Identifying the structure that underlies the extreme variety found among PMOs

Brian Hobbs, University of Quebec at Montreal
Monique Aubry, Desjardins Financial Group


In recent years, many organizations have established PMOs. Dai and Wells (2004, p. 526) have shown that PMOs first started to become popular in 1994 and that their number has been growing significantly since. Many books and articles on PMOs have been published in recent years, with the vast majority of the literature produced by practitioners and consultants promoting the implementation of PMOs. Descriptions of PMOs in the literature are often based on a typology of two to four types. This literature presents a very positive image of PMOs.

The authors’ observations contrast quite sharply with the image of PMOs portrayed in the literature. Monique Aubry has been working in and with PMOs in her own organization for the last ten years. Brian Hobbs has been observing PMOs in many organizations for almost as long (Hobbs, Menard, Laliberte, & Coulombe, 1999). These observations produced an image of PMOs characterized by:

  • Very significant variation in:

    ■    The structure of PMOs

    ■    The roles assumed by PMOs

    ■    The perceived value of PMOs

Because of the great variety found in different organizations, discussions on this topic tend to be characterized by diversity of opinion and confusion. The lack of consensus is understandable given 1) that the PMO is a relatively recent phenomenon, 2) that comparing different PMOs is like comparing apples and oranges, and 3) that there has been a lack of systematic investigation. The authors, therefore, undertook a survey of existing PMOs in order to provide a realistic portrait of PMOs as they currently exist, the results of which are presented here.

The Research Objectives

The authors’ observations and preliminary investigations have let them to believe that:

The structures, roles and legitimacy of PMOs vary significantly from one organization to the next.

This is the research hypothesis. In fact, this statement contains three hypotheses, namely that, 1) the structures, 2) roles and 3) legitimacy vary. The objective is to confirm these hypotheses. Because there has been very little empirical research on PMOs, there is no reliable portrait of the reality of PMOs in the current literature. The objective of this research is to provide such a portrait. Providing a descriptive portrait is typically an objective of exploratory research into a previously unexplored topic. In this sense, the present research should be considered as descriptive and exploratory.

The Definition of a PMO

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines a PMO as:

An organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain. The responsibilities of the PMO can range from providing project management support functions to actually being responsible for the direct management of a project. (PMI, 2004, p. 369)

This definition is very close to the definition used during this investigation. It highlights the features of an organizational entity and the variability in the mandates assigned to PMOs. However, the present study makes a distinction between the multi-project PMO and the single-project PMO or “project office,” which has responsibility for the management of one large project. The PMBOK® Guide definition and much of the literature on PMOs include both and both are important phenomena worthy of investigation. The authors are of the opinion that multi-project PMOs and entities responsible for the management of a single project are quite different and can best be investigated separately. The scope of the present investigation includes only PMOs with mandates that cover many projects.

PMOs in the Literature

Several books and papers have been published on PMOs in recent years. The descriptions of PMOs in the literature are often summarized in typologies comprised of a small number of models. Dinsmore (1999) introduced the earliest typology of PMOs with four types starting with a single project entity in which project management services are developed and used within this single project. The three other models in Dinsmore's typology are multi-project entities: Project Support Office, Project Management Center of Excellence, and Program Management Office. According to the Gartner Research Group's 2000 study (The Project Office: Teams, Processes, and Tools, as cited in Miranda, 2003) proposed one of the most influential typologies of PMOs. The Gartner Group typology is comprised of 3 types of PMOs: 1) Project Repository, 2) Coach, 3) Enterprise. Several authors have proposed typologies since the publication of the Gartner report, some of whom explicitly reference the earlier work. Within the space restrictions of the present paper, it is not possible to summarize these typologies. Figure 1 presents a listing of some of the types of PMOs described in the literature, identified only by their names.


