Herding the global cats of a successful PMO



Managing a successful PMO (Project Management Office) is difficult at best—and if that PMO is global, the challenges increase exponentially. This paper addresses those hurdles, including risks and best practices, and highlights the PMO director's behaviors that are critical to drive that success. Topics discussed are establishing an organizational structure, leading with a strategic bias, creating paths for clear communication, controlling change management, setting expectations, and addressing cultural differences. Real world examples and results underscore the practical advice and information provided for immediate application. Readers will be able to improve their capabilities in running a global PMO, avoid costly mistakes, differentiate and appropriately utilize different leadership styles, and be able to understand and incorporate cultural differences. While much of the information discussed may apply to any PMO, there is special consideration given to global concerns.

Typical PMO Failures

What is failure? PMO failure is the inability to significantly impact bottom-line results so that upper management finds value in the activities of the PMO. There are many individual components that account for the failure of a PMO, and sometimes multiple reasons, but the majority of PMO failures are due to a few high-level causes.

Unclear Direction

With the typical business mentality of “hit the ground running,” many PMO directors are forced to react and address concerns of senior executives without first evaluating root causes, setting strategies and attainable goals, and implementing metrics to measure success. Comprehensive strategic planning is critical. In that vein, you must ensure that the PMO goals are aligned with the business and company goals. Otherwise, your direction may conflict with that of your peers and engender resistance. Additionally, setting strategies to ensure that you are perceived as a service organization and not as an audit or “police unit” will assist greatly in your endeavors. If the PMO direction is unclear or constantly changing, the ability to “herd your cats” will be significantly impeded.

Darrel Raynor (2009) agrees that it is critical for a PMO to prove return on investment. First, you must establish the PMO cost in dollars: project managers, additional work activity of non–project managers, and additional costs (travel, software, PM tools, etc.). Then it is imperative that you determine the benefits that the PMO is providing the company—shorter cycle-times, customer satisfaction, decreased project costs, greater on-time delivery, and process efficiencies—and then dollarize them. Business units do this to support their existence, and it is essential that you follow suit.

Inadequate Top-Level Support

Many PMO directors realize too late that their attempts to run a truly effective team are thwarted. Upper management may not realize the strategies, cost, and level of effort necessary to make the successful PMO a reality. Frequently they will dictate inefficient courses of action. Senior management should instead hold the PMO director accountable to the results. You must negotiate time, budget, and the flexibility to determine critical activities with senior management—highlighting the impacts, both positive and negative, in dollars and goals.

If you are already in a situation in which senior management has predetermined your activities and you are unable to change their mindset, this may be due to your influence level or their expectations. In this circumstance, one of the best courses of action is to acquire an external SME (subject matter expert) to promote the value of a well-run PMO to senior management. Many times an outside voice is given credibility more readily than those that are familiar.

Poor PMO Director Role Fit

The most effective PMO directors possess rare and comprehensive skill-sets. They must be strong leaders—collaborative, communicative, strategic, visionary, driven, and respectful. Additionally, they must also have a strong business sense, project management expertise, and either industry experience or the opportunity to surround themselves with experts until they learn all aspects of their business, including technical competence. These people are few and far between.

If you, as the PMO director, rely on technical or industry expertise as your main skill-set, your organization will typically become too tactical, reactive, and immersed in detail. Great leaders know how to learn quickly (through MBA courses, project management seminars, etc.) and how to surround themselves with qualified experts. If you are not strategically inclined, then ensure that there is someone on your staff whom you substantially utilize in this capacity or partner with an external expert.

Deficient Teamwork and Cultural Understanding

Many of the less effective PMO directors I have worked with did not discern cultural differences and how to utilize them to create great teamwork. While paying “lip service” regarding their sensitivity to other persons of other cultures, they did not take the time to go into their staff's houses to understand how they live, to learn their family's names, to appreciate the true differences in what is valued as a reward in their culture, or even to accurately perceive the toll it takes to constantly attend conference calls at an uncomfortable time. Great teams give the best results. Great team members have a feeling of belonging and accountability to the team, and it is responsibility of the coach, the PMO director, to instill that sense of allegiance.

