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Point-Counterpoint: The Role of the Project Management Office

By Kathy Martucci, PMP:

What is the role of the Project Management Office (PMO)?  Is its sole purpose to provide an organizational home for project managers or is it an independent group charged with developing and communicating project standards, methodologies and learning experiences?

Point: The PMO is the nucleus of all project management activities in the organization.  The management of strategic projects small and large is shifted from the business area whose interest is represented by the project sponsor and other stakeholders.  Only experienced, certified project managers with proven track records manage functional and technical resources using a matrix approach.

Advantages of this approach include:

  • Allows the project manager to be 100% dedicated to the project effort
  • Provides a single business unit with organization-wide knowledge of complete project portfolio
  • Assists in resource allocation across projects

Counterpoint: The PMO assists everyone in becoming a good project manager. Its intent is not to disempower others, but rather to empower others with advice, training, methods, tools and services that make everyone successful at delivering their projects. Its job is to serve business owners, not replace them, sharing its in-depth knowledge of project management without actually being the project manager.

Advantages of this approach include:

  • Establishment of repeatable processes
  • Management structure of projects more real less than implied
  • May be more suitable to the corporate culture

Regardless of the goal, it is essential for the success of a Project Management Office that there is clear understanding and expectations of the Office before its implementation. Both the role of the office and the interaction between the Office and the individual projects should be clearly established and communicated.

What is your definition of the Project Management Office and how it can best add value to the organization?

3 replies
  1. Brenda Breslin
    Brenda Breslin says:

    Can the PMO be both – a “stable” of PMs (point) who do hands-on PM and also a Center of Excellence (counterpoint)? Is the assistance more apt to be embraced if those giving it have actually exercised the tools and services and demonstrated their expertise?

    Thought-provoking article – keep them coming!

  2. Nancy Davi, PMP
    Nancy Davi, PMP says:

    Kathy is a much respected member of our own PM community and I was happy to see this article from her!

    In my opinion, there is room for both points in the PMO and each play a vital role in providing service to the organization, as listed in the article. As PMs, we know that there are many tools in the PM toolbox that we can apply to meet both of these points.

    Additionally, the dual roles of both nucleus and educator/assistor allows for career paths to develop. Functional staff members that become good at PM have opportunities to move into the PMO, and PMs within the PMO have multiple roles to help develop their skill set, such as the classic PM, PM trainer or strategic planning within the PMO.

    The key, of course is the communication, as Kathy points out. Identify your customers, determine how you will address their needs and then move forward. Assess progress and make changes as needed. The goals are to continuously know and meet the needs of your organization with good PM tools.

  3. Christopher J. Ford
    Christopher J. Ford says:

    Is there room for evolution? If it is the case where a small group that sees the benefit of PM introduces it to the organization and creates a PMO as a Center of Excellence (counterpoint), can the role of the PMO change to match the evolution of the organization as acceptance grows? I would say that is an obvious yes.
    But then as the PMO evolves, does it need to shed the Center of Excellence model and move into a functional model (point)? Or can it entertain both faces?
    In our organization i see the fully functional PMO (point) as being a difficult endpoint. There are too many authority silos and funding streams to counter it. But i could see us offerring functional services to those business areas that accept it. For example, it was suggested that a pool of PMs could be utilized as a service to functional areas who do not have them normally. This would alleviate the need for procurements and build organizational knowledge.
    I also see our PMO as an independent facilitator. A unit the others can look to in the search to collaborate and break down internal silos. That will be difficult due to our organizational structure and may be a long term goal, but i think it is worth striving for regardless of the type of PMO into which we evolve

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