Rebeca Nebreda Program Manager

Types of PMO: support, tactics and criteria

The acronym PMO refers to Project/Programme/Portfolio Management Office, i.e., the part of the organisation specialising in defining and maintaining the standards and criteria used in project management. As purists, and particularly focused on extremely large organisations, the PMO is characterised for managing the portfolio, programmes and projects, implying that the PMO has (or should have) a major impact on the implementation of strategic planning.

Generally speaking, it is difficult to determine the function and demonstrate the value of PMO within organisations. This is due to the vast ambiguity and lack of consensus within the formal role characterised by a PMO, even in fundamental notions. Each PMO is different and is organised - with greater or lesser success - depending on each organisation’s needs.

Basic PMO principles

Despite this lack of standardisation, the basic principles upon which a PMO stands are the following:

Various elements can also be mentioned, which to a greater or lesser degree would be present in the definition of a PMO:

  • Homogenising and standardising of processes, methodologies and tools used in project managing.
  • Efficient management of the resources used in the projects.
  • Improved project efficiency.
  • Centralised services. 
  • Monitoring and control of processes.
  • Information management, including the centralisation of lessons learned.
  • Control over changes.

Types of PMO

The nature of the PMO will depend on the focus given the most attention; this could be support (focus on people), tactical (focus on performance), governance (focus on standards and governance), or strategic (mainly focussed on targets established within the organisation).

Support PMO

The support PMO focuses mainly on providing support and on facilitating the following management activities: methodology, documentation needed for project control, information about internal processes, user training, and even maintaining a “lessons learned” style repository with key information about the projects that are being developed within the organisation.

This type does not participate directly in the control of the organisation’s project portfolio.

Tactical PMO

The tactical PMO takes care of monitoring the projects/programmes within an organisation or specific area, receiving input from project managers, assessing them and managing them as a “whole” to give a combined and analysed “up” vision for the different interested parties in each of the projects. In these cases, the organisation starts to monitor the evolution of the projects to detect possible deviations or risks that affect the achievement of the objectives. To do this, the PMO measures all kinds of KPIs that report quality information via reports and dashboards to the organisation management.

Governing or strategic PMO

The governing or strategic PMO is one which, as well as performing support and control duties, “makes projects its own”, leading them by contributing Project Management expertise, with the capacity to assign or distribute resources between them, also ensuring that the methodology responds to the culture and needs of the organisation, and in turn requiring all project leaders or managers to report to the PMO, not the other way around. To reach this level, among other things, the PMO must be highly qualified and experienced in project management, allowing for decisions to be made that are transcendental to the success of both the project, and consequently, the organisation.

The correct alignment of the PMO with the organisation’s targets is decisive for driving the strategic implementation through the different projects and programmes within the portfolio.

PMO implementation criteria

There are various criteria to consider within an organisation or within its team in order to successfully implement the best PMO option. These factors are:

Organisation maturity

An organisation with already successfully working and deep-rooted methodologies and processes, will value and promote the implementation of a directive or strategic PMO. On the contrary, a “younger” organisation in the learning process or still optimising processes, will respond better to a support or control PMO.

Impact of the projects on the business

The natural evolution of a PMO within an organisation is to start as a support PMO, and develop into a control or strategic PMO. This encourages projects to contribute proportionally more value to the business, as the PMO takes on a greater role.

Management Model

Each PMO model translates as greater involvement of management. The more Management backs projects and gets more involved, the more effective a strategic PMO will be.

Team motivation

The higher the motivation to success in the project components (i.e., when people are not driven by an external reward, rather their target or wish is to do a good job, or their drive is to exceed themselves), the better a strategic or directive PMO will be implemented.

The evolution process of a Support PMO, spans from increasing operational value and achieving greater management and control efficiency of the Programme, Projects and Operations Portfolio, right up to becoming a Tactical PMO.

From this position, the PMO should evolve towards a more strategy-focused role within the organisation, which helps meet objectives (project-level objectives, KPIs and KPGs, Business Cases, project prioritising model, client range value measurement model, etc.) thus becoming a Governing-Strategic PMO.

Article jointly written by Cristina Nevado and Rebeca Nebreda.