What Is PMO? Project Management Office Roles & Responsibilities Explained

Friday, August 12, 2022
Michael Scheiner
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There are literally zero other articles on the world wide web as perfectly suited to answer that nagging question around the office: what is PMO. 

Here, we’ll drop some heavy knowledge all about the project management office, its functions, roles, responsibilities, as well as various PMO types and PMO structures. 

 

What is PMO in business?

According to the PMI, or the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK, a PMO is there to “serve as a means to standardize project-related governance processes and facilitate sharing of resources and tools,” as well as to “align project and program work to corporate strategy across an enterprise.”

So, what is a project management office? Our definition

What is PMO in project management then? A solid project management office definition will highlight the importance of establishing a group of team members, internal to the company or external to it, who are dedicated to maintaining the practices and standards of whatever PM methodology is being applied in an organization.

PMO manages to do this by developing a project strategy that is meant to align the team members, the project, the company and the stakeholder’s needs and expectations. There are a range of project methodologies to consider, and PMO needs to hone in on which is most contextually appropriate. 

PMO clarifies and manages the methods, the tools and apps, and the resources required for project success, a program of related projects, or an organization-wide project portfolio management. Where applicable, PMO is responsible for implementing PERT project management (i.e. program evaluation and review technique), a method for planning, evaluating and reviewing a project or program based on time estimates and task dependencies.  

When it comes to project management meaning writ large, we can say it’s about completing a set of tasks which, taken together, achieve a unified set of project goals. 

 

What does a PMO do?

Let’s make clear the various PMO goals and PMO objectives. The purpose of a PMO is to implement a strategy of making sure all projects, programs and portfolios are managed in a transparent way with organized resource allocation and standardized communication practices.

To achieve this strategy, a PMO should take the following steps:

Clarify goals

The project goals must be in line with the company’s overall vision. A PMO team should be clear about project plans, milestones, goals and objectives at the outset of any project. 

The role of PMO is to make sure the project management team or project scope never strays from this mission.

Plan the resources

Resource management is often the purview of PMO, especially if managing more than one project on a program. Being smart about resource allocation, including labor-power, equipment and money, helps a PMO team be successful.

Set communication standards

Projects often involve many individuals, different departments, and occasionally outside parties. PMO makes sure everyone agrees on the right communication and other project management tools and methods, so that nothing gets lost in translation.

Manage progress

Knowing what metrics and KPIs to use to track the project management process against planning and expectations is another part of a great PMO strategy. This includes knowing what project performance charts to use and how much work progress should elapse before every review.

Set conflict resolution standards

A successful PMO isn’t only concerned about deliverables and results, but also a PMO needs to keep teamwork and morale high throughout the work lifecycle. Problems and conflicts between individuals will arise, and PMO is there to resolve such issues in a fair manner with consistent project management standards.

 

When is the use of PMO processes appropriate?

The PMO process is useful for many areas, informing decision-making and applying various degrees of control over a project. Here are some examples when project office techniques are appropriate.

Avoiding bottlenecks

In many PM methodologies such as agile project management, there is sometimes the possibility of bottlenecks or other issues which disrupt project progress. PMOs are good for staying on top of workflows and catching these issues early, or at least helping to find quick solutions to free up the workflow again.

Eliminates inconsistent methodologies

Sometimes different individuals or departments are applying their own PM methodologies. This might be necessary, say, if you have a software team using Scrum agile PM as part of a larger program where other teams might rely on the waterfall method. PMOs can make sure these methodologies do not contradict each other.

Streamlining simultaneous projects

When several projects are happening at the same time as part of a larger set of work goals, this is called a program, and PMO could also stand for program management office. PMOs here make sure that related or unrelated projects occurring at the same time do not step on each other’s toes.

Cut down on resource waste

Resource allocation is key to PMO. Even when different departments or project teams are working in silos, the PMO is there to make sure everyone has what they need, especially in times of scarce resources when tough decisions must be made in real-time. 

 

PMO roles and responsibilities

Here is a quick sum-up of the project management office roles and responsibilities. The PMO responsibilities will be a common theme in this text and will get more thorough treatments as we go along.

  • The PMO must be able to apply past successful project practices for repeated projects in the future

  • PMO work aligns a team’s habits with the greater company strategy and vision

  • PMOs need to maintain some agile project management methodology techniques to handle change management

  • The PMO is in charge of data collection and integrating data insights into planning and corporate strategy

  • Resource allocation and managing the shared tools, techniques and project management software is part of the PMO role

  • The PMO also serves as a coach and mentor to the team and to other higher level project managers

 

PMO functions

The project management office functions and various PMO activities fall somewhere between project planning, project management, portfolio management, HR, as well as overseer of greater business goals. Here are some specific functions of PMO:

Good governance

The PMO makes sure that the best practices are maintained throughout the project lifecycle. This includes decision-making and knowing the proper hierarchical chain of command and who is accountable and responsible for each decision and its project execution.

