When leading a project management office (PMO), one of the first tasks you should consider is establishing the foundation for your organization — a set of principles under which you will operate the PMO. Why A good set of well thought out principles for the organization will help tremendously to “define itself” to your internal cross-functional organizations, your executive leadership, your business project sponsors and your project managers. A good foundation based on a set of defined principles should address “how” the PMO will operate. What are the “pillars” by which the organization is founded By establishing pillars, or principles, you’ll be able to provide a lasting impression for those within your organization and those whom your organization provides services for.

When developing your principles, consider ways in which you can articulate them in a manner that’s easy for everyone to remember. They shouldn’t have to read your principles in a lengthy document or struggle to memorize the tenets. Keep it to a just a few and then focus on instilling them through the organization. Lead by example. Demonstrate them in the way you operate. Live them. You’ll be amazed at how effective this can be in promoting your organization. People like to know what you stand for. Tell them.

Here are the principles by which our PMO operates. I call them the 4 “Es”:

  1. Educate. Improve the quality of project delivery through focused development of project knowledge, formal education and training, and project management qualification/certification processes.
  2. Empower. Increase project success by continuing to create and enrich the project managers delivery capability through standard processes and project management methodology and tools.
  3. Encourage. Create a trusting and rewarding atmosphere so the best project managers will want to work for you. Provide ongoing education, mentorship and challenge. Highlight project successes and give recognition to the project team members for their valued contributions.
  4. Expect. Measure project performance using a balanced scorecard focused on compliance to project management methodology, delivery against defined success criteria and financial stewardship of capital investments and operating cost project return objectives.

Your foundation will depend on the goals you’re working to achieve as a leader of the PMO. This isn’t something you want to rush into; give it considerable thought. The principles by which you operate should align with your company’s overall operating guidelines. Perhaps your company is focused on being first to market with new software products. As such, you may want to consider building pillars around Adaptability, Agility, Aggressive Scheduling and Altitude (reaching new heights). Perhaps your company is focused on quality and six sigma and really embraces the operational goal of zero defects. In this case, your pillars may need to focus on guiding principles such as Mitigating Risk, Mastering Methodology, Mean Time between Failure and Managing Quality.

As you can see, laying the foundation of the Project Management Office takes thought leadership, experience and knowledge about your business. As you develop your foundation, work with the senior leaders in your company to get their insight and input. Work with your team to get their feedback and suggestions. Once you’ve put the sweat equity in defining your operating principles, be sure to reap the benefits by promoting them and ensuring all your stakeholders are aware of your foundation. You’ll find it well worth the time.