Think also of the PMO itself as part of the team in the company. How are you benefiting the broader company team? Are you able to ally with your peers? Do you, as part of a business unit staff, have a teamwork mentality? Requesting feedback can be invaluable, but only do this occasionally and in a variety of ways—through one-on-ones, surveys, or even structured meetings.

Failure Results

Poor business performance will be a reality if any of the above is not addressed—often costing the company millions of dollars. Your best performers will seek other opportunities. More importantly, you may have decreased profitability and customer satisfaction, and the negatives experienced by management and peers will influence how they value and interact with any future PMO director's efforts—making it even more difficult to be successful.

There is no “silver bullet,” no one perfect solution. Unique combinations of cultures within the company, preconceived notions, organizational structure, and many other factors affect a potential outcome. To succeed, you must have the knowledge of the dozens of critical comprehensive activities to achieve results in your situation and be able to efficiently deploy the necessary changes. Evaluate your own strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and knowledge. If you recognize that you need help, ask the experts! Let's move on to address some potential pitfalls and how you, as a global PMO director, can avoid them and alter your behavior to be outstanding.

Building a Strong PMO House

Floor Plans

When building a house, most people shop around for great floor plans that suit their needs and the land on which they will be building. To do that with your PMO, you must first sit face-to-face with your own management, peers, and customers to ensure that you will be providing the support they need—or if not, at least that you reach an agreeable compromise on direction and methods. In this way, you begin to develop the PMO plans and goals that will suit your culture or “land,” the area on which you will be basing your “PMO house.” Additionally, you must immediately challenge entrenched resistance to change. Understand their fears, previous experiences, different global needs, or biases of your team members. Do not come up with solutions in the initial meetings; the goal is for you to listen, understand, and develop positive relationships. Later, after many drafts of your “house plans,” ensure that those plans incorporate solutions that accommodate their perspectives.

You must then evaluate the PMO gaps with regard to people, processes, and tools. Shortcomings in individual project managers may entail: talent (leadership, communication, drive, among others), project management knowledge, and industry competence. Additionally, calculate shortcomings in overall personnel (adequate head count), and specific proficiencies (business analysis, portfolio management expertise, etc.) that may affect future accomplishments of your team. The current processes may be too cumbersome or not well documented. The project management tools may impede, rather than support, the project managers, or they may not make critical data visible to senior management. If you do not have the time or expertise to accurately identify and address each deficiency, you should hire consulting companies to conduct a thorough evaluation and create strategies for success. Having a knowledgeable, experienced partner / consultant with the same goals (attaining business results in your situation) can make you significantly more effective.

Construction Plans


I cannot stress enough that people are the foundation, the basis of the PMO. Treat them as such, and ensure that they are strong, talented, and capable. A foundation can have a minor crack (weakness) that you can fix, but if you have a foundation that needs major repair (no talent for the position), you must employ more drastic measures, just as building a house on a weak foundation leads to ruin and costly mistakes. Make sure you employ strong leaders and give them the additional support that they need to be successful—utilize training and mentoring as required.

You have probably seen a “great” project manager. That person displays talent, which is actually the characteristic most indicative of performance level (e.g., leadership, communication, drive). You must ensure that you are able to interview for that talent capability. Also, advertise and interview globally, even if there are no positions currently available. A good rule of thumb for interview frequency is once per month. People will come to interviews in which you state you are only keeping watch for talent. Be proactive versus reactive. If this takes up too much of your time, utilize external sources.


Processes and project management systems and tools are the walls that hold the house up; if you make them durable (practical and effective), then the elements and pests (inefficiencies) cannot enter to weaken the whole structure. In a global environment, you don't have a continuous view of your house, so be cognizant that the walls can be very hazardous to neglect. Conversely, it can also be extraordinarily beneficial to leverage many minds and cultures, to create support systems that work for all.

Evaluate the cost and benefits of utilizing your processes and tools. Then, streamline the complex and remove the non–value-added ones. This will increase efficiency, not only within your PMO, but also throughout the company. It will also elicit a truly grateful response from your peers. Ensure that your entire team is focused on their projects and on creating or improving processes and tools.


