by Christopher Worsley

Getting the most out of PMOs


Getting the most out of PMOs
Getting the most out of PMOs

When defining the project management office (PMO), a crucial step is to identify who the stakeholder groups are and precisely what they want.

The PiCubed PMO model identifies two stakeholder groups:

  • Managers, steering groups, portfolio committees and sponsors i.e. those who demand information in order to understand status and make decision about projects
  • Project managers, planners and the project community i.e. those who supply the information for analysis and repackaging to meet the needs of varied stakeholder groups.

The PMO must know who it is there to support. Trying to be all things to all people is a losing strategy. Misunderstanding the target audience and its needs leads to a rapid loss of perceived value as contributed by the PMO – a path that often leads to the PMO becoming first an administrative overhead, then a burden, and then ultimately its closure. 

The challenge is that interest levels, and specific areas of concern, vary over time.  Something as simple as a change in the membership of a steering group, or a move from contractors to permanently employed project managers, can have a significant impact. For this reason, PMO management is about political positioning and stakeholder engagement as well as technical capability. Positioning is necessary so that the right stakeholders are accessible to the PMO. Engagement is necessary because the PMO must establish, maintain and build its value with that stakeholder group.  

Different organisations, and the different stakeholder groups, want and need different outcomes. To develop the skills and capability necessary for addressing these challenges, PiCubed has developed a workshop titled "Structuring your PMO for Success", where participants gain the skills to structure their PMO that not only provides standards, oversight and ongoing support and guidance in a multi-project environment, but also modifies their PMO so it matches more precisely what is actually valued by the stakeholders.  

When PMOs are established because of the senior management’s need to improve project performance or to regain control of the investment in projects, the PMO needs to be a ‘control’ type. Where the interest is primarily in developing greater project capability, the PMO must shape itself to be a ‘guidance’ type.

Partnership PMOs are relatively rare. When an organisation is more interested in the project portfolio than the individual projects that make it up and/or the value returned rather than the progress of the project in flight, then the PMO has the role of advising and structuring the management of the enterprise project portfolio, monitoring the portfolio performance and maintaining a view on the project capability and capacity of the organisation.  

No one plans to have an ‘admin’ PMO, but they are often the most common types (generally because someone ‘forgot’ to worry about the delivery of value – which should be defined by the stakeholders, not the PMO).

The characteristics of these four PMO types can be briefly summarised as follows:

Administration PMOs collate data, report on individual projects and provide a level of information handling. It is essentially passive in operation, though may run ‘asset audits’ that determine the level of compliance to pre-agreed procedures. These PMOs are typically staffed by administrators.

Control PMOs focus on assessing the status of projects against a set of pre-agreed progress points, and report on variances in cost and schedule to senior management.  Often regarded as ‘objective' by senior management and ‘hostile’ by projects, they concern themselves with project performance, and can be interventionist – performing project audits and demanding and monitoring ‘recovery’ plans. They usually have functional specialists such as project accountants and specialists in project metrics and auditors included in the staff.

Guidance PMOs are usually set up originally as centres for excellence. They are staffed by process and method specialists, and are proactive in influencing project behaviours, organising development, project workshops on risk and estimating, and providing historical data in support of planning and scheduling. They provide or enable project management training and development, run post-implementation reviews, create lessons-learnt repositories and undertake value-adding health checks projects.  

Partner PMOs are led by a senior manager, maybe even a board member. Their role is to ensure the alignment of project investment with the strategy of the company and, in much the same way as major operational elements of a business, are responsible for making sure the business can achieve its strategic targets by understanding the desirability and do-ability of it project portfolio. Partner PMOs may be the small, executive-driven apex of other satellite PMOS that are sited in different departments, and may have skilled analysts as the principal staff. 

If you would like to explore the positioning of your PMO further, contact PiCubed at or try out their PMO positioning questionnaire.

By Christopher Worsley, Executive director of CITI, founder and principle consultant at PiCubed

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Issue 29


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