The PMO: Why and What Type Do You Need?

The Project Management Office (PMO) has increasingly become a fixture across corporate and government organizations around the world, gaining popularity as the adoption of formal project management practices proliferates. Depending on the organization though, a PMO may have wildly different responsibilities, composition, and authority. Some work strategically, offering high level visibility to executive management of the entire project portfolio; others work more tactically and provide support scheduling and delivering projects. Still other PMOs specialize in governance, acting as oversight for organizations and creating and auditing documentation that helps to standardize their organizations. Many PMOs actually blend more than one of these responsibilities together and deliver several services to their organizations. Adding a PMO to an organization can deliver a large amount of value if it is targeted correctly and implemented well.

So why does an organization need a PMO?

Ultimately, most organizations turn towards a PMO because they have started producing more new products or services than they have the capability to manage effectively. Normally companies give the responsibility for project efforts to technical experts until the need for project management is identified; many times this occurs when the technical experts are placed at the helm of more than one effort or when regulatory requirements create additional documentation of either the project effort or interactions with external organizations. Any of these factors, and many others, can lead to an organization creating its very first PMO.

PMOs can provide immense value to organizations if they are implemented properly. So what exactly does the proper implementation of a PMO look like? That is completely dependent on the organization that requests the institution of the PMO. As I’ve described previously, there are many reasons why an organization decides to create a PMO; based on the problem that the group is trying to solve there are many different types of PMOs that can be built to respond to the situation.

What kind of PMO is necessary?

Based on the reason an organization decides to implement a PMO it can look completely different between two organizations, even if they share a like size or industry. Some of the traditional PMO implementations include the following:

Tactical PMOs: Tactical PMOs exist to deliver project work and exist specifically to help project teams increase their throughput and efficiency while lowering the cost of delivery per effort. Even inside tactical PMOs teams can look vastly different: sometimes PMs run efforts in projectized environments, in others PMs work under the technical leadership of a project as administrative support. In still other tactical environments members of a PMO might provide scheduling support without direct project management to keep teams on task.

Strategic PMOs: Strategic PMOs deliver higher level visibility across an entire collection, or a portfolio, of projects. Strategic PMOs deliver metrics across a wide variety of efforts and measure the project performance across the entire portfolio. By providing this “five thousand foot view” to executive management, the PMO can help direct the business priorities of its organization and allow it to identify the best uses of both its money and time. By identifying the best priorities, this form of PMO can take an organization to the next level.

Governance PMOs: In this day and age, many organizations are required to maintain strict processes and documentation to fulfill a number of obligations. These can take the form of government compliance, customer requirements, or external organizational commitments. Governance PMOs both create and maintain an infrastructure for maintaining these relationships and fulfilling the requirements for each: they make sure that any necessary documentation is created and maintained and that the correct procedures are used as necessary.

Hybrid PMOs: Hybrids are a combination of any of the above types of PMOs, and can meld many features of the above organizations into a single entity. The EPMO, or Enterprise Project Management Office, is an overarching group that oversees all PMOs in an organization and provides governing rules and procedures for how these PMOs are run.  An EPMO is a prime example of a hybrid, as it blends together the governance of the organization with the high level strategic vision for executive management to business decision making. Hybrids, like all PMOs, can be at any level of an organization and blend the capabilities of the PMO that a group most needs to help run their organization the most effectively.

In conclusion…

A PMO is an incredibly useful tool in an organization’s arsenal and can provide immense value, assuming that it has been implemented properly and continually benefits from executive sponsorship. One of the chief reasons PMOs are not able to gain traction is the lack of high level stakeholder champions. By choosing the correct form of PMO for the desired effect and implementing it well, most organization can realize both near and long-term benefits, both institutionally and financially.

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