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

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 formPrimary customerPrimary function
DirectiveProject SponsorManaging
ConsultativeProject ManagerSupporting
CoordinatingProject Portfolio ManagerRisk mitigation
Center of ExcellenceProject ManagerStandardization

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.

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