Top your house with a PMO risk management roof. Build a roof that is strong and comprehensive, one that doesn't have holes to let in complicating issues. Create a thorough risk log: continuously identify, analyze, and respond to “PMO risks”—ones that affect the success of the PMO itself. Utilizing Risk Management methodology for your PMO, just as you do for your projects, protects it from failure. Again, utilize the entire global team to help with this; you cannot discern all of the risks in other countries, as you do not have their perspectives and experiences. With a focus on Risk Management, you can aggressively manage the PMO to eliminate or minimize potential issues that may block senior management from realizing the maximum value of a well-executed project management office.

Now that you know what to build, you must learn how to build it.

PMO Director Behaviors

House Building Tools

You are the lead on the construction crew of your PMO. To be effective and efficient, you must utilize the right tools. Have you ever tried to remove a screw with a hammer? It will damage the surrounding area, take you longer than necessary, and cause more frustration than using the right tool would do. The same can be said for your tools as a PMO Director.

There are two main tools at your disposal, both of which have many components. These two tools are organizational behaviors: strategic focus and respect. Let's break that down a bit. Behaviors, in my dictionary, are attitudes supported by actions. The right behavior of a PMO director is the key to achieving a successful PMO. Strategic focus is looking down the road, having a “big picture” view, being proactive, removing roadblocks, knowing the global impacts to decisions, and ensuring that all areas are addressed. Respect is valuing your people, understanding their situation and abilities, and effectively challenging and rewarding them.

Strategic Focus and Your Behavior

Leadership as a Behavior

A great PMO director must be able to look to the future, create a vision, and communicate goals—in essence be a strong leader. He must inspire and motivate the team, achieve buy-in and participation, and unite the project managers on the goals and expectations of the projects, organization, and corporation. A leader must be influential, while focusing on what is best for the company, and be able to get to win-win outcomes. He must be collaborative to create end-to-end solutions for highly effective execution. A leader must have confidence, with proactive, effective, timely, and complete communication of barriers, risks, problems, and solutions. A great PMO leader must have credibility—professional passion and knowledge—and be a project manager advocate to help others find value in project management. Are you that leader?

Leadership at Work: Start with the Charter

If leadership includes the ability to create and communicate vision, then one of the best devices to accomplish this is guiding the existing project managers to create a charter, a fundamental element of the PMO house plans. A unilateral charter is possible, but it will not be as beneficial nor have as much impact as a collaboratively developed charter; thus your incomplete plans will result in a less effective outcome. Knowing your peers' and customers' concerns, and then guiding the entire project management group in the creation of a working charter, gives you three critical results:

1.     You will create an exponentially better document as a team, even if the people you are working with are less experienced than you or don't have your perspective. It is in the generation of new or different ideas that “holes” are found and addressed.

2.     Your peers and customers know you are trying to help solve their problems in your group, which leads to partnerships with much better collaboration and cooperation.

3.     Most importantly, your team has confidence in the PMO's direction and strives to get there as orchestrators of the vision, instead of workers being directed.

Creating a charter is very difficult to do in a global environment. It takes time—time to vent with the group, understand, discuss, disagree, and come to resolution. The most effective mode for achieving this is face-to-face. Most companies cannot afford to give up time spent in running current projects to engage in strategic planning for an activity they may not understand, much less allocate the travel cost for those that are not co-located. As a PMO director, it is your duty to help senior management understand the value of this planning and why it is so critical.

If travel is not possible, you can divide the charter development into approximately 4 weeks of activities. The first week, schedule the first couple of meetings on conference calls so that everyone hears the direction and overall agenda and gets time to voice inputs and gather data. The second and third weeks are for refining; each location is given the same directions to continue editing and revisiting each section (goals, details, metrics, milestones, etc). The fourth week, meetings are again scheduled together as a group to finalize the document; you should work for true agreement, not just “lip-service” or submission because you are in charge (a cultural pitfall).

Metrics are a critical part of a charter. Develop metrics that prove business worth and reflect the success of the PMO, so that senior management finds value (greater on-time deliveries, cycle-time decreases, and fewer cancelled or failed projects, among many others). You may also want to include metrics on how being in a group creates an environment in which your project managers are maturing and, therefore, creating accelerated business value (such as decreased attrition and process time, and increased training including PMP certifications). Developing as a community also has great value in project management loyalty and demonstrates that you care about their professional well-being.

