The Project Management Office: The Three Flavors of PMOs

The Project Management Office:  The Three Flavors of PMOs
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There are many flavors of PMOs, according to many experts, but this article breaks it down to three main types.  They involve emphasis on partnering, controlling, and serving within the community. Partnering means the PMO provides standards and educates and assists project managers to help elevate the practice of PM throughout the organization.  Controlling sets and enforces standards across the organization and requires compliance. Serving involves providing the project managers as a resource on all projects throughout the organization. In practice, there are lots of shades of gray, and PMOs provide elements of all three – but with one dominating flavor.

This is the first of a series of four articles on the Project Management Office (PMO), where we explore the various aspects of this complex, controversial organizational entity that, in practice, has produced both resounding success and miserable failure.  This article, Part 1 in the series, “The Three Flavors of PMOs”, looks at the primary types of approaches that PMO’s take. Part 2, “Waterfall, Agile, and Hybrid Methodologies,” looks at how PMOs can handle the complexity of managing a variety of methodologies across the enterprise.  Part 3, “What to Look for in PMO Software,” surveys the range of functionality provided by PMO software, and how to choose what’s best for your PMO. Finally, Part 4, “The One Thing That a PMO Must Do”, distills it all down to one make or break consideration that trumps all others.  

The Three flavors Defined


Here are the three basic flavors of PMOs:

  1. Partnering Approach – PMOs set the standard for how to manage projects more effectively within the organization.  One of the ways to do that is to identify tools and templates that will enable project managers to be more effective.  The PMO may offer training and support also, and often can provide guidance in following methodologies: connect people on various projects to help them support one another and cross pollinate ideas.  Much of the uniqueness of the approach in doing all this is that it is a cooperative approach – one that does not force managers to do it a certain way, but supports them in improving project performance.
  2. Controlling Approach – The opposite attitude to the partnering approach is the controlling approach.  A PMO may offer the same tools and templates, training and support – but it goes further in requiring PMs to use them across projects.  This approach sounds abrasive, and can be – but in some cases, it is necessary in order to promulgate best practices and gain the benefits.  Using the controlling approach, the PMO also must be very careful not to actually interfere in things that may be going well – by requiring bureaucratic reporting, presentations, and profit of compliance with a different way of doing things.
  3. Serving Approach – This approach is not so much an attitude as a structure – of providing the project managers that will manage the projects.  In other words, all project managers work for the PMO directly, and whenever there is a project, the PMO provides the project manager. This allows for the nurturing of a strong skill base and enforces consistency across projects.  That can surely improve performance. However, project stakeholders may be held at bay if their projects are not priority, and they may suffer from having managers assigned that do not understand their business area. They may also find that they get part-time resources who are managing multiple projects, which could be helpful – or may hurt performance.

All of these approaches require the support of senior management to succeed.  Only to upper level support can the PMO get the traction needed to have the chance to prove itself and show value.

What type of PMO flavor sounds like I would work best in your organization?

This Post is Part of the Series: The Project Management Office

This series of four articles on the Project Management Office (PMO) explores the various aspects of this complex and controversial organizational entity.

  1. The Three Flavors of PMOs
  2. Waterfall, Agile, and Hybrid Methodologies
  3. What to Look For in PMO Software
  4. The One Thing That a PMO Must Do