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What Is a PMO?
By Glen D. Ford

If you’ve been listening to the business or technical articles for the last ten years, then you’ve probably heard the demand that your company institute a PMO. It seems everyone from major banks to little manufacturing companies have been jumping on the PMO bandwagon.

But what is a PMO?

The simplest answer comes from expanding the letters of the acronym PMO into a set of words. A PMO is a Project Management Office. But of course, that doesn’t really explain what a PMO is or why an organization or business might want one.

There are as many different types of PMOs as there are companies. The structure, purpose and organizational level of a PMO will change depending on the needs of the organization. And of course, the opinions of the management.

All PMOs have one thing in common. They are focused on the skill set or profession of project management. Project management as a profession, is a set of skills focused on projects rather than operations. This might seem a minor matter but in fact, there are basic philosophical differences. For example, an operational manager focuses on keeping a team engaged and performing. A project manager focuses on building a team, overcoming existing silos and then disbanding the team. An operational manager uses scheduling to manage the flow of work through a fixed process. Or in assigning individuals to work periods. A project manager on the other hand, focuses on identifying tasks, estimating their duration and then organizing them in an efficient manner.

However, beyond the common focus on project management, what is a PMO?

The answer is that it depends.

There are four sets of duties that a PMO might engage in. However, how far the PMO engages in these duties, and at what level is what distinguishes the various PMO types. These duties are:

  1. Standardization of Reporting
  2. Standardization of Processes
  3. Management of the project portfolio
  4. Management of the project support staff

One of the first tasks that a PMO may take on is standardization of reporting. Management generally prefers forms and documents that they can recognize and so quickly skim. Standardizing project reporting makes for an immediate and visible return. However, this may vary from simply identifying what reports a project manager must provide to upper management up to and including auditing and providing those reports.

Similarly, standardization of project management practices is the most important task a PMO can take on. In fact, there are several processes which should be standardized before any project is undertaken. However, this standardization can run anywhere from providing training up to and including setting and enforcing standards.

Every organization and every part of an organization maintains a portfolio of projects. Who is responsible for administering and managing that portfolio can vary. The PMO may be given the responsibility. Or management may retain responsibility. Of course, the option is also that no one takes responsibility.

Every organization maintains project managers. The question is whether they are trained or accidental. And also who they report to. One option is to centralize management of the project managers. The PMO is the obvious answer to this. It is this fact that most determines the reporting level of the PMO.

Glen Ford is an accomplished project management consultant, trainer and writer. He has over 20 years experience as a project manager in such diverse projects as Construction, IT, Software Development, Marketing and Business Startup. He is a serial entrepreneur who quite literally learned to be an entrepreneur at his great-grandfather’s knee.

Check out his newest book available on Amazon at You can read more from Glen on his blog.

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