Additionally, diverse global situations amplify the fact that people want to go in slightly different directions (some more than slightly)! Just like “herding cats,” it is your job to be sensitive to their wants and desires, to understand the cultural or personal reasons for their perspectives, and to help them to see the bigger picture, so that you can move all toward a common goal. Together you will create an amazing house!

Leadership Style as a Strategic Behavior

In The Hay Group's Making Great Leaders Training (2006), there are six ways to categorize leadership (pp. 36-41). The leadership styles, employed to varying degrees, are:

Visionary – provides long term direction and vision, solicits feedback, influences for acceptance

Participative – builds commitment by inviting others to participate in the development of decisions, generates new ideas, trusts team, and seeks opportunities for consensus

Directive – expects immediate compliance, gives directives rather than direction, controls tightly Affiliative – creates harmony, promotes positive interaction and team development, addresses others' personal needs, stresses morale on performance

Coaching – develops others professionally and long term, identifies unique strengths and weaknesses, encourages goal setting, provides ongoing instruction and feedback

Pacesetting – advocates accomplishing tasks to a high standard of excellence, leads by example, apprehensive about delegating, rescues situations, little sympathy for poor performance

All the styles are effective, but only if used in the right situation. While numerous tomes have been written on leadership, I will highlight here that you should learn to utilize all of the styles, and it is critically important to employ the right style at the appropriate time. The most commonly used styles of the great PMO leaders are Visionary and Participative. If you rely on another as your most accustomed style, especially Directive, it will be beneficial to acquire training to modify your behavior. Additionally, in a global environment, you need to be sensitive to the styles which resonate with different cultures.

Risk Management as a Strategic Behavior

Project Risk Management should be a key strategic focus for your PMO. Make sure your project managers employ the best Risk Management techniques which, in turn, result in achieving the business goals. Did you know that effective risk management is a time waster? Eighty percent of your time and efforts will be spent on risks that wouldn't have turned into issues anyway. That leaves only 20% that will be an effective investment. Unfortunately, we never know which 20% to address. Therefore, to get the desired results, it is critical to constantly assess all risks and spend significant time in response to them. Time spent in issue management far outweighs the time necessary for effective Risk Management, and affects fewer people. In addition, occasionally you should collectively utilize your global team to evaluate risks on projects; the different perspectives and challenges that they face locally may help others to identify a risk that would have gone undetected. Applying disciplined Risk Management is inefficient and necessary.

Humans typically address critical needs first; we are tactical, and focus on the issues at hand, easy tasks, or activities prioritized by influential people. It takes a special breed of person to spend enough time on strategic considerations that are focused on the “big picture” rather than on the more immediate pressing requirements. If we fail to prioritize, other concerns will replace or minimize time spent in Risk Management activities. Likewise, discussing risk first in a core team meeting is a best practice; you will always find the time to address the issue of the day. Project managers need time to be strategic—don't burden them with less important meetings and tasks. Communicate that you value time spent in strategic contemplation and teach them how to prioritize.

An effective PMO director must employ the following risky behavior. Take the risk that your people will do what you request. Trust them and delegate. It is in the responsibility and accountability, with corrections when necessary, that enables the environment for growth, satisfaction, and consistent results. Do not micro-manage unless your team is completely inexperienced. It is always better to give greater responsibility and to occasionally rein-in or adjust the direction of your project managers than to engender an environment where they are tentative and don't feel empowered to take the lead. You have global partners. View them as such.

Prioritization as a Strategic Behavior

Comprehend business factors, and assist your organization to prioritize the projects. Make reasonable decisions by optimizing business objectives and strategies, and by understanding customer satisfaction and profitability balances. Discern the best trade-offs of your programs' and portfolio's contributions and consider commitments to stakeholders: cycle time and schedules, quality, cost, risks, and profit objectives. Document the outcomes of any reprioritization and communicate it to the entire business unit. Clear communication avoids many potential problems. Keep in mind that global views of priorities may be different across regions; listen to their perspective and ensure that you incorporate or address their concerns. Watch for, and reduce, “skunk works” projects in global regions—a group within an organization given, or taking, a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy.

