What are the Different Types of Project Management Offices?

The Many Avatars of the PMO

Key Takeaways:

  • There are all sorts and types of Project Management Offices.
  • PMOs may come in different sizes and cover different scopes, from the management of a single project to the centralized strategization of project activity at the enterprise level.
  • Project Managements Offices can also be categorized by leadership style, or by degree of influence on project-related activities.
  • With so many options, it can be challenging to select a PMO model and mandate. A practical analysis of the needs and requirements of your stakeholders will tremendously ease the process and help you make sure you get the PMO you need.

If you are familiar with the content of Sciforma’s blog posts, you know how frequently we stress the following: No two PMOs are alike. Or, if you are new to this blog, consider it said! A Project Management Office is a highly versatile function, which may successfully fulfil a whole raft of various responsibilities. However, to help make sense out of the huge diversity of PMOs, it is possible to classify Project Management Offices into broad categories. Based on insights from Gartner research, including “How PMO and PPM Disciplines Will Change in the Digital Business” (16 July 2018 ID: G00360386), this post provides an overview of the most common types of Project Management Offices.

US. 1. Remind me what's a PMO

Let’s once again use the Project Management Institute’s definition for the Project Management Office as published in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition: the PMO is “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.

Some of the most common roles of the Project Management Office include:

  • the definition and implementation of project management and PPM processes;
  • the selection and implementation of professional Project Portfolio Management tools and systems;
  • the control and monitoring of the outcomes and performance of project execution;
  • the coordination of Program and Portfolio Management;
  • the definition of a path towards Strategic Project Management;
  • the optimization of human and financial resource allocation and utilization;
  • the creation of collaboration-conducive work environments;
  • the development of employees knowledge, skills and abilities in strategic ways.

However, this short list of missions and functions is far from being comprehensive. As part of their work, Project Management Offices may also engage in the management of innovation, the optimization of tax credit for research activities, or other targeted areas. As a matter of fact, the responsibilities and the job of a PMO really depend on the needs and objectives of the organization it is implemented in.

US - 2. Categorizing PMOs by scope

In spite of the tremendous diversity to be found in the PMO landscape, Project Management Offices can be differentiated according to the scope and extent of their authority and responsibilities. Here are some of the PMO types described by Gartner in “How PMO and PPM Disciplines Will Change in the Digital Business” (16 July 2018 ID: G00360386).

Domain PMOs

Domain PMOs support and manage project activity at the level of a specific function, region or business unit to provide localized management of key projects and resources. They may also be created to pursue a specific objective or capability or to support the development of a specific product. These Project Management Offices will usually assume the management of resources, demand, and end-to-end project execution across their domain. Domain PMOs plan, monitor, and track the performance of projects with focus on tactical and operational excellence.

Here are a few examples of domain Project Management Offices:

  • IT or Infrastructure PMOs help IT departments to deal with constant business demands. These PMOs are typically more tool-oriented.
  • Departmental or Functional Project Management Offices support project management at the level of a department, a business line, or a business unit.

Enterprise Project Management Offices (EPMOs)

Increasing numbers of firms and organizations are merging their various Domain Project Management Offices into an EPMO in order to reap the benefits from both a centralized PMO (enabling central coordination) and a distributed PMO (providing responsiveness at the business unit level).

This type of integrated PMO hub has been gaining traction over the past years. In fact Gartner has abundantly written about the rise of the Enterprise Project Management Office, presenting it as a logical consequence of digital business. Robert A. Handler, a Research Vice President at Gartner, says: “In a recent Gartner survey of PPM leaders, respondents averaged nine PMOs in their respective organizations, with 91% of respondents reporting they had an EPMO and 33% stating they reported into an EPMO, up from 22% two years ago.

As they are typically more oriented towards business strategy, Project Management Offices at the enterprise level strive to enable digital transformation and the switch to more agile mindsets. They’ll also drive alignment of project activities with strategic business objectives and outcomes. Whereas the sponsorship for business or functional PMOs generally goes to the CFO or COO, and whereas IT PMOs usually answer to the CIO or CTO, it is frequent for EPMOs to have C-level sponsors.

Strategy Realization Offices (SRO)

Gartner defines the Strategy Realization Office as a highly mature and strategically driven Enterprise PMO. A SRO can be described as a digitally-mature EPMO which has outgrown the boundaries of operational monitoring and delivery optimization to refocus its action on successful strategy execution and proactive change management. Evolving from PMO to SRO involves taking a quantitative leap and switching to new mindsets and focus, with emphasis on ensuring that the firm delivers against strategy.

You may have heard or read that doing your projects right won’t do you much good if you’re not doing the right projects. This could be the motto of your typical Strategy Realization Office. As part of their effort to make the firm’s strategic vision come true through project execution, SROs generally focus on optimizing the management of project ideas and demands. The goal is to ensure that strategy-aligned initiatives are selected and prioritized, then incorporated into meaningful portfolios of projects.

Strategy Realization Offices are also responsible for the ongoing optimization of the firm’s project portfolios and strategic initiatives based on data and analytics. SROs usually collect and consolidate up-to-date and accurate information to inform prioritization discussions and decisions. They define and implement strategy realization roadmaps and metrics and they share the overall picture with executive decision-makers in order to support C-Suite-level leaders in strategic planning and monitoring activities. They conduct risk assessments on a regular basis, maintain a register of active risks in order to minimize execution-related risk, and take timely action to solve or mitigate the conflicts that may arise due to inter-initiative dependencies.

