How PMOs Can Build a Talent Pipeline

Headshot of Koh Chee Kiong

For project management offices (PMOs) to maximize their strategic value, they need the right mix of people with the right mix of skills. But that’s a problem for some companies: 33 percent say it’s a challenge to recruit project professionals who have the necessary power skills for a PMO, according to a 2022 report by PMI and PwC.

To develop change-ready, forward-thinking PMOs, organizations need to hire, develop and retain strategic thinkers who not only have strong technical skills—but who can also build relationships, communicate clearly and have collaboration hardwired into their DNA. Those types of superpowers don’t just materialize: Companies need to upskill their talent to keep PMO team members ready for action and outline a clear path for growth. Such commitments can reinforce strategic alignment across the enterprise. 

Case in point: When VCU Health relaunched an IT PMO during the pandemic, the company created a dedicated plan to invest in continuous learning. The talent development structure gave PMO leaders and team members a clear path for growth and helped accelerate the PMO’s maturity. By cultivating the right PMO skills, VCU Health’s PMO helped the organization more quickly and effectively transition to a new digital health records system—a project that also helped the company make good on its mission to become more patient-centric. 

“Upskilling and targeted staff development can be a powerful way to bridge the talent gaps and improve staff retention,” says Koh Chee Kiong, a project director in the PMO at NTT Data Singapore. “But how effective it is depends on how it’s executed.”   

Here are four ways PMOs can reshape their talent to become a powerful and strategic resource:

Headshot of Heba Al Shehhi

1. Consider Candidates Through a Broader Lens 

Making a wish list of ideal skills in a project manager might be a useful thought exercise—but it also means PMO leaders might find themselves searching for unicorns. Rather than brainstorm a “perfect” project manager, start by focusing on the organization and its leadership requirements, says Heba Al Shehhi, PMP, head of PMO for Dubai Municipality. What are the strategic priorities for the PMO? What are the capabilities of the current PMO team? And what are the skills gaps that threaten to hold the PMO back from achieving its targets?  

“By identifying the needed capabilities first, it’s much easier to select or upskill team members who will be a fit for those needs,” she says.  

Don’t limit the assessment to technical skills or niche know-how, either. At Kyiv product design agency Lazarev, Kseniia Shyshkova has seen firsthand how PMO candidates with weak subject matter expertise but strong interpersonal skills can quickly build their technical knowledge—and add immediate value to the PMO.  

“Realistically, not many candidates have experience working with design teams on digital products from scratch,” says Shyshkova, head of project management at Lazarev. “But we consider other strengths, like power skills. People who are diligent and sincere, who have a passion for work and an openness for feedback can upskill and develop professionally—and therefore fill the gaps quickly.”

Headshot of Kseniia Shyshkova

2. Tailor Training—and Let Them Mature 

While team-wide leadership workshops and strategic-thinking seminars have value, training needs to be tailored to the individual. Don’t rush the matchmaking process between team member and training. Instead, be deliberate in assessing skill deficits or identifying what a PMO team member might need to make even more valuable contributions in the future.  

“When PMO leaders identify the wrong weakness—whether technical skill or strategic thinking—it tends to be because of a superficial assessment,” says Shyshkova. “My main goal is not to find their flaws, but to help the team professionally develop.” 

At Lazarev, the PMO builds a professional development plan by first conducting a comprehensive analysis of the individual’s current capabilities—one that draws on everything from project profitability and quality of deliverables to client satisfaction scores, number of upsells, and referrals. 

Shyshkova also keeps in close contact with the client throughout each project, requesting targeted feedback on each project manager’s performance.  

Team members at Lazarev also receive personal growth plans, along with measurable goals and a development deadline. As goals are met (or missed), project management leaders connect with team members for detailed one-on-one calls to discuss progress and what to work on next.  

For instance, when the company’s PMO made a recent strategic shift toward providing more product ownership services, Shyshkova recognized “the team would need to elevate market research and user feedback analysis, improve their negotiation skills and get familiar with new digital tools.”  

That’s a lot of learning to tackle at once, so Shyshkova broke it into smaller steps, moving project managers along the learning journey based on how quickly they mastered previous skills.  