Figure 1: Typologies of PMOs in the Literature

Some of the typologies identify the single-project entity of “Project Office,” which is outside the scope of the present study. Each of the typologies proposes two, three or four multi-project PMOs, organized in an ascending hierarchy. Different authors use different properties to characterize the passage from one level to the next within their hierarchy. The following are among these properties:

  • Staff functions or line functions with PMs included within the PMO
  • Organizational scope: covering larger portions of the organization
  • Level within the organizational hierarchy: from the lower operational level to the top level
  • Influence and authority: from passive to supportive to enforcing standards to empowered
  • Operational issues to strategic issues, often associated with a progression from project management to program and/or portfolio management
  • Process-driven to business-driven
  • Project management maturity (culture) within the organization: from non-supportive to fully-supportive culture

Each type presented in these typologies is a model of a PMO. Any model is necessarily a simplification and a reduction of the complexities of organizational reality. Models are very useful, even necessary, to support both research and practice. However, the reduction of all or even most multi-project PMOs to two, three or four types is a radical reduction. The authors believe that it is useful and necessary to put these models aside and to investigate organizational reality directly in order to capture the diversity and the complexity of PMOs in practice.


Because there has been very little empirical research on PMOs, there is no reliable portrait of the reality of PMOs in the current literature. The objective of this research is to provide such a portrait.

Part 1 of the present research was to undertake a systematic investigation in 2004 of thirty PMOs in different organizations and different industries. The objective of the first phase was to provide a preliminary validation of the hypothesis that “the structures, roles and legitimacy of PMOs vary significantly from one organization to the next,” and to gather data that would contribute to the production of a richer and more reliable portrait of the reality of PMOs. To this end, a preliminary version of the survey questionnaire was developed and tested. Feedback sessions were held with informants from the organizations to validate and discuss these preliminary results. The preliminary investigations produced an image of PMOs characterized by extreme variety in structures, roles and legitimacy, while at the same time validating and significantly enriching the questionnaire, which became the survey instrument. The results from Part 1 were enlightening but the sample was small.

Part 2 of the present research was undertaken to validate and further enrich the preliminary results from phase 1. A web-based survey instrument was designed and tested. The questionnaire had already been validated and tested in Part 1. However, three respondents from very different industries tested the web-based version and a small number of minor adjustments were made. The instrument is designed so that each respondent describes one PMO. The questions are very descriptive until the end of the instrument, where a small number of more evaluative questions complete the instrument.

Part 3 was the data collection phase. The invitation to participate was available on the PMI website. The authors solicited respondents through several project management networks including PMI-Montreal's Community of Practice on PMOs, the Southern Ontario Chapter of PMI, PMForum, ASAPM, and the firm Valence—and with the collaboration of colleagues from the University of Limerick, Athabasca University, University of Technology Sydney, and ESC-Lille. The authors wish to thank all of those whose collaboration made this project possible. A total of 500 usable responses were received.

Part 4 consists of data analysis and presentation of results, of which this paper is a part.

The Respondents

The respondents are distributed among organizational roles as follows:

• Project managers 38%
• Managers of PMOs 23%
• Professionals in PMOs 11%
• Executives and other managers 10%
• Consultants   8%
• Others 10%

The geographical distribution of respondents is as follows:

• Canada 43%
• United States 26%
• Europe 16%
• Other 15%

The respondents work in a very wide variety of industries. The largest proportions came from the following:

• IT/IS 14%
• Financial Services 14%
• Telecommunications 10%

The Name of the Entity

The majority of entities described in this study are called “project management offices.” However, many of these organizational entities are given a great variety of other names. The distribution of names is presented in Figure 2 below.

Names of Organizational Entities

Figure 2: Names of Organizational Entities

Some of the labels used to describe these organizational entities deserve comment. Interestingly, 2% of respondents describe entities that exist in their organizations but that have no official label and, therefore, do not appear on the organizational chart. It is quite plausible that these entities have been created to fill a real need, but that their existence has not yet been made official. It is also plausible that, because of a previous failed attempt to implement a PMO, or for some other reason, some PMOs are maintaining a low profile.

The number of entities bearing the title “Project Office” is certainly much greater than these results indicate. This label is often used to name an entity responsible for the management of a single large project. The survey instructions asked specifically that informants not refer to this type of unit in responding to the questionnaire. An examination of the 2% of responses describing entities with this label indicates that these are multi-project entities similar to those labeled PMO. They have, therefore, been included in the sample.

