The Purpose, Evolution, Challenges, and Functions of a PMO

Ken Martin
By | Updated April 13, 2015 | 5 min read
preparing for a project report

The purpose of a Project Management Office (PMO) will vary from one organization to another depending on the organizational culture and business requirements. Also, the purpose, evolution, expectations, challenges, and functions of a PMO will change over time as it becomes more established within an organization.


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A PMO may start off with simple tools like Excel and PowerPoint to report on status to senior management but as the PMO becomes more mature and expectations rise, the limitation of these simple tools will become soon apparent.

This is why a Project Management tool like BrightWork can facilitate the establishment of a PMO and most of the functions it needs to provide to succeed. With a tool like BrightWork, you can do everything from:

  • Portfolio management
  • Business/technology alignment
  • Resource management
  • Work management
  • Issue and risk management
  • Project status reporting and establishing
  • Establish project management best practices.


As you will see from the rest of this article, a key underlying factor for PMO failure is the lack of effective communication of PMO value and project status.


What is the Purpose of a PMO?

A PMO is an organizational unit to focus, centralize, and coordinate the management of projects under its domain. A PMO oversees the management of program, projects or a combination of both.

According to recent surveys, most organizations name their PMO as a Project Management Office but there is no standard naming policy except the subtle difference that Programme Management Offices tend to govern the management of several related projects. Also, some use the abbreviation PgMO to differentiate a program management office but this is not commonly used.


The Functions of a PMO

An effective PMO provides many ongoing services to an organization:

  • Business alignment
  • Technology alignment
  • Progress tracking and reporting
  • Communication management
  • Resource management
  • Issue management
  • Risk management
  • Quality assurance
  • Change management.


The Evolution of PMOs

First Wave PMOs

The first wave of PMOs was prescriptive, controlling, and tactically focused on the processes and procedures of project management.

  • Controlling management and governance.
  • Provides prescriptive policies, processes, and procedures
  • Internal standards focused and driven.
  • Bureaucratic methods and practices.


Second Wave PMOs

The second wave of PMOs shifted their focus to strategic and consultative approach with “fit for purpose” processes and documentation.

  • Emphasis on consultation, communication, and collaboration.
  • Focus on the business case, outcomes, and benefits.
  • Adaptable and flexible “fit for purpose” methods and practices.
  • Aiming for a balance between consultancy, governance, and leadership.


The Benefits of Second Wave PMOs

The second wave PMOs puts organization goals first and PM methods, processes, and best practices are seen as a means to an end for successful outcomes where business cases are validated and business benefits realized.

  • A well-balanced “master schedule” project portfolio that shows up-to-date project workload, sponsorship, progress, and status.
  • An effective Governance Board setup enables the forced ranking of the portfolio of projects.
  • Project consulting and mentoring based on need.


Executive Support for a PMO

Executives will embrace a PMO that dramatically increases the probability of meeting their goals.

A PMO should:

  • Be aligned with the interests and goals of the organization.
  • Have its value must be measurable to become sustainable
  • Educate the organization it serves about the benefits it brings to projects.
  • Create and track metrics to show the results of its contributions.
  • Survey its customers routinely to verify it is adding value.
  • Focus on portfolio management of project investments, resources, assets, strategic goals.


The Organisational Problem

A large of programs and projects either fail or are canceled or don’t realize the planned business benefits.

Reasons For Project and Programme Failures

  • Poor organization
  • Poor project management practices
  • Poorly defined or missing project goals
  • Ineffective product planning
  • Insufficient project resources
  • Problems with suppliers
  • Technical Problems.


Project Management Challenges

There are a number of challenges that an effective PMO can address:

  • Project mission and tasks are poorly defined.
  • Lack of a clear process for escalating risks to senior management.
  • Insufficient reporting to support top-management decisions.
  • Ineffective enforcement of project controls and policies.
  • Conflict between line and project managers.
  • Projects do not meet deadlines and/or milestones
  • Lack of standardized reports and reporting frameworks for all projects.
  • Fragmented project plans.


The Benefits of an Effective PMO

An effective PMO can solve many of the organizational challenges that come with project management and when it uses a Project Information Management tool such as Brightwork, it can be a very successful combination.

  • Track milestones and deliverables for each project.
  • Reject business and project plans if they do not conform to PMO standards.
  • Identify and coordinate project critical milestones and dependencies.
  • Communicate relevant messages to all key stakeholders.
  • Identify potential resource conflicts and plan accordingly.
  • Establish and support standards for issue classification and severity.
  • Identify potential risks (resources, technical, budget, schedule)
  • Establish and support policy and standards compliance with audit reviews.
  • Establish and support a standard process for change control for scope changes.
  • Make sure the business case is valid at all stages of the development and implementation of a project.



Ken Martin
Ken Martin

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