“For example, initiating the project from the complex product briefing helps shift mindsets and make project managers more product-oriented,” she says. “Next, we train the market research skills, in collaboration with the design team and other stakeholders. Then, once they’ve established the previous skills, a project manager practices data analysis.” 

When trying to grow the PMO team’s capabilities at the city of Dubai, Al Shehhi relied on a tailored mix of offerings, including professional trainings, certifications, project management conferences, PMO conferences, one-on-one sessions and even daily coaching with the head of the PMO and PMO team members. 

The PMO also partnered with the PMI United Arab Emirates chapter for a mix of formal training sessions and informal peer-to-peer learning opportunities. All of it, she says, has been “useful and effective”—more so because individual team members were steered to the most appropriate and rewarding task for them.

Headshot of Bruno Tiera

3. Make a Mentoring Match 

“A company can hire the best training in the world, but hands-on coaching from senior employees is the best way to ensure continuous improvement in the PMO,” says Bruno Riêra, PMP, PMO lead, Johnson & Johnson in São José dos Campos, Brazil.  

He’s hardly alone in promoting the value of mentorship for PMO talent development. At Metro Trains Melbourne, Ignacio Inchausti, PMP, is an active mentor to several junior members of the PMO team, and he’s often struck by “how valuable sharing experiences and knowledge with younger professionals can be,” says Inchausti, a project manager within the PMO. “There’s no doubt that mentoring provides a tangible source of education and on-the-job training that benefits the organization.”  

When pairing mentors and mentees, Shyshkova does so “in such a way that the junior project manager’s weak spot is the experienced mentor’s biggest strength.” For instance, what if your new hire has technical skills for days, but doesn’t engage well? Pair them with a mentor who’s the team’s ace networker. 

At Lazarev, project managers are encouraged to discuss challenges with the PMO leader. But the talking doesn’t end there: When the challenge is resolved, the project manager creates a case study and presents it to the team at a workshop—an exercise that helps empower team members by increasing psychological safety. “Knowledge-sharing in a PMO team means being comfortable showcasing mistakes and uncertainty, and not being afraid to share failures and ask questions,” she says. “Practice really is the best teacher, and we’ve found case studies to be one of the most effective professional development techniques we’ve tried.” 

A bonus, she says, is that workshopping challenges helps build more trust between team members, making them more likely to workshop future challenges as they arise. That’s been especially helpful since the pandemic limited in-person connections at the company.

Headshot of Ignacio Inchausti

4. Make HR a Strategic Partner  

Certifications and ongoing educational courses can speed the acquisition of new skills and capabilities, but “people have a general reluctance to take time away from their daily duties, because of their workload,” says Chee Kiong. Even in organizations with robust educational support, enrollment in such offerings can be fairly low, he has observed.  

That’s why cross-functional collaboration can make a real difference. PMO leaders should consider regularly promoting the availability of company benefits, such as tuition reimbursement for project management courses or agile training. And they should be upfront and transparent with team members about how such trainings can fit into their daily workloads, making adjustments across the team as needed. At the same time, HR leaders might be open to the idea of providing additional incentives to encourage follow-through.  

Partnering with HR can also help to ensure that PMO training modules have broader support across the company, which can raise its profile and increase participation. For example, Chee Kiong says that even though certification programs demonstrably improve an employee’s skills, such programs often go underutilized. But HR can partner with the PMO to shift this paradigm, he says: “If an incentive scheme—like a one-time monetary award or monthly skills allowance—or the potential of promotion is set in place, farsighted individuals are likely to factor the relevant training into their personal development plans.”  

To sustain a resilient PMO that delivers a strategic advantage, organizations must continually develop and grow the team’s talents—from stronger project performance and engagement in the here and now to greater long-term talent retention and a future-ready mindset around emerging technologies.  

“Professional development in the PMO is like a dance between the individual and organization,” Inchausti says. “Each can benefit, if they’re both actively involved and moving in agreement.”

Additional reading: 
A Roadmap to PMO Excellence
PMO Maturity Index
PMO Success in Sub-Saharan Africa

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