A Beginner’s Guide to Project Management Offices (PMOs)

by Jan Schiller

Project management office, project office, enterprise center of excellence, project control group or project support office. Ever wonder what a project management office (PMO) really is?

What is a project management office?

In general, a PMO exists to ensure an organization realizes the value of its investments in projects, usually focused on improving the stability and reliability of solution delivery, project management, and outcome management processes. In reality, PMOs can take many forms and may have a variety of functions, which gives rise to the various names.

In “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition”, the Project Management Office (PMO) is defined as “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques” (PMI, 2013, p. 10).

What are the typical forms and functions of Project Management Offices?

The most typical forms of PMOs are defined by the primary customer. The functions and service offerings of a PMO should be aligned with the form of the PMO. The best PMO form will be the one that best addresses the business value the PMO is intended to deliver and very well may be a hybrid of two or more forms.


PMO form Primary customer Primary function
Directive Project Sponsor Managing
Consultative Project Manager Supporting
Governing Executives Consistency
Controlling Executives Delivery
Reporting Executives Informing
Coordinating Project Portfolio Manager Risk mitigation
Center of Excellence Project Manager Standardization

When was Project Management Office defined?

‘Project Office’ was a term used to describe national governance of agriculture in the 1800s. 1939 saw the first use of ‘Project Management Office” in a publication. The definition for a Project Office as defined above has been around since the mid-1950s.

Who developed the concept of PMO?

The United States military probably originated the Project Management Office terminology and provided the basic concepts that evolved to support today’s Project Office definitions. They developed a project office function in the 1930s to monitor aircraft construction, and again in the 1950s when they needed an approach to centralize multiple missile system development efforts to make budget management more efficient.

Since then, the concept of a PMO has spread to other industries, such as construction and financial services, generally in alignment with the spread of computer technology.

What are the benefits of a Project Management Office?

Project Management Offices are designed to improve organizational performance. A PMO that is perceived to deliver no benefits is a short-lived PMO.

The benefits of a successful PMO are directly associated with the organization’s objectives that are realized in a more timely, less costly, and higher-quality manner. These objectives are as varied as there are organizations but generally are related to assessing and improving a business process; complying with a regulation, achieving a competitive advantage, or delivering a new product or service.

The scope of benefits realization is directly related to where the Project Office lives in the organization; higher levels of benefits at an enterprise level, lower levels of benefits at a departmental or program level.

What is the most important Project Management Office consideration?

Know what you want your Project Office to be when it grows up. This will help shape how it is initially created, how you will create demand for the PMO’s services, and how you manage your PMO to deliver maximum value to your organization. You must obtain executive-level sponsorship of your Project Office to begin; you must sustain that sponsorship throughout the life of the PMO, which will certainly require your PMO to evolve in alignment with the evolution of your business and the environment in which it operates.

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