A project management office (PMO) is a highly versatile system that can take on a host of different roles and structures. 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! To help make sense of the huge diversity of PMOs, we can classify them into broad categories. Let’s explore some of the most common types of project management offices (PMO) and what makes them unique.


Remind Me: What’s a PMO?

According to the Project Management Institute’s 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:

    • Defining and implementing project portfolio management (PPM) processes
    • Selecting professional PPM tools and solutions
    • Controlling and monitoring project execution, performance, and outcomes
    • Defining a path towards strategic project management
    • Optimizing human and financial resource allocation and utilization
    • Creating collaborative work environments
    • Developing employee knowledge, skills, and abilities

    However, this short list of missions and functions is far from comprehensive. Different types of project management offices may also engage in innovation management, tax credit optimization for research activities, or other targeted areas as part of their work. In fact, a PMO’s responsibilities and job really depend on the needs and objectives of the organization in which it is implemented.

    What Are the Different Types of Project Management Offices?


    Categorizing PMO Types by Scope

    In spite of the tremendous diversity 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 you might encounter or wish to implement in your organization. 


    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 usually assume the management of resources, demand, and end-to-end project execution across their domain. Domain PMOs plan, monitor, and track project performance, focusing on tactical and operational excellence.

    Here are a few examples of domain project management offices:

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



    Enterprise Project Management Offices (EPMOs)

    Increasing numbers of firms and organizations are merging their various Domain project management offices into an Enterprise PMO. The goal is 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, especially as a shift to digital workflows prompts the need for even more resource management and strategic planning. A recent Gartner survey of PPM leaders revealed that respondents had an average of nine PMOs in their respective organizations. Clearly, there’s a growing need for a body to oversee PMOs or combine their functions into one dynamic system.

    As they are typically more oriented towards business strategy, EPMOs strive to enable digital transformation and the switch to more agile mindsets. They also drive the alignment of project activities with strategic business objectives and outcomes. While the sponsorship for business or functional PMOs generally goes to the CFO or COO, EPMOs frequently have C-level sponsors.



    Strategy Realization Offices (SRO)

    An SRO can be described as a highly mature and strategically driven EPMO that has outgrown the boundaries of operational monitoring and delivery optimization. In doing so, an SRO refocuses its action on successful strategy execution and proactive change management.

    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.

    SROs are also responsible for:

    • Ongoing optimization of the firm’s project portfolios and strategic initiatives based on data and analytics
    • Collecting and consolidating up-to-date information to shape prioritization discussions and decisions
    • Defining and implementing strategy realization roadmaps and metrics
    • Share the overall picture with executive decision-makers to support C-Suite-level leaders in strategic planning and monitoring activities
    • Conducting regular risk assessments and maintaining a register of active risks to minimize
    • Taking timely action to solve or mitigate conflicts that may arise due to inter-initiative dependencies



    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. These types of PMOs are usually ideal for a large or complex initiative.


    Categorizing Types of PMOs by Leadership Style & Focus Areas

    PMO size isn’t everything; regardless of the scope of their mission and responsibilities, project management offices may have very different management styles, cultures, and focus areas. With this context, we can break things down into four distinct types of PMOs:

    1. The Activist Project Management Office. The activist PMO veers away from control and monitoring to embrace a more enabling approach to project management. With a comprehensive view of the project pipeline, it can support key decision-makers by providing value- and risk-oriented business case analysis.
    2. The Delivery Project Management Office. This type of PMO retains a tactical focus and typically concentrates on project activity planning and monitoring with a result-oriented approach.
    3. The Compliance Project Management Office. A compliance PMO helps teams access standardized processes, documentation, metrics, and methodologies. This process-driven type of PMO will introduce more consistency in project activity and management.
    4. The Centralized Project Management Office. As its name likely implies, a centralized PMO serves as a hub for learning, team training, and the sharing of best practices.


    Categorizing PMO Types Based on Influence & Control

    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 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. They also focus on 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. In other words, they monitor and control the execution of projects directly.


    Determining Which Type of PMO is Best for Your Organization

    In summary, when it comes to PMOs, virtually everything is possible. This begs the question: which type and model of PMO is the best? Further, 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. In other words, the best type of project management office for you will be the one that best meets your organization’s needs. As a result, whether the company is considering setting up its first PMO or repurposing an existing one, we recommend taking a pragmatic and iterative approach.


    Step 1: Identify stakeholders and challenges

    It’s 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 the people working on and around projects face. This round of information gathering should also help you to collect ideas for improvement and expectations.

    It probably goes without saying that project managers need to be involved in this audit process. Don’t forget to include other roles and populations like those below if their role in your project management process warrants it:

    • Resource managers
    • Financial controllers
    • Human Resources professionals
    • Executive sponsors
    • Event clients or external partners

    Consolidating and analyzing that feedback and information should give you a clear idea of the requirements for your project management office, including its ideal scope, key functions, and which areas for improvement it should tackle first.


    Step 2: Consider PPM maturity

    Armed with this understanding of the requirements of your business and project teams, it’s much easier to tailor your PMO to support organizational needs. This process should consider your organization’s PPM maturity: this will be key in determining what your PMO can do exactly, as well as how and when it can be done.

    Taking stakeholder expectations into account when creating your project management office will significantly accelerate and facilitate acceptance and engagement. Don’t forget that the implementation of a new organizational structure, such as a PMO, should come with proper change management!


    Step 3: Realize that change is always an option

    Regardless of the type of PMO you choose, the need to adjust it may arise. But that 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. This means that your project management office may well need to evolve, too, in order to keep meeting changing needs.

    Don’t worry, though: 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!

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