What is a PMO? A Complete Guide

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A PMO is a Project Management Office.  It is defined by PMI as “an organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain.” (PMI, 2004).

An effective PMO is a key enabler to program success.  It helps to coordinate, communicate, lead and monitor the activities of all your key stakeholders. It provides a synthesis of the project status (schedule, issues, risks) by regularly reporting out on relevant metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs).  These are reported out via dashboards and reporting tools, which enable company leaders to make better informed decisions. Those in the PMO are also in a position to take into account all the people’s needs, driving the change management aspects of the project.


Watch our own definition of a PMO and how we see it at MI-GSO | PCUBED.

The Benefits of a PMO

The PMO plays a critical part in driving successful program and project delivery across an organization.  It ensures that the required level of planning, control and delivery assurances are in place. This improved visibility and insight into program and project performance enables executives to more effectively control outcomes.

MI-GSO | PCUBED was engaged by a world leading aviation company to provide program management services in support of certification and qualification. This program was aimed at improving planning and scheduling ensuring certification deliverables would meet Program Milestones, streamlining outdated processes and regulating communications to improve efficiency and visibility.

By implementing an efficient framework across each work-package and establishing strong communication channels between the project management team, engineering functions and the suppliers, the organization has better visibility, and improved ability to address issues quickly towards Certification completion.

The Work

  • Implementing a reliable database which follows full scope of certification
  • Implementing a reliable database which follows full scope of certification
  • Reporting on updated KPIs to increase visibility (schedule & risk) and facilitate problem solving
  • Coordinating and synchronizing all stakeholders
  • Implementing processes to provide clear framework over the project

Providing the right data, to the right people, at the right time.

An effective PMO helps organizations to:

  • Increase confidence in planning
    A well defined baseline plan underpinned by an appropriate level of detailed planning gives confidence that program goals are achievable.
  • Increase visibility and confidence in status
    Clear and consistent reporting across each project / program and portfolio of work, underpinned by reliable data supports effective program leadership.
  • Control Changes
    Ability to effectively understand and manage changes to ensure deviations are based on a clear understanding of impacts.
  • Manage continuous improvement
    Use of program data to understand performance issues and strengths to help focus efforts on improving delivery capability.

PMO Trends 2020

The number one reason that PMOs fail is due to mismatched expectations.  This is due in part to the many roles that a PMO can play in an organization.  More on that in just a bit. 

Reasons PMOs Fail
Reasons PMOs Fail

It also is due to the ever changing landscape of project management today. Here are five key trends we saw impacting the Project Management Office in 2020:

Graphic PMO Trends 2020
Graphic PMO Trends 2020

The PMO Went Remote

The number one trend that dominated 2020 was the outbreak of the coronavirus.  Companies worldwide transitioned to working remotely overnight, and that included the PMO.  The PMOs that heavily invested in collaboration technologies were able to make the transition almost seamlessly, while others are still wading through the challenges.

Read more on how to deliver Remote PMO Services.

Woman Smiling

The PMO Went Soft

The second major impact for PMOs was the switch to projects focused on responding to and managing the impact of COVID-19. 2019 saw the rise in leadership and coaching skills required for an effective PMO, guiding teams in the adoption of newer ways of working. 

In 2020, the PMO drew on their softer side, with people strong in leadership, coaching, and emotional intelligence.  PMO Managers worked to understand how to manage and balance the various dynamics and changes thrown at each of us on a daily basis.

The PMO Went Agile

While definitely not a new trend, the PMO in 2020 became more Agile focused.  PMOs was increasingly staffed with Agile and Lean certified practitioners, who are already certified as PMP, PRINCE2, and Managing Successful Programmes Practitioners.

Their focus was on translating those newer ways of working tested out in innovation hubs and pilot projects back into existing organizational policies and procedures.  In addition, they focused on expanding the proliferation of adaptive techniques into more traditional methods, which required both coaching and change management expertise.

The PMO Went Digital / Analytical

There has been a marked increase in the number of PMOs incorporating Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation into their delivery roadmaps, some more near term than others.  As the projects that we managed and controlled expand their reach in new technology and digital transformation, so did the PMO.