Clear transparency

When complex projects, programs and portfolios are underway, the PMO needs to make sure that workflow transparency is respected at all points and in between all relevant workers. Many project failures are due to opaque decision-making.

Repeating and reusing

Many projects are of a repeat nature. To this effect, a PMO can and should take advantage of project templates. Templates can be out of the box or customized, and good management practices will make templates available across the company.

Solid support and QA

Quality assurance is in the PMO’s area of responsibilities. This goes beyond the project deliverables to include supporting and mentoring the project team members.  

Organizational knowledge

Being able to trace back all steps in a project, and its decision-making process, is also one of the critical PMO tasks. This includes document management and archiving, project timelines and histories, and organizational knowledge which can be shared. 

 

Project management office structure types

There are a range of PMO structure types that apply to project methodologies. PMO structure and roles are, of course, codependent. 

The standard 3 types include directive PMO, controlling PMO and supportive PMO, but we will also look at a few rarer varieties. On that note, if you’d like to get a comprehensive overview on the types of PMO, do take a peek at our explainer article.

Here are the main PMO types out there: 

  • Supportive PMO

  • Controlling PMO

  • Directive PMO

  • Individual PMO

  • Business PMO

  • Enterprise PMO

  • Centralized PMO

  • Decentralized PMO

Supportive PMO

The most hands-off PMO is the supportive PMO. They are there when they are needed for support and guidance, but otherwise keep to the sidelines.

Controlling PMO

A controlling PMO is more hands-on than the supportive PMO but still not totally in charge of too many aspects of the project. They give high-level direction, and are there for support or help.

Directive PMO

The directive PMO is the most involved kind of PMO in everyday business decision-making and workflow progress. They direct initiatives and activities and give clear guides on how to complete tasks and with what tools.

Individual PMO

Sometimes a PMO is only in charge of a single project or very small program, and for this reason you have the individual PMO. This PMO may even manage a single employee. 

Business PMO

The business PMO may be responsible for an entire business or at least an entire department, often with a program of more than one project going on at the same time.

Enterprise PMO

At the enterprise level you also have a PMO. This PMO can operate as a senior management position across whole companies even if there are multiple offices spread out over the globe. Here there will be intense resource planning.

Centralized PMO

A centralized PMO is often in charge of setting project standards across an entire portfolio, deciding on the same methods and company project management software that everyone will use, and will have a centralized role in solving large problems. 

Decentralized PMO

This is the opposite of the centralized PMO. In the case of a decentralized PMO structure, decision-making and problem-solving is done at the granular and local level by people most directly involved in the project.

 

PMO team structure breakdown

While above we discussed various types of PMOs for different organizations and purposes, you might be wondering: what is a PMO role or a PMO position in relation to this structure? 

Here we will get to the next level of PMO structure breakdown and see what individuals working in PMO are responsible for. 

There are three major PMO team roles (or PMO title types):

  • PMO manager

  • PMO specialist

  • PMO officer

What is a PMO manager responsible for?

For the PMO project manager or PMO head, the responsibilities are top-level decision-making, managing all the departments and teams, and working intimately with clients and stakeholders. In addition to overseeing PMO organization, good PMO management also takes responsibility when there are big problems.

What is a PMO specialist responsible for?

The PMO specialist is responsible for guiding the project and tracking project progress. They are also there for guidance and mentoring the team. The PMO specialist works with the project manager, choosing PM templates and handling documents.

What is a PMO officer responsible for?

The PMO officer is perhaps the PMO individual most on the ground with the daily work and activities. They may oversee real-time change management, do regular quality assurance checks to ensure PMO standards are adhered to, and apply the templates handed down by the specialist. They may also collect project progress data for further analysis.

 

Our conclusion on PMO project management office

And there you have it. What is a project management office (PMO)?—no longer a question in need of awkward dodging. You’re up to speed on this little acronym.

If you want to further boost your PMO office game, we recommend reviewing the PMO Competency Framework book or other PMI articles on competencies. It also couldn’t hurt to take a look at our project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) article, which details how that meta-level PM guide can help with project planning and execution.

If your pockets are deeper and your needs complex, there are external specialists in PMO to think about too. There are many corporate PMO teams offering specialized assistance—there’s even a PMO consultancy firm called the PMO Company.

Of course, the digital transformation of the workplace means that today there are many great project management software which can help with PMO operations by giving you tools like automations and templates. You can compare project management software in our “best of” list of PM tools for some inspiration.

Between these resources and this article, you’ll be in a good place to leverage PMO in your organization, and get on the path to being a PMO pro.

 

FAQs

What is a program management office, is it the same as a PMO?

PMO usually stands for project management office, though sometimes people mistakenly think it means program management office . Program refers to a collection of projects. To not confuse this, some people write PgMO for program management offices. Otherwise it’s necessary to spell out PMO program management office—a bit clunky.

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