Organizational Structure as a Strategic Focus

There are countless options for organizational structure, but unfortunately, often you do not determine it. Typically, the organizational structure that gives the fastest results is one in which the PMO director is in an executive-level position and all PMs worldwide report to the PMO. In a large company however, PMO directors assigned to support business units with individual P&Ls, with their worldwide project managers reporting to the PMO, is just as effective. As a strategic focus, if all of the project managers are directly managed by you, then the PMO goals can be achieved faster. You may have great influential abilities, but direct functional management makes consensus that much easier. Additionally, the ability to rank and rate project managers against each other functionally, versus against completely different functions, helps to improve the quality of output and to decrease the attrition rate of talented project managers. Encourage senior management and your peers to understand the value of this structure. Remember, though, that the PMO is a service organization, not a fiefdom.

If you are able to create the best structure, it is critical in each location to have a strong Project Management senior manager with the Project Managerss in that location directly managed by him.. This manager should possess excellent project management skill-sets and great people development capabilities, and should report directly to you. This relationship is essential, because this manager is your eyes and ears to that site. He or she also is your advocate to the project managers for carrying out the goals and objectives of the PMO. If the relationship is open, you can accomplish great things. You will need to expend considerable effort to ensure that the manager agrees with the determined strategies and to mentor him or her to increase his or her coaching skill-sets. Get to know the manager as a person, take him or her to dinner alone when you are on-site, and call the manager at the time that is best for him or her. Learn his or her strengths, weaknesses, and biases. Large sports teams have individual coaches that report to the head coach, but they are responsible for their respective areas. Give your regional managers that same responsibility.

Remember the Push-Me-Pull-You in the movie “Dr. Doolittle”? It was the two-headed llama that had trouble moving in a consistent direction. A regional PM senior manager may have a bond with their local functional managers, which is usually an excellent situation and should be cultivated. But other times, similar to the Push-Me-Pull-You, the PM manager may feel conflicted and be more loyal to them, especially at the initiation of your PMO. If that is the case, then conflicting information and priorities develop and are communicated to the project managers, creating a confused and unproductive environment. Address this head-on by understanding the root cause of the different expectations and meet with all parties to come to an acceptable resolution.

For example, one of the regional functional managers in the company I worked for, valued project management skill-sets and wanted my project managers to do tasks for his group. My newly assigned regional PM manager initially allowed the project managers to do the additional work out of deference and respect, and in recognition of the authority previously held by the functional manager. While I appreciated the functional manager's value of my group, the project managers had limited time and this was causing them stress. When the situation was finally communicated to me by the regional PM manager, I realized that a frank discussion was needed with the functional manager. When initiating the call, I first listened to his needs and his goals. I let him tell me why my resources were critical to him. I then helped him see my perspective and the PMO business goals. Together we came up with a solution: over the course of 3 months, we would train his best people in the art of project management. We then had a conference call with the regional PM manager, explained the strategy, and asked if he had any concerns. The project managers were then given the opportunity to do their job without additional time infringements. More importantly, however, the functional manager became a lifelong supporter of my group and a constant advocate of project management.

Change Management as a Strategic Focus

Everything changes. Managing that change smoothly is critical. Modify your PMO to become more valuable by including exceptional Change Management techniques. Process changes and rollouts are difficult at best, and accomplishing them with a global PMO, incorporating unique personalities that are like cats who want to run every-which-a-way, makes it harder! If those “cats” want to improve many areas, it can be tremendously challenging. Controlled, prioritized process rollouts are a key to being more effective. Utilize your team, and discover the areas in which they are most interested. Delegating activities to regional teams will benefit the entire PMO. Ensure that everyone affected has been involved in the rollout process in some way.

Be careful of “NIH.” The “Not Invented Here” syndrome is manifested as an unwillingness to adopt an idea or product because it originates from another culture (Wikipedia, 2009). This particular type of attitude is tricky to overcome. One method is to develop those relationships, value their inputs, get all to see the big picture and business needs, and be able to compromise as required. Apply collaboration methodologies and utilize those teams as subject matter experts. For example, I had a team (whom we'll call the NIH team) utilizing a process created by them that was not useful for the global team, and consensus was mandatory. We started the modifications with the NIH team document, highlighting that it was effective for their location. I had them assist as the change drivers (leads), and ensured that they researched and included the global needs of the entire group. Results included: the NIH group felt important and valued for their original work; increased PMO unity, direction, and buy-in, and were responsible for an exceptional end product.