Our access to new tools also increased the ability for the PMO to go from data collection, to data cleansing, data analysis, and data visualization.  The number of PMOs focused on the creation of automated digital dashboards at MI-GSO | PCUBED has increased exponentially in the last year.

The PMO Went Strategic

Finally, in direct relation to managing the impact of COVID-19, our fifth trend was the continued drive to a more strategic PMO.  Last year, we saw PMOs transform into hubs focused on helping the business assess Return to Work readiness, supporting COVID-19 contact tracing and compliance measures, and managing complex Business Resumption activities.  

The PMO has been transformed over the past few years into a value driver earning the credibility of the business.  As highlighted in our PMO Setup article,  “you will start seeing the scope of initiatives undertaken by the PMO broaden from functional projects to enterprise-wide work.”

In addition to project recovery initiatives, PMOs were tasked with supporting large scale transformation programs and assisting management teams in de-risking their portfolios.  Finally, PMOs  continued to drive increased capability with a future focused mindset.

Typical Levels

As highlighted above, PMOs can operate at many levels within an organization.  They can be established to drive at the project, program or portfolio level.  Or they could be assigned to support at an enterprise, business unit, or departmental level.  And, finally they could be set up to operate on a stand-alone basis, focusing on the more effective management of a single program. 

You may find that integration of the PMO at the enterprise level, can help improve the impact your other PMOs can have, in both program and project delivery across the organization.

For one of our clients, we created a PMO Center of Excellence.  The purpose was to share ideas across the PMOs, stop reinventing the wheel, and work together to bring in new systems (like a new project management platform all parties were interested in). 

The expectation was that only a handful of PMOs would participate. To our surprise, more than a hundred popped out within this huge organization. With the PMO maturity model as a guide, we brainstormed ideas together and then grouped them into work streams to address each of our key gaps.  Then, we plotted these actions into our backlog or roadmap for improvement.

One idea was to create a buddy system, partnering more junior PMO people with more experienced ones as a way to upskill and share knowledge among the staff. Participants found it extremely valuable to talk with people in other PMOs, measure their relative maturity level, and see what else they could be offering to their department.  This is something that you could kick off within your own organization to help define both lessons learned and future improvement actions.

Typical Roles Played

In addition to the various levels, the PMO may also assume varying roles, depending on the needs and maturity of the organization. It typically takes on one of these four different PMO personalities:

MI-GSO | PCUBED 4 Types of PMOs

The Enabler PMO is your one stop shop for best practice methodology and program data.  The Coach focuses on Increased capability, embedding best practice and skills transfer.  The Guardian, is lead by management by facts, serving as an early warning to key stakeholders.  Finally, the Partner PMO is your delivery accelerator providing confidence in success.

Read more in our article: Moving your PMO up the Maturity Ladder

Key Focus Areas

Looking at all the various levels and roles of the PMO, it is easy to get overwhelmed or not know where to start. The responsibilities of the PMO are dependent upon both the level at which it sits in the organization and the role of which it assumed.

Typical responsibilities can range from providing project management support functions to actually being responsible for projects, by lending project managers out to project teams for their duration.

Therefore, when implementing or delivering a PMO we recommend narrowing down the focus to a few key areas including:

  • A focus on achieving organizational objectives and requirements.
  • Active executive sponsorship
  • Effective governance and controls
  • A lean delivery approach supported by a flexible dedicated team
  • “Fit for purpose” processes and tools
  • Integrity of data and proactive analysis and insights
  • Skills transfer where “capability building is core”, and
  • Stakeholder management providing an emphasis on stakeholder involvement and communication.

This allows you to first establish the basics for improved delivery, and then establish a reputation as a value add driver.  With that as a baseline you can then define a roadmap for continuous improvement of your PMO.

We hope you found this complete guide to What is a PMO helpful.  For additional information please see our other article: 5 Rules for Great PMOs.

What sets the MI-GSO | PCUBED PMO apart from other PMOs?

Jami Anderson

Jami Anderson

Global Marketing Manager

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