A total of 12% of responses describe entities labeled as Program Management Offices. This group of responses was compared to those labeled as Project Management Offices and no statistically significant differences were found between the two. The program management function is more important for those labeled Program Management Office, but the difference is not statistically significant. Program management is, therefore, very often part of the role of the PMO whether it is labeled a project or a program management office. The analysis that follows is, therefore, based on the entire sample, including both.

One or Several PMOs

Each respondent to the survey described one particular PMO. However, some organizations have more than one. In 53% of the cases, the respondents indicated that the PMO described is the only one in the organization. Of these 30% were described as central PMOs and 23% as located in a business, functional or regional unit. Another 25% reported that other PMOs exist but have no relationship with their PMO or its mandate. Finally, 22% described a PMO that is related to at least one other PMO in their organization.

The Description of PMOs

Most PMOs have two characteristics in common; they tend to be young and to have a small staff. Apart from these two points in common, PMOs vary enormously one from the other.

The Age of PMOs

Most PMOs in existence today are rather recent creations. PMOs have been popular since the mid- to late-1990s. Surprisingly, 54% of PMOs in existence today were created in the last two years, according to data from 2005. The Interthink Consulting survey (2002, p. 12) showed the same result: half of the PMOs were less than two years old in 2002. Two phenomena are at work producing this result. First, new PMOs are being created at a relatively high rate. Second, PMOs are being shut down or radically reconfigured at almost as fast a rate. The result is a population dominated by PMOs that have only been in existence in their present form for a few years, as shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3: Age Distribution of PMOs

PMO Staff

Most PMOs have very little in the way of staffing. Figure 4 shows the staffing levels of PMOs expressed in full-time equivalents, including the person responsible for the PMO, but excluding the project managers (PMs). This staff is overhead, and organizations are very reluctant to create overhead expenses. The issue of the cost of overhead is a key issue for PMOs, creating a somewhat paradoxical situation in which the PMO is asked to take on many functions with few resources.

Personnel of PMO excluding PMs (full-time equivalents)

Figure 4: Personnel of PMO excluding PMs (full-time equivalents)

As this data shows, the vast majority of PMOs have been recently created or restructured. Most have very little staff other than the PMs. PMOs have very little else in common. Quite to the contrary, great variety characterizes the population of PMOs described in this survey. On some characteristics the population displays distributions that are close to being either normal or skewed toward one extreme. In many cases the variance is high. On other variables the distributions are almost bipolar, with most PMOs at one extreme or the other of the distribution and few in the middle ground.

The Decision-making Authority of the PMO

The distribution of decision-making authority is close to a normal distribution, but with very high variance, as shown in Figure 5. PMOs in a passive or supporting role with little or no decision-making authority make up 41% of the sample. At the other extreme, 29% have considerable or very significant authority to make decisions to allocate resources, set priorities, or initiate, change or cancel projects. These are two very different organizational roles, illustrating the great variety of roles different organizations assign to their PMOs.

Decision-making Authority of PMOs

Exhibit 5: Decision-making Authority of PMOs

The Allocation of Projects and PMs to PMOs

The variation among PMOs as to the percentage of projects and PMs found within their structures is even more extreme. These distributions, Figures 6 and 7 respectively, show bipolar distributions with more PMOs at each extreme than in the middle ground.

Percentage of projects within the mandate of the PMO

Figure 6: Percentage of projects within the mandate of the PMO


Figure 7: Percentage of PMs within PMO

In different organizations, the answer to the question “Are PMs grouped within the PMO?” receives radically different responses: 31% of organizations report that they group 100% of the PMs in the PMO, while 29% of PMOs have no PMs. These two extremes correspond to PMOs that are either strictly a staff function with no PMs, or a line function with responsibility for the active management of projects in the hands of their PMs. An alternative way of expressing this extreme variation is to note that 46% of PMOs have less than 25% of the PMs within their structure, 40% have more than 75%, and only 14% have between 25% and 75%.