One caution: talented project managers thoroughly enjoy improving their environment, and the sheer number of proposed activities may become overwhelming or affect the main business goals. Prioritize your process changes as you do your projects—i.e., highest return on investment with lowest cost in an appropriate time frame.

Communication as a Strategic Behavior

There are countless articles, white papers, and books on communication expertise. Below we discuss some of the critical aspects of communication from a PMO Director perspective. Communication is about connection—with your group, peers, management, and customers. Not just getting your points across but truly listening too!

Communication Streams

Establish live databases to make real-time data accessible. In creating this, you increase the project manager's productivity significantly, as it limits the amount of daily interruptions from people requesting information. Ensure that documentation storage is in one convenient location and has version control.

Conference calls have various challenges. Timing is a significant one. Where possible, change the timing and share the discomfort of the non–working-hour call. Additionally, conference call reception and information exchange may be spotty, because of poor hardware, a group in a conference room sitting at varying distances from the microphone, or accents which make words hard to distinguish. Remember, some cultures may not easily assert themselves if there are challenges. Be sensitive to the issues: remind people to enunciate clearly, adjust seating in a conference room to ensure reception, repeat important data, and consistently test for understanding to assist those on the phone. If you haven't attended a conference call from a different region, I strongly suggest it—it will be eye-opening! One suggestion is to have everyone call in and no one in a conference room. That is a valid methodology, but has its share of challenges also (secret multitasking and senior management constraints, to name just a couple).

Create a PMO e-mail distribution list. This is a great way to keep people informed and in community. Remember, people tend to isolate themselves, and project managers are no exception. They have difficulty picking up the phone to contact someone less familiar to them. The group e-mail can be used for communicating project issues, requesting solutions, asking a project management question, or even announcing a birthday or the birth of a baby. Make it easy for them to connect.

Although e-mail is usually not the best form of communication, many times it seems to be the easiest. You don't have to deal with deciphering accents (both ways). You get to choose your words and phrasing over time. There is documentation to the communication. However, a poorly written e-mail can cause much miscommunication and time, for the entire distribution, spent in clarifications (“what I meant to say was…”). Many e-mails are too long and written in one large paragraph, making it difficult to comprehend quickly, and tremendously difficult to decipher for those less fluent in the language. Because people tend to use e-mail to try to resolve issues, you will find a tremendous number of responses attached to an e-mail stream. This is highly unproductive and possibly confusing.

What can you do in this e-mail culture? Teach your team to choose their words accurately, reread from the perspective of a regional team member before sending, and stop any back-and-forth e-mail with a meeting to resolve that issue. A great best practice is to announce in an e-mail that this will be the second-to-last e-mail they will get on the subject, that a meeting has been called, and that a final e-mail will be sent to the distribution with the outcome.

Once people receive information in a meeting, it is assumed that everyone who needs that information now has it. You should recognize, however, that if you are in the main location of your global PMO, there are parts of your organization that may not be aware of details and decisions. Be mindful and communicate as needed to those locations, or assign someone in each meeting to be the scribe to communicate critical information to other locations. Regional teams feel cut off, isolated, and out of the loop. Help them feel incorporated.

Communication Methods

If you haven't heard of MBWA (Management by Walking Around), it is a very useful method for connecting with your team (Peters & Austin, 1989, pp. 9–42). Obviously, in a global environment, that is difficult to do. One technique I have employed is to call my regional managers for no apparent reason—just to chat or ask if there was something I could do for them. The results are similar to a spontaneous hallway encounter. It is amazing what happened: Bonds were made and information shared that wouldn't have transpired in a formal meeting.

Face-to-face meetings are more productive: You develop the relationships, trust, and buy-in with the ability to see body language, better understand inflection with facial changes, and be more cognizant when to test for understanding. Phone calls have a time-limit expectation. When you meet with your people in person, you have the time to learn some of the core issues that wouldn't have otherwise surfaced. Insist on upper management budget travel expenses to visit each global site at least quarterly. I traveled for 5 years quarterly to each of my sites. Many times I considered cancelling the trip because I had no specific purpose. However, each time it was made very clear to me that that trip was truly essential, not because of what I hoped to gain, but because of what my group needed to say to my face. This strategy ensured that my teams felt important, had first-hand knowledge, were empowered to perform, and was one of the keys to my success as a PMO director.

