered on their area of interest or conflict or resistance.
  • Diagnose Gaps: Collective input from employees provides a diagnosis of why a change may be failing or is not as effective as planned in each group or department.
  • Identify Corrective Actions Based On Specific Desired Results: A framework can be created to identify corrective actions during the change process and enhance our actions to guarantee a successful PMO.

Duggal, J. (2012). Building and Implementing the Next Generation PMO & Portfolio Management, PMI Seminars World, Dubai, UAE.

Hiatt, J.M. (2006). ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community — 1st edition. Loveland, CO: Prosci Learning Center Publications.

Project Management Institute (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

©2013 Tarik Al Hraki
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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