I responded to a question on a LinkedIn group, Certified Project, Program, and Portfolio Managers, “What are the main components of a good PMO?”  Obviously, there are several different models for a PMO, so I listed what I felt are the most common.  Now that I’ve had time to contemplate, I’d like to amplify a bit on these three models.

Center of Excellence:  All project managers are assigned to one organization, called the PMO. They use the same tools and practices, and are assigned to projects based on experience, availability, and problem domain knowledge.  In this approach, the PMO is a vehicle for delivering standard services to “subscribers,” who may be department managers or portfolio managers.  This is an excellent model for organizations that have mature project management processes, but won’t benefit from centralized governance of the project portfolio.  It has the side benefit of being a great way to establish a career path for project managers.

Center of Governance:  The project managers are assigned to different departments, and the PMO budgets, selects, and prioritizes projects and resources, conducts in-process “gate” reviews, assigns auditors, and otherwise oversees the projects as investments.  In this approach, the PMO is a vehicle for strategic decision making, and managing the project portfolio.  This is an excellent model for organizations that want centralized governance of the project portfolio and capital budget, but don’t feel the need to develop a great deal of internal capacity for project management.  It is also a great model for organizations that prefer to contract out for project labor.

Center of Administration:  The project managers are assigned to different departments, but the PMO provides administrative support, record keeping, and other services.  In this approach, the PMO is a vehicle for administrative compliance.  This is an excellent model for organizations that want to use very structured methodologies, or are required to maintain very specific, detailed records due to contractual or regulatory requirements.  This is a great model for organizations with a lot of “accidental project managers,” meaning those for whom project management is not a core competency or a career goal; it’s just something they ended up doing as part of their “regular” job.  It’s also great for highly regulated industries that are subject to a lot of audits.

The role of the PMO may change over time, as the needs of the organization or their relative maturity changes over time.  My company used the Center of Excellence model, and then changed to a Center of Governance model five years ago.  More recently, we’ve settled in somewhere between Center of Governance and Center of Administration.  The PMO should not be a rigid institution – it should be like a project, “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”