Project Practitioners > A Few Tips on Hiring for your PMO

A Few Tips on Hiring for your PMO

By Margaret de Haan


As usual, it seems that I have been doing a large amount of interviewing lately, looking for that diamond in the rough, that “perfect fit” for the team and the environment.  For those of you that are also responsible for staffing your PMO, you know how vicarious the process is, and how you never really know what you’re buying until after you’ve bought it.  In some ways it feels as though you’re dating on a timeline, you have two dates with each candidate before you have to make a commitment and walking down the aisle.  Sure, divorce is always an option, but that’s messy, painful, and always expensive in terms of time and inconvenience, not to mention what damage it can do.

Everyone seems to know how to look good on paper, and they can have a ton of great experience, but in a different environment, with a different team, and with different “rules”.  The question is, will they fit in your environment, your team, and play within your rules?  I realized the other day that I always go through a learning curve during one of these hiring “waves”, and that I learn throughout the process exactly what I need based on what the initial phone screens tell me about the candidate pool.  So based on what I’ve learned, I’m going to write this out and refer to it the next time I have to go through this process, and hopefully help some of you along that curve as well.

1)      First, consider your environment’s relation to structure.  Are you a very structured environment, with a defined and inflexible process, or are you trying to manage total chaos every day?  It’s easier to find someone in the middle, but if you are looking to find someone that fits into total insanity and you bring in the wrong candidate, they are guaranteed to run screaming from the building in short order.  Asking more leading questions will tell you what you need to know, try:

  1. What level of process and methodology structure are you comfortable with and why?
  2. If you had a choice between a highly defined process and total flexibility in getting the job done, which would you prefer and why?

2)      Know your company’s tolerance for the triad balance.  What I mean by that is what is likely to happen with a Project, will the date move, will the date be inflexible and items de-scoped, or is there a possibility that the entire Project will be shelved because of a higher priority that hits the pipeline?  I have worked in places where we had dedicated Project teams that worked on nothing but one Project at a time, but for me those days are long gone.  Many IT shops are now thin with resources, and in my current organization the developers work concurrently on Projects as well as break/fix, and if the system goes down, it is irrelevant if there was a Project deadline, the date just gets pushed.  Anyone coming in to our PMO had better be OK with deadlines moving, or they won’t last.  I get some insight by asking the following questions:

  1. How have you had development resources assigned to your Projects, were they working on concurrent Projects, or were they dedicated to one Project at a time?
  2. What would you prefer, moving a deadline or de-scoping deliverables and why?

3)      Look into what a “comfortable” Project load looks like.  I don’t have any PM’s that only get one (of even just a few) Projects at a time, they have quite a few and have to change gears often.  If I have a candidate that wants to be able to dot every “I” and cross every “t” on a Project Plan before being comfortable sending it out for review, then they’re not a good fit for our current corporate environment.  I try to dig into comfort zones on Project load by asking:

  1. How many Projects do you prefer to manage at a time?  If they answer in a way that gives you any discussion about the Projects size and complexity, you will get some great information from them that will help you to form an idea as to their fit.
  2. If you had a choice between every piece of documentation being perfect (perfect defined as “idiot proof” complete) or barely sufficient (not one extra word or any white space on the pages), and you had to pick just one (make the options mutually exclusive), which would you choose and why?

4)      Lastly I try to get an understanding of their pace and comfort with uncertainty.  Do they move fast and furious, or are they slower and more methodical?  Do they have to know every detail about the Project, or can they handle keeping the Project moving even when the Project requirements are continually in flux?  Try asking these questions to gain insight:

  1. With a range of 0 – 100, how much information is required before you are comfortable starting Development on a Project?  If your environment is a Scrum shop or Waterfall (or even some hybrid like most places) don’t disclose it if that can be avoided, you will be able to gain great insight into the candidate’s thought process and comfort level with uncertainty.
  2. Turtle or Hare and why?  This sounds goofy, but I have gotten some great answers to this!

A few other tricks that I have learned are to keep asking someone “Really, why?” and “Can you elaborate more on that?”  In my experience, it takes only a tiny bit of a bad fit to blow up the team, and depending on how difficult your environment can be, blowing up the team can have devastating circumstances.  I realized a long time ago that it is better and smarter to spend whatever time is needed to find the right fit, rather than to let any amount of poison into the mix.  After all, you don’t want to end up in a bad marriage, do you?

Margaret de Haan - MBA, PMP, CSM

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Excellent questions and tips for both sides of the table. Neither of you want to end up in a bad marriage.

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