Frequency of communication may be dependent on experience. If you have a new PM manager or project manager, you probably need to be in contact more often. Do not assume that you are touching base, calling, or visiting at reasonable intervals, as again, this is putting you, your needs, and your assumptions first. You should ask team members about the time that they require, encouraging them to openly share their preferences.

Respect and Your Behavior

Having respect is to hold a person in esteem or honor. Respecting others and gaining respect and credibility as a PMO director is important. Your team will willingly and enthusiastically follow you, and your customers and peers will trust that you actually do what you say. Respect comes with time—after witnessing certain behaviors and the follow-through on commitments. You must also respect them first in order to receive respect.

Leveraging Your People

To produce the best results, be aware of each project manager's unique skill-sets, capabilities, and culture. Find ways to promote and hone those attributes for their growth. Develop them from a career path perspective. Additionally, for your team to be most effective, you must know and remove their roadblocks, for example, with regard to their projects and efficient working conditions (cubicles, printers, phones, flexible work hours, etc.).

When possible, tap into nonverbal cues. In a meeting I observed a person who obviously was disagreeing with what was being said (quietly shaking her head and frowning). She was not electing to be vocal. In response, I could choose to ignore her (since she was not the focus of the discussion). Or, I could choose to ask why she thought the idea wasn't acceptable (making an assumption from her body language). Instead, I asked if she had any concerns with the proposed solution (showing her respect while giving her the opportunity, in a nonthreatening manner, of voicing her opinion). She was frank and stated some valid points we wouldn't have addressed otherwise. We incorporated those methods and were wildly successful. Your people have different ideas, experiences and perspectives—use them!

In your career, on your way to becoming PMO director, you probably have had unique experiences in which you have gained knowledge and perspective. Take the time to mentor and coach your team, and share your wisdom and insights. Be available to them. The results are marvelous!


Challenge your project management teams appropriately, giving them challenging yet achievable objectives. Help them create individual, detailed, measurable, and documented goals that support their maturity and the PMO strategies. Review those goals at least annually (PM Managers should address them quarterly). Hold your team accountable for their commitments, but find out the reasons that they may have been missed. If the project manager was unable to achieve the goals, was it due to their mismanagement or a roadblock over which they didn't have control? Holding them accountable does not allow them to “pass the buck;” even if the project manager weren't able to achieve the goal as stated, what did they do to change the situation?

Some additional suggestions: do not treat each project manager or PM manager in the same way—know their capabilities and respond accordingly; understand differences in regional hiring and firing methods; make sure your teams are capable; and get your teams the project management or technical training necessary for each site or individual.

Understanding Cultural Differences

The Hay Group (2006, pp. 19–20) suggests that culture is like an iceberg: only a small part is visible, while the majority of the mass lies unseen, and often unconscious, below the surface. Above the water line we see what people do, wear, and say. Below the water line are the unwritten rules which dictate what is considered appropriate or inappropriate in that culture.

Intercultural misunderstandings occur when we observe the behavior of people from other lands and misinterpret them based on our own set of assumptions and values (ethnocentricity). Learning to interpret our own and others' behavior from another culture's perspective is therefore an important skill in being an effective communicator.

Be aware that you might be making judgments that may fit situations in your own culture, but not in others. Awareness is the first step. Then consider alternative interpretations based more on the other culture. Once you reach a conclusion, check with someone who understands both situations. Also, when you are speaking with a person of another nationality, if it appears that he or she is unclear about or misunderstanding what you are saying, always elaborate, (in several different ways if necessary) to ensure understanding. In the same vein, also ask them to verbalize their understanding.

For example, I was given the directive to rollout a new mandatory process in Hong Kong. After meeting for hours with the team and receiving positive responses (agreement, smiles, head nodding), I went to dinner with a local peer. I expressed how pleased I was that it had gone so well and he agreed. I then asked him how long he thought it would take to implement the process in that location. He informed me that they weren't going to implement it, even though it was mandatory. My jaw was on the floor! But, we had agreement! What I discovered that they had agreed on was merely that the concept that the process was a good one. The Hong Kong team just didn't feel it would work for them and weren't inclined to state that unless asked directly. I was relieved that I had one more day at that site. The next morning, I met with the group again, and asked, “Now that you have had time to think about this process, are there any roadblocks that would keep you from utilizing it?” The difference in response was tremendous. They readily chimed in with challenges and options, we reached a compromise and acceptable timetable, and the process rolled out smoothly. Had I returned after the first meeting, assuming compliance, the outcome would have been very different.

