What is a Project Management Office (PMO)?

Photo of a PMO Team working

What is a PMO?

A project management office (PMO) is a group or department within a business, agency, or enterprise that defines and maintains standards for project management within the organization. 

A PMO strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects. The office typically provides centralized coordination, governance, and planning for project management. 

The PMO additionally manages the organization’s portfolio of projects and ensures that the projects are aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives. 

In A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, the Project Management Office (PMO) is defined as “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques” (PMI, 2013a, p. 10). In other words, a PMO is a group of people responsible for determining the standards of how projects are managed within an organization.

This article explains everything you need to know about PMOs – including their functions, benefits, and how to set one up.

Trends in PMO Office

Project Management Office (PMO) is a field that has exploded over the last few years according to a report published by Project Management Consultancy farm Wellingtone.co.uk called “The State of Project Management Research”. It reports respondents seeing their PMO getting larger (57%), but the scope of services increasing at a much higher rate (72%). In line with this, 71% see the perceived value of their PMO increasing.

Considering the recent surge in the adoption of PMO one can be fooled into thinking of the concept of PMO as being relatively new.

History of the PMO

According to practicus.com the PMO has its origins in the 1930s. Invented by the US Air Corps, to corral its projects and gain visibility and transparency to enable good decision-making, specifically around finances. However, PMO has diverged into many different styles and interpretations, much if over the years has been shaped by over-engineering the concept to focus more on processes rather than delivering value.

But what exactly is a PMO, and what purpose does it serve in project management and business?

What is the Role of a Project Management Office (PMO)

In order to understand the role of a PMO, it’s worth looking at the difference between a Project Manager and Project Management Office. There is a difference between a project manager responsible for the actual project delivery and a PMO responsible for managing the project process. The PMO ensures that the project process is followed according to predetermined standards as set out by the PMO, and the project manager ensures that the project process is followed to deliver the project.

Traditional Roles of a PMO

Traditionally the role of a PMO has been to determine processes and ensure the execution of Projects according to those processes (often classified as Controlling or Directive PMO Types). This meant a PMO took more of an authoritative role, focused on the administration and education of people involved in managing a project. A recent shift in Project Management trends has seen the PMO shift away from the traditional approach and focus on project delivery rather than processes (Supportive PMO style). Some traditional PMO Roles include :

  • Standardization: Standardization of processes, policies, procedures, templates, and other documentation, along with compliance.
  • Knowledge sharing and retention: Acting as a repository of lessons learned and providing access to projects as and when needed.
  • Training: Facilitating or conducting, providing coaching, and mentoring.
  • Consulting: Adopting various project management frameworks or methods.
  • Resourcing: Managing shared resources across projects.
  • Communication: Coordination of communication across various projects.

Role of an Agile PMO

As mentioned in this article: The Value of an Agile Project Management Office, an Agile PMO is more facilitative in nature as opposed to a traditional directing or commanding/controlling PMO which first dictates and enforces standards, policies and procedures. Some roles of an Agile PMO include :

  • Standard Development and Implementation
  • Multi-project Management
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Compliance and Audit
  • Resourcing
  • Training, Coaching, and Mentoring
  • Strategic Focus and Alignment

As project management and technology evolve, the role and purposes continue to shift to being outcomes driven as opposed to being focussed on planning and reporting.

What are some of the responsibilities of a PMO?

A PMO has various responsibilities across the different stages of project delivery. What are some of these responsibilities?

Initiation Phase: During the initiation phase a PMO will be responsible for gathering business requirements, determining the roles of teams, meeting with stakeholders, and establishing a central point for documentation.

Planning Phase: During the planning phase a PMO will be responsible for developing a risk register, establishing a vendor management plan, establishing communication guidelines, and assisting the project manager

Execution Phase: During the execution phase a PMO will be responsible for ensuring the project remains on track, identify and resolving issues early, guiding conflict resolution, and maintaining communication between stakeholders and the project manager

Closeout Phase: During the closeout phase the PMO will be responsible for ensuring the gathering, preparing, and presenting of documentation to stakeholders, ensuring project guidelines have been met, and reflecting on improvements.

These are only some responsibilities of PMOs, there is no clear guidelines to how a PMO should function as a PMO is structured around a specific company’s needs and requirements.

How do you structure a PMO?

How a PMO is structured may vary from organization to organization based on needs and capabilities. Generally, a PMO consists of a group of 9-10 highly skilled project managers with an average experience of around 10 years. Usually, the PMO director maintains the highest qualification. The “Tactical Building Guide” by Willam Down includes the following roles and individuals needed in a PMO :

  • PMO Manager
  • PMO Director
  • PMO Vice President
  • Administrative Assistant to PMO
  • PMO Project Coordinators—you can have more than one of these individuals.
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Program Manager—you can have more than one of these individuals. The number of Program Managers you hire will depend on the number of programs in the PMO.
  • Project Manager—you can have more than one of these individuals. The number of Project Managers you hire will depend on the number of projects in the PMO.
  • PMO Methodology Mentors
  • PMO Reporting Analysts
  • PMO Dashboard Team—including Developers or Analysts
  • PMO Resource Managers—you can have more than one of these individuals. This will largely depend on the size of the PMO.
  • PMO Finance Managers
  • PMO Trainers—this role tends to have more than one individual; however, the role is usually a vendor or a contractor resource and not necessarily an employee.
This is an example of what a typical Project Management Office organization structure might look
Source: Tactical Building Guide

Benefits Of A PMO

If done correctly and effectively, a PMO can have many benefits for an organization. An effective PMO will ensure all members of a company are aligned and working together towards a common goal by standardizing processes. When team members have a common goal, clear visualization of tasks, and are able they work together efficiently, they will ultimately work faster and utilize resources better. The bigger an organization gets, the easier it can be to lose track of resources and by ensuring effective planning and utilization of resources, a PMO can ultimately ensure a better ROI for the company.

Other benefits include making decisions about taking on sufficient risk for sufficient ROI. Sometimes companies assume high risk means high reward and PMOs ensure that risk is sufficient and not a threat to a company and projects. A PMO provides Project Members and members of the team guidance based on these principles and experiences gained as project managers.

Watch MPUG PMO Webinars Now