Another important role of the Strategy Realization Office is to facilitate and lead organizational change. Being agile has become an imperative for digital businesses in constant flux, where adaptation has become a matter of survival. In fact, the strategic plans of many of today’s enterprises require the organization to fundamentally transform itself. Successful completion of such organizational transformation initiatives requires widespread understanding, commitment, and alignment to the firm’s desired future state. This is where the SRO comes in, with plans and programs to optimize the management of internal communications, with digital tools and initiatives designed to enable collaboration and to further process digitalization at the enterprise level.

Note: Change leadership is not exclusive to SROs. Actually, more and more Project Management Offices are now playing a more active role in change enablement. But, for a Strategy Realization Office, this is a must!

Individual PMO

At the other end of the spectrum is what the Project Management Institute names the Individual PMO — in other words, a Project Management Office designed to provide functional support to one project or program — usually a large and/or complex initiative.

US. 3- Categorizing PMOs by leadership style and key focus areas

Now, size isn’t everything, is it? Regardless of the scope of their mission and responsibilities, Project Management Offices may have very different styles of management, cultures, and areas of focus. Gartner (yes, they definitely are our go-to for expert market and technology intelligence!) has profiled four distinct types of PMOs:

The activist Project Management Office

The activist PMO has veered away from control and monitoring to embrace a more enabling approach to project management. With a comprehensive view of the project pipeline, it is enabled to support key decision makers by providing value- and risk-oriented business case analysis.

The delivery Project Management Office

The project delivery PMO has retained a tactical focus and typically concentrates on project activity planning and monitoring with a result-oriented approach.

The compliance Project Management Office

The compliance PMO helps provide access to standardized processes, documentation, metrics, and methodologies. This process-driven type of PMO will introduce more consistency in project activity and management.

The centralized Project Management Office

According to Gartner’s definition, the centralized PMO serves as a hub for learning, team training, and the sharing of best practices.

Categorizing PMOs based on their degree of influence and control on project activities

The Project Management Institute provides another way to classify Project Management Offices, based on their influence within the organization.

Supportive Project Management Offices

The supportive PMO provides little control over project activity. Instead it will play a consultative role by supplying best practices, training, documentation, and templates in order to build a shared repository for institutional knowledge.

Controlling Project Management Offices

Controlling PMOs will define standard project management methodologies or frameworks and require compliance with the established process, as well as conformance to governance and the use of vetted tools or templates.

Directive Project Management Offices

Directive PMOs take a hands-on approach to project management. They monitor and control the execution of projects directly.

How to determine which type of Project Management Office is best suited for your organization?

We hope that this broad overview of the various shapes and sizes that a Project Management Office may take is helping you to understand which options are open to you. Long story short, virtually everything is possible. Which begs the question: which type and model of PMO is the best? Which kind of Project Management Office will prove most effective to solve your business pain points and to maximize value for your organization? With so many possible scopes, management styles, and responsibilities for a Project Management Office, PPM leaders can have a hard time deciding what is the best way to go.

To put it simply, there is no golden rule or cure-all. The best type of Project Management Office for you will be the one that will best meet the needs of your organization. As a result, whether the company is considering setting up its first PMO or repurposing an existing Project Management Office, we recommend taking a pragmatic and iterative approach. It is a good idea to start by identifying the critical needs and challenges of the business or organization. Based on stakeholder interviews and feedback collection, try to get a sense of the most crucial paint points that the people working on and around projects are facing. This round of information gathering should also help you to collect ideas for improvement and expectations. It goes without saying that project managers need to be involved in this audit process, but don’t forget to include other roles and populations: for example, resource managers, financial controllers, Human Resources professionals, executive sponsors, and event clients or external partners if their role in your project management process warrants it. Consolidating and analyzing that feedback and information should give you a clear idea of the requirements for your Project Management Office: what scope should it cover, what should its key functions and responsibilities be, who should it be answering to, which issues or areas for improvement should it tackle first, and more. Armed with this understanding of the requirements of your business and project teams, you will then be empowered to tailor your PMO in order to support organizational needs and help the enterprise realize the desired benefits. This process should take into account the PPM maturity of your organization: this will be key in determining what your PMO can do exactly, as well as how and when it can be done.

Taking account stakeholder expectations into consideration when creating your Project Management Office will significantly accelerate and facilitate acceptance and engagement. This point is important: Don’t forget that the implementation of a new organizational structure such as a PMO should come with proper change management!

We mentioned that the process we suggest to guide the creation of a PMO may also be used in case you’re looking to repurpose your current Project Management Office. The need to adjust an existing PMO may arise, and it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed the first time around! In an increasingly dynamic world, businesses and organizations keep evolving to adapt to changing business conditions. Which means that your Project Management Office may well need to evolve too in order to keep meeting changing needs. The good news is that the Project Management Office is an evolutive-by-design function. Calling out to PPM leaders: don’t be afraid to adjust the mandate of an active PMO to revitalize it!

 

For additional insights on Project Management Offices, don’t hesitate to read some of our other blog posts on the topic:

 

PMO Role

 

Benoît Boitard

Benoît has been a proud member of Sciforma’s marketing team since 2020. A number of former work experiences as a Digital Strategy Consultant, both in up-and-coming start-up companies and large corporations, imbued him with a big-picture understanding of Project Management in traditional and agile work environments alike.