Organizing Options for the Project Management Office (PMO)

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Image of a neatly organized office desk illustrating the benefit of having a project management office setup.

The "project management office" is both an organizational device and an operational strategy.  The PMO concept is founded on the belief that project capabilities will be strengthened when project governance is provided through a centralized, dedicated organizational entity.  Does this apply to you and your projects?  Read on to find out.

Centralized governance is a well established management practice, particularly when it comes to managing IT services, operations and projects.  The PMO is an extension of that practice, dedicated to projects and project management.  That's where the specifics end and actual needs come in to play.  There is not one correct way to establish a PMO.  In fact, a PMO can exist in multiple forms, with varying responsibility and authority.  It can be said that if your organization currently applies and follows standardized policies and procedures for managing projects, you have already established a "project office" in some sense (i.e. you already have some standardized governing authority to define how projects are selected, planned and executed) . The question is how far to go and how complex do you need to be....?  We'll start with a review of the possibilities.

Variations on the PMO Theme

A project management office (PMO) can take any shape, created using customized roles and responsibilities designed to suit project needs and circumstances. Project office setups can range from "virtual oversight" to a formal operational entity. Consider the following examples:

  • Procedural Project Office: This PMO model produces standardized policies and procedures to govern project planning, execution and management.
  • Oversight Project Office: This PMO model acts as a “project steering committee” and/or auditing operation to select projects, set standards and provide project oversight.
  • Consulting Project Office: This PMO model provides "consulting" services to internal departments to support project selection, planning and execution.
  • Resource Pool Project Office: This PMO model acts a “pool” of project management resources (experts) to be "loaned" out to various business units to plan and complete internal projects.
  • Operational Project Office: This PMO model is a fully staffed and funded organizational entity specifically established to select, plan, execute and audit projects. This model has full charge over all projects or a portfolio of projects.

In practical applications, elements of each model can be selected and combined to form an appropriate "PMO" structure based on current project demands, factoring in sufficient flexibility for future modifications and enhancements (as experience leads the way).

The simplest form of a PMO may very well be the project steering committee.

Making PMO Decisions: Selecting the Right Model

Which is the right model for you? There is no easy answer. The form and mission of any given "project office" will depend upon individual needs and historical project performance. A complete needs assessment is the first step, helping you to answer one primary question - what are you trying to accomplish?

Setting PMO Goals and Objectives

Regardless of specific form and mission, an effective project office can serve several key goals:

  • Improve project performance through established standards.
  • Lower project costs through minimized redundancies.
  • Leverage specialized project management skills and expertise.
  • Centralize management of a multi-project portfolio.
  • Standardize project management services to diverse business units.
  • Consolidate project oversight for project performance metrics.
  • Maximize external vendor contracts for the delivery of outsourced project management services.

Creating the PMO Mission

Depending upon the goals at hand, the project office "mission" can include one or more of the following assigned roles and responsibilities:

  • Set project management standards.
  • Manage the enterprise project portfolio.
  • Review project requests and select projects.
  • Act as a project resource pool.
  • Plan projects (from initiation to closure).
  • Provide training and coaching to project managers.
  • Execute and implement selected projects.
  • Manage vendor contracts (for outsourced project services).
  • Provide project oversight, including audits and project reviews.
  • Project performance analysis and metrics reporting.

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PMO Options Can Be Applied To Suit Individual Needs

As discussed above, when it comes to PMO organization "one size does not fit all". Smaller organizations can benefit from some PMO elements, but might not require an extensive, dedicated project entity. The starting point is a full awareness of your IT management vision, project management capabilities, and overall need for structure and organizing boundaries. Above all, PMO structures must be defined, aligned and approved considering all of the above. The starting point to PMO development might be an investigative committee, tasked with PMO viability analysis, model selection, and organizational implementation.


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