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What is a PMO?

Who, what, why, where, how? When is a PMO not a PMO? When it's a PMO!

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Welcome to the latest “Ask a project manager” blog. This week’s question isn’t about project management but about that lovely adjunct – PMOs.

I’m a recent graduate and have an interview for a (very) junior role in a PMO. I’m really excited but I’ve not got much of a clue about what a PMO is and what it does. I don’t want to look stupid in my interview. Can you help?

Thanks for getting in touch, congratulations on your interview! I’ll try and give you an easy overview of PMOs.

What does PMO mean?

The first question to answer is what does PMO stand for? It could be Project Management Office, it could be Programme Management Office or it could even be Portfolio Management Office. Confusing, right? You can usually make a stab at which one is which by what they do.

PMO’s role

The roles performed by PMOs are as diverse as their names. In a nutshell, the following descriptions pretty much hold true:

Portfolio Management Office – is there to help the organisation do the right things

Programme Management Office – is there to do things in the right order

Project Management Office – is there to do things the right way

One thing that’s consistent across the different PMOs, regardless of form or function, is that they have to have the right team in place to do the work they need to do.

Type of PMO

The Project Management Institute’s description of the three generic “types” of PMOs is the best that I’ve found:

Supportive

A supportive PMO is set up to provide the organisation with project related templates, tools, processes and best practices. It provides training and tracks lessons learned. Ideally, it should have very little control in the programmes and projects themselves.

Controlling

A controlling PMO is the organisation’s project police. It’s role is to audit the organisation’s programmes and projects. This PMO makes sure that the correct tools, processes, standards and procedures are used.

Directive

A directive PMO is the most controlling of the PMO types. What this PMO says, goes for all an organisation’s programmes and projects. It decides on resource allocation (including people), funding, reporting requirements and most have the individual programme and project managers reporting to it.

Structure

There are almost limitless permutations of PMOs. They can be permanent structures that report to the board in the case of an enterprise portfolio management office. They can be temporary structures that are set up to support a particular programme of work. Or, they can even be project specific entities that work only with one project.

Some of the more common structures are:

Individual PMOs – most likely to be a programme or project management office. They are set up to specifically work with one programme or project. They are unlikely to be permanent.

Departmental/business unit PMO – This construct will support multiple programmes and projects across a business unit. They will likely report into an enterprise or organisational PMO or a senior executive like the CIO. It is likely that it will be a permanent feature.

Organisational PMO – This will be an organisational PMO with responsibilities across the organisation. They will set the processes, tools, methodologies, training, etc. that all the other PMOs will follow. It is likely that this office will be providing portfolio management services as well as everything else. This is definitely a permanent feature and will report to the board or CIO.

People

Depending on the type of PMO you’re working in, you might have some, or all of the following roles represented:

    • Business analysts
    • Resource managers
    • Accountants
    • Process specialists
    • Quality assurance specialists
    • Training specialists

As I said, PMOs come in many different shapes and sizes with a wide range of functions and responsibilities. So, the answer to your question – “What is a PMO?” – will differ from organisation to organisation. I hope this overview has given you enough information to get started. Good luck with the interview!

Psoda plug

If you’re looking for a tool to help your PMO work more efficiently, then look no further than Psoda. With our interactive dashboards, you can monitor, track and report on portfolios, programmes and projects in real time. Helping you make quick, efficient decisions. Click on the big red button at the top right hand corner of the screen to sign up for a free trial!

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