The percentage of projects that are within the PMO's mandate is also extremely varied. Figures 6 and 7 show the extreme variety in the way organizations structure their PMOs. This variety contrasts with the literature on PMOs that tends to oversimplify reality. Given the extreme variety of forms that PMOs take on in reality, any general statement claiming to describe the decision-making authority of PMOs or the allocation of PMs or projects to PMOs should be viewed critically.

The Organizational Roles of PMOs

PMOs fill many different roles or functions in different organizations. The interchangeable terms “role” and “function” are used here to identify the content of the PMO's mandate within the organization. A list of roles or functions that are part of the mandates of PMOs was derived from preliminary investigations of a smaller sample of PMOs and from a review of the literature. A large number of different functions were identified. The final list contains 27. Several of these functions were added during the process of pre-testing the questionnaire. Within the survey, respondents were asked if their PMO filled any functions not included in this list. An analysis of the responses did not identify any functions important for more than a very small number of PMOs. A large number of respondents indicate that the list is complete a result that can be seen as a validation of the list of 27 functions of PMOs.

The respondents to the survey reported the importance of each of these functions for their PMO using a scale ranging from 1 (“not important at all”) to 5 (“very important”). Figure 8 shows the percentage of PMOs in which each function was scored either “of considerable importance” or “very important.”

PMO Functions in Decreasing Order of Importance

Figure 8: PMO Functions in Decreasing Order of Importance

In the minds of many practitioners, PMOs are associated with particular roles or functions. It is not uncommon to hear statements such as, “A PMO is an entity that develops and implements a standardized PM methodology.” Figure 8 confirms that 76% of PMO are heavily involved in this function. But to define PMOs by associating them with a particular function or group of functions is out of line with organizational reality. All 27 of the functions are important for significant numbers of PMOs, and 21 of the 27 are important for at least 40% of PMOs. This result again illustrates the extreme variety found among different PMOs in different organizations, and the difficulty in providing a simple and accurate description of what they are and what roles they fill.

It may seem surprising that 50% of PMOs consider monitoring and controlling the performance of the PMO itself as important. However, this result is consistent with, and likely a consequence of, the fact that the value of PMOs and the justification of the expenses they generate are often brought under scrutiny and questioned. Many PMOs are under pressure to justify their expenses and show value for money.

Members of the project management community recognize most of the functions listed in Figure 8 very easily. However, some functions have only recently come into prominence. Program management (48%) and portfolio management (49%) are shown as quite important despite the fact that they only recently became the focus of much attention with the development of “Enterprise or Organizational Project Management.” Benefits management (28%) is an even more recent phenomenon in the project management community and literature. Many members of the community are as yet unfamiliar with this practice, which may explain why it's considered relatively less important.

Groups of Functions

Analyzing 27 different functions is quite fastidious. Identifying groups of functions greatly simplifies interpretation and use of this data. This can be done conceptually by identifying practices that are logically related. For example, reporting project status to upper management requires that project performance be monitored, which can best be done with a project information system and a project scorecard. These four functions are thus logically related. One would expect to find that PMOs that fill one of these functions would also have a tendency to fill the others.

The tendency to fill functions in groups can also be identified and measured through statistical associations. Factorial analysis was used to identify such groupings. Functions that are grouped together through factorial analysis are tightly associated statistically with each other, and statistically independent from the other functions and groups of functions. These independent groups constitute the dimensions of the fundamental underlying structure. The factorial analysis identified five groups of functions. Each group was examined to insure that it was internally consistent in both conceptual and practical terms.

These groups show the structure underlying the many roles filled by PMOs in organizations. Identifying groups of functions that are both conceptually and statistically sound has very practical consequences. The long and unorganized list of functions is replaced by a simple structure of underlying high-level roles or functions. These are presented below in decreasing order of the average importance of the functions included in the group on a scale of 1 to 5. The average importance is indicated in brackets for each group. Within each group, the functions are presented in decreasing order of average importance.

Group 1: Monitoring and Controlling Project Performance (3.82)

The group of functions related to the monitoring and controlling of project performance is the most important group. This group includes both the monitoring, controlling and reporting of project performance and the management of the computer-based tools to do these tasks. PMOs with these functions are providing the information managers need to maintain visibility and control the performance of projects for which they are responsible. In so doing, the PMO is supporting project governance functions. The inter-relatedness of these functions was discussed above.

