What is a Project Management Office (PMO) and what the different types of PMOs

by Desh

I once worked for a consulting company where no Project management standards or process was followed.  In all the projects undertaken by that company, the project managers followed their own process and methodology, which were never consistent.  In fact, the same Project Manager would follow different methodologies for different projects.  So, my joke was – Take 5 PMs to different rooms and ask them their methodology and you will have 5 different methodologies.  Wait for a month and take them again and ask the same question, and you will have yet 5 new methodologies!  So, my question always was, if God forbid a truck hit any of the PMs, what will happen to her/his project?  No one knew.

That is precisely why a PMO is critical.

PMO or Project Management Office sets the standards for managing projects in any organization.  The group (not a person, mind you) has its task cut out.  They need to standardize the processes, templates, methodologies and cadence to have holistic project governance.  This helps in two ways – the common practices, templates, and process bring economies of repetition and ability to do comparative analyses and reporting, and the projects can be managed more efficiently without reinventing the wheel every time!

Level of Engagement

Basically speaking, there are 3 types of PMOs in any organization.  These types are based on the level of control and nature of engagement that these PMOs have over the whole project management process.  From low control and engagement to High Control and micro-management, with a moderate control and oversight engagement, there are really only three ways to look at the PMOs.

Of course, all the PMOs are on the continuum between Supportive to Directive.  Let us look at these types in a bit more detail.

Supportive PMO:  The PMO creates the process, the templates, the methodologies and ensures that the project teams are trained in all the relevant tools.  They provide all the support to the Project Managers to do their tasks.  PMO act like a Central repository or Clearing House for all things related to Project Management.  Everything – from training, policies, procedures, documentation, process help are available on an on-demand basis.

The readily available and “on-demand” expertise is there but it is not imposed!  The engagement is passive.

Controlling PMO:  Despite its name, it is actually a model where the PMO exercises Moderate control in the nature of its engagement over the project teams.  Unlike the Supportive model, in this type of PMO, even compliance is needed.  The compliance is in the form of adopting the PM frameworks, methodologies, use of forms, tools and governance structure.

This helps in standardizing the project management process via active engagement, which does not enforce everything – merely the processes that are common to ensure the standards are met and there is a common way to do things.

Directive PMO: In this model, the projects are completely handled by the PMO and its staff of Project managers.  There is not just cohesion in the processes and templates, but even the management of the projects.  And, the delivery is managed by the PMO directly.

Which of these models is the best?  It all depends upon the culture, decision-making, and evolution of the organization itself.  Some organizations can work with the low control model and some may need high control.  The main aim is to provide a common process, methodology with effective and repeatable efficiency in managing projects.

Level of Organization hierarchy

PMOs can also exist at different levels of the organization.  Let us look at the three types of PMOs based on the level at which they are created.

Individual PMO: When a program or project is large and it needs close cohesion and monitoring as well as tight management, a complete PMO is geared to handle that initiative.  Such a PMO will provide customized functional and infrastructure support along with specific templates, documentation, and training.  Standards geared to make such a large and complex project successful are fundamental to this type of PMO.

Departmental PMO: There are cases where different departments have different needs in terms of how the projects would need to be managed.  Some may need to infuse the process with more Agile based format versus the waterfall, while others may necessitate waterfall.  Some departments may need more focus on design than build phases or other such custom needs.  Due to these reasons, the PMO may be created for the departments themselves separately.    Such PMOs will need to bring cohesion amongst complex projects with often complex and different technologies.

Corporate or Enterprise PMO: When the PMO sets the standards, methodologies, and processes for the entire organization.  This type of PMO also has a bird’s eye view of the projects being delivered across the organization and so can align them to the overall strategy and mission of the organization.

PMO by Functional Area

Based on the Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices: P3O, there are primarily three functional areas along which the PMO can be categorized.

Strategic Planning: This is the attempt to link the projects and their management to the organization strategy and its achievement.  So these not just involve the strategy alignment part but also ways to measure benefits realization and create management dashboards and scorecards.

Deliver Support: This PMO focuses of change management and has a central pool of delivery resources and the PMO provides capacity planning and HR Management.

Center of Excellence:  In this model, PMO is a Center of Excellence for project management.  Its focus is on the standards, processes and methodologies.

As one can see, there are many ways to look at and structure Project Management Office in any organization.  It boils down to the specific needs of the organization along with the culture and ethos of the organization where the work needs to be performed.



Featured image courtesy: pngguru

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