Be sensitive to regional plights. Many locations within a company either may not have a café on-site, causing the team to spend more time going out for lunch, or they may have one on-site, but the food it serves may be so distasteful that the result is the same. Be aware of localized annoyances and time requirements.

Be respectful of holidays and vacations. Do not infringe upon them. Employees of companies in the United States tend to think of them as time off from work, or even merely as a chance to work from home! Many other cultures have deeply religious holidays that have great meaning and more participation requirements. Some nationalities view their time off as at least as important as, or more important than, work. It may be challenging for us, in our demanding work culture, to comprehend or respect that point of view. We may even envy it. Whatever your disposition towards these occasions, you must understand and come to terms with it, without burning bridges.

Performance reviews may need to be handled in different ways for certain cultures. I was discussing performance reviews with my Scottish PM manager. There was one of his project managers whom I wanted to give a greater rating than the others on the regional team, as this particular individual had proven excellence. The manager was against it. He said that they worked as a team, and others on the team took up the slack when the exceptional project manager performed more visible activities. His reasoning was that this project manager was exceptional because of the teamwork of the other project managers. Make sure you understand each culture and team dynamics when giving ratings.

Customs of regions are different. In the United States, when companies have cost-cutting measures, they may curtail any outside activities, such as lunches or dinners. In regions such as Asia, team dinners are not frivolous gestures, but obligatory ways of conducting business.

Learn each regional PM team's dynamics. Work with them, socialize with them, and eat their food. Observe them firsthand. Help them share their unique gifts with the rest of the PMO community—their best practices and challenges. Create forums for sharing – monthly communication calls, newsletters, annual in-person global enterprises, etc.

There are tools to help understand your own cultural assumptions. One of the best I've found is from a company called GlobeSmart® (2009). Their unique methodologies and thorough information filled knowledge gaps of which I was unaware, increased my sensitivity to the global team, and made me a better overall communicator.

While there are abundant differences in cultures that can help or hinder us, creating an effective PMO, a unified group with a common set of goals, is the priority. Working towards this synthesis is essential and should be one of your highest priorities.


Herding global cats is tough! There are numerous specific concepts, strategies, and pitfalls to consider simultaneously. Understanding those “cats”—especially your project managers, but also your customers and senior management—is crucial. Knowing their needs and challenges, and directing them along the right path for the benefit of the company are huge undertakings. Most PMO directors are unaware of the enormity of what they have been enlisted to accomplish, or are achieving less significant results because they were blind to, or ignorant of, the requirements for success.

Make sure you are the right person for the PMO director position, provide clear direction, enlist top-level support to help achieve the goals, and create a community that is moving in unison toward those goals. Do this by building a strong PMO house based on a great foundation of talented PMs, utilizing your own behaviors and actions to focus on strategic activities, and by respecting your team. The global PMO director must also learn of, be sensitive to, and incorporate cultural differences.

This paper is an overview. There is extensive vital additional information on evaluation techniques, implementation methodologies, prioritized strategies, and best practices in building a successful PMO. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any questions you may have, or to get more details.


GlobeSmart®. (2009). Retrieved July 17, 2009, from https://www.globesmart.com/index.cfm

The Hay Group. (2006). Making great leaders: Manager experience participant's guide. Leadership Styles (36-41), Leadership Competencies (19-20), Making Great Leaders Training. Philadelphia, PA.

Peters, T., & Austin, N. (1989, January). A passion for excellence: The leadership difference. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Raynor, D.A. (2009, July 15). Seven steps to ensure PMO failure. Austin PMI PMO LIG presentation. Data Analysis & Results, Inc. Austin, TX. Retrieved from www.dataanalysis.com

Wikipedia. (2009). Not Invented Here. Retrieved July 17, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_Invented_Here

© 2009, Cindy Margules, PMP
Originally published as a part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida