Types of PMO: Which Structure is Best for Your Organization?

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If you are facing challenges in project success rate, project execution efficiency, resource optimization, strategic goals alignment, etc., a high-performing PMO may be the best approach to address these challenges. However, you must think about which role and structure of PMO would fit well in your organization and your unique corporate culture.

What is a PMO? A Project Management Office is a group that exists to support the delivery of an organization’s business goals through project portfolio management. Read more in our PMO Guide.

Should it work like a consultant, a coach, a manager, a supervisor, or an auditor?  And which type of PMO structure should your organization adopt? Will the structure that worked for your competitors work for you, too? Will there be any challenges in setting up or changing a new governance structure in your organization?

As specialists in PMO setup and delivery for the past 30 years, we are best placed to guide you through this self exploration and decision making journey. Here is a short summary that we hope will give you a better idea of the different types of PMO.

The Different Types of PMO

The models of PMO have been evolving for a long time. You may have heard terms from multiple sources/organizations, but what are the differences among them? Let’s take a look at the key factors influencing the types of PMO.

Based on the degree of control on projects:

  • Supportive PMO: Acts as a knowledge curator by supplying templates, best practices, training and keeping track of lessons learned. It has low control in projects and is suitable for a functional or weak matrix organization.
  • Controlling PMO: Acts as an auditor by conducting compliance checks on organizational tools, processes, and standards. It has moderate control in projects and is suitable for a balanced matrix organization.
  • Directive PMO: Acts as a director by taking ownership of all the projects executed within the organization. It has high control in projects and is suitable for a projectized or strong matrix organization.

These first three types are defined by the Project Management Institute and referenced in the PMBOK, so they are frequently studied as the primary types of PMO. However, there are other types, which we identify below, that consider different criteria.

Based on the degree of participation in each project phase:

  • Strategic PMO: Actively manages the project intake process by acting as a gatekeeper for the organizations’ executives, which allows them to verify the business justifications and screen project proposals and prioritize the projects in alignment with the organization’s strategies. It is suitable for projectized organization.
  • Governance PMO: Equips the organization with standard practices for measuring project performance and establishes the best practices for optimal project performance. It is suitable for organizations which tend to improve project performance through standardization and improvement in documentation, processes, procedures, and methodologies.
  • Performance PMO: Heavily participates in the tactical execution of projects, so as to ensure the success of project delivery, and continuously build up processes and tools to increase the project success rate. It is suitable for organizations that need to enhance their project delivery performance.
  • Knowledge Management PMO: Provides centralized project tracking and reporting to executives, and provides project standards, processes, training, coaching, and knowledge repositories for project managers. It is suitable for organizations in which PPM maturity is still low and needs to establish and provide standardized best practices for all the project managers.

Based on the position they are in the organization:

  • Enterprise PMO: Operates on the corporate side of the business, usually reports directly to the C-Suite, and ensures that projects align with the organization’s strategic objectives. It is responsible for strategic planning and long-term initiatives planning, project selection and prioritization, as well as balancing resources to support cross-functional projects across the organization.
  • Divisional PMO: Operates under the business division, usually reports directly to the division manager or Enterprise PMO. It is responsible for tactical master planning and project portfolio management including establishing project-portfolio, operational and budget plans.
  • Departmental PMO: Operates under the department, or business unit, and usually reports to the unit manager. It is responsible for operation master planning and project-program management, including developing project-program operational plans and budget plans, as well as managing changes.
  • Dedicated PMO: It is dedicated to support a single complex project or program, and provides functional support (e.g., infrastructure, document management, training, etc.) to a single complex project or program. It sets basic standards and oversees the planning and control activities for a single project.

Based on the degree of technologies applied by the PMO:

  • Manual PMO: This type of PMO uses traditional tools like Excel and PowerPoint to conduct project tracking, management and static reporting. The project information is largely manually input, collected and analyzed.
  • Automated PMO: This type of PMO leverages business intelligence and automation tools in portfolio and project management, which can support tracking project performance and generate dashboards in real time.
  • Augmented PMO: This type of PMO leverages A.I. based on data consolidation and business intelligence solutions, besides project status tracking in real time, it can predict portfolio trending and provide prescriptive solutions to improve portfolio performance.
The different types of PMO

The Best PMO Structure

There’s no one solution that suits for all situations, hence the best PMO structure is the one that works best for your organization and can effectively serve your needs to achieve both mid-term tactical and long-term strategic goals. The short summary above provides us a basic understanding of types of PMO, which leads to self-assessment questions, starting with:  

  • What does your current organization structure look like? Functional, divisional, projectized, strong matrix, weak matrix or flat?
  • What is the size of your organization? Small, medium, large with a single business line, large with multiple business lines, or a super-sized organization with a global footprint?
  • What are the major pain points in project performance that your organization is facing now? For example, challenges in resource management, project intake processes, streamlined project management processes, project delivery success rate, or any other challenges.
  • How mature is the project management applied in your organization?
  • How mature is the process and management automation in your organization?
  • What are the desired outcomes that you expect a PMO can bring to your organization?

Self-evaluation activities, including a self-assessment questionnaire, will help you to get a better understanding of your organization: What are your strengths and weaknesses in project management application? What does your organizational culture look like? What does your organization really want to achieve? What are the critical requirements/expectations for the PMO approach? What would work best for your organization?

Again, to summarize, the best PMO structure for your organization is the combination of the best choice and the best practices which work for your organization to achieve your strategic mission and goals.

Finding What's Right for your Organization

Let’s expand “what’s right” a little bit. “Right” means: set up the right structure with the right roles, place it in the right position within the organization, pick the right candidates for the PMO roles, equip the PMO with the right tools, choose the right metrics to measure both PMO operation and portfolio/program performance, deploy and iterate PMO at the right time, etc. Most importantly, start with choosing the right partner to take the best approach that is tailored for you right from the very beginning of your PMO journey.

PMO approach based on the elements of a PMO

Developing and deploying a PMO for an organization is definitely not a small task. It is a strategic initiative that can be delivered incrementally in order to onboard all levels of the organization. This type of change journey is important to ensure full support for adopting the new structured ways to supervise and manage projects across the organization.

Our 30+ years of experience specializing in Project Management consulting and PMO as a Service allows us to continuously refine our own approach to truly and fully understand our clients. Before making any recommendation for the right PMO solution to the clients, we combine our understanding of your organization in aspects of efficiency, effectiveness, value realization and future vision, with industry best practices in terms of people, process and tools. This way, we prepare our clients to proactively respond to any upcoming uncertainties and changes and to embrace new challenges in today’s fast spinning world.

Elizabeth Peiwen Li

Elizabeth Peiwen Li

Tech Program Management Consultant, Development and Performance Lead
@ MI-GSO | PCUBED SAN FRANCISCO

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