  • Report project status to upper management
  • Monitoring and control of project performance
  • Implement and operate a project information system
  • Develop and maintain a project scoreboard

Group 2: Development of PM Competencies and Methodologies (3.54)

The group of functions most traditionally associated with PMOs includes functions dealing with tools and methodologies and with competency development. This group is composed of the following functions:

  • Develop and implement a standard methodology
  • Promote project management within the organization
  • Develop competency of personnel, including training
  • Provide mentoring for project managers
  • Provide a set of tools without an effort to standardize

The development and implementation of tools and methodology and the provision of PM training and mentoring are the functions most people associate with PMOs. The PMO with these functions is often in the role of promoting the use of the methodology, the development of competencies and project management in general. This group thus constitutes a coherent set of functions that reinforce one another. This reinforcement is the practical reality behind the statistical phenomenon identified by the factorial analysis.

Group 3: Multi-project Management (3.23)

Some PMOs have mandates to manage whole sets of projects in a coordinated fashion, which often involves program or portfolio management. These have become important aspects of project management, as signaled by PMI with the publication of OPM3® (PMI, 2003) and the publication of standards on program and portfolio management in 2006. The coordination of interdependences within programs and portfolios is a central issue in multi-project management as can be seen from the functions in this group.

  • Coordinate between projects
  • Identify, select and prioritize new projects
  • Manage one or more portfolios
  • Manage one or more programs
  • Allocate resources between projects

Group 4: Strategic Management (3.06)

There has been a tendency in recent years for project management in general, and PMOs in particular, to become more involved with issues of strategic alignment and to become more closely tied to upper management. The factor analysis reveals that the following group of functions related to strategic management constitutes one of the underlying dimensions of PMO roles.

  • Provide advice to upper management
  • Participate in strategic planning
  • Benefits management
  • Networking and environmental scanning

Involvement in these functions brings project management and the PMO closer to upper management. Networking and environmental scanning are used to keep abreast of current development so as to give up-to-date advice to upper management. The survey showed that these functions are more typical of central PMOs.

Group 5: Organizational Learning (3.00)

Organizational learning has been a very important topic in the management literature and practice in recent years. Some PMOs are actively involved in organizational learning through the following group of functions.

  • Monitor and control the performance of the PMO
  • Manage archives of project documentation
  • Conduct post-project reviews
  • Conduct project audits
  • Implement and manage database of lessons learned
  • Implement and manage risk database

The last four functions in this group are very directly related to organizational learning. An examination of Figure 8 shows them to be among the least important functions. From this it can be seen that, although organizational learning is of considerable importance, it is often seen as less important than other functions more directly related to operational or strategic issues.

The first two functions in this group are related to organizational learning, but can also be deployed in the pursuit of other objectives. Archiving project documentation has important operational aspects. The function to “monitor and control the performance of the PMO” can be seem as part of the learning feedback loop and thus as closely related to the other organizational learning functions in this group. Recent interviews with PMO personnel have revealed that some PMOs specifically use the evaluation of the performance of their PMO in an organizational learning perspective. It is, however, conceivable that the measurement of PMO performance may also be done in response to questioning of the expenses generated by the PMO. The overall average importance of this group is influenced positively by the importance these first two functions may have for objectives not directly related to organizational learning. Thus the average importance of this group may overstate the overall importance of organizational learning for PMOs. Organizational learning is, however, important for a significant number of PMOs. Project management in general and PMOs in particular are participating in the general trend toward the increased importance of organizational learning in the knowledge economy.

Additional Functions Not Included in the Groups of Functions

The factorial analysis produced the five groups of functions presented above. Three functions not included in these groups complete the list of 27 functions identified in this study. These three functions are excluded from the groups above, not because they are not important, but because their presence is neither statistically nor conceptually related to these groups. The remaining functions are presented here in decreasing order of importance.

Execute specialized tasks for PMs (e.g., prepare schedules) (3.05) Many PMOs provide specialized services to PMs and project teams. In order to execute these tasks, PMOs maintain specialized resources on their staff. The preparation of schedules is a common example, but such services can include many other tasks, such as contract and risk management.

Manage customer interfaces (2.84) Some PMOs have the responsibility for managing customer interfaces. Responsibility for this activity depends to a great extent on the type of customer. Not all PMOs are in a position to fill this role. On the average, managing the customer interface is more important for PMOs with customers that are external to the organization. A PMO responsible for all the projects for a given customer may well have an important role to play in managing this customer interface. A PMO responsible for an outsourcing contract is an example of this.

Recruit, select, evaluate and determine salaries for PMs (2.35) This is the least important function for PMOs, but it remains important for 22% of PMOs. The HR department in most organizations carries out these human resources activities, but the involvement of a number of PMOs in these activities is considered important in some contexts. The PMOs fit into very different organizational realities regarding HR management relative to PMs.

Implications for Theory and Practice

The existence of a statistical and conceptual link between two or more functions does not mean that they are, or should always be, implemented together. The statistical and conceptual links are too weak for this to be the case. Organizations must use considerable judgment when deciding which functions the PMO is to be mandated to fill.

On average, the monitoring and controlling of project performance is the most important group and the lessons learned group the least important. The rank ordering of the groups of functions may be misleading. All are important, and the differences among them are small. In any particular context, any one of them may be the most important. However, the number of functions in each group varies. In addition, the relative importance of the different functions in each group varies considerably, as can be seen from Figure 8. This reinforces the need to adapt to the organizational and strategic context when deciding which functions to include within the mandate of a particular PMO.

The fact that the underlying high-level functions are statistically independent of each other is an indication that they identify a fundamental or deep structure. The identification of this underlying structure among PMO functions has profound consequences for both theory and practice. From both points of view, a few high-level functions are much more manageable than the long and unorganized list of possible functions. From the point of view of theory building, the identification of the structure that underlies the role of PMOs in organizations provides a key to understanding the fundamental roles of project management and of PMOs in the creation of value in organizational contexts. This question is at the heart of project management research at the present time. From the point of view of managers and practitioners, identifying the underlying structure greatly simplifies the task of analyzing and understanding existing PMOs and the task of designing or restructuring PMOs.

Legitimacy and Performance of PMOs

The data on the age of PMOs showed that PMOs are being shut down or radically restructured almost as fast as they are being created. At the end of the survey instrument, after having described their PMO, respondents were asked, “Has the relevance or even the existence of the PMO been seriously questioned in recent years?” 42% of the respondents answered “yes.” This data is illustrated in Figure 9. The reality of PMOs in organizations is even darker than this result indicates. A survey of this type has a positive bias, particularly on evaluative questions such as this. People who are interested enough to respond to the invitation to participate in the survey tend to have a positive attitude on the topic of the survey. Those unfavorable and strongly opposed tend not to respond. In this survey, there is an additional positive bias created by the fact that organizations that have shut down their PMO or have decided not to implement one, have not responded to this questionnaire in which respondents are asked to describe an existing PMO. The extent of the bias is difficult to estimate, but it is not unreasonable to think that about half of organizations are critical enough of PMOs to decide not to implement one or to seriously consider shutting theirs down if they already have one.

“Has the relevance or even the existence of the PMO been seriously questioned in recent years?”

Figure 9: “Has the relevance or even the existence of the PMO been seriously questioned in recent years?”

This result clearly identifies a lack of consensus in the project management community. About half of PMOs are seen as legitimate within their organizational context. This level of strong support for PMOs combined with the large number of PMOs currently in existence underscores the importance of PMOs in project management practice today. On the other hand, the very existence of the other half of PMOs is being questioned. Other questions in the survey confirmed that the issues of value for money and the contribution or lack of contribution to project and program performance are key to the perceived performance and ultimately to the legitimacy of the PMO. Poor-performing PMOs are seen as too costly and as contributing little to project and program performance, while highly valued PMOs are seen as making significant contributions to performance. The ability to show contribution to performance at a reasonable cost is critical.

The survey results show that PMOs are more legitimate in organizations with higher levels of organizational project management maturity. The existence of a correlation between these two variables, organizational maturity and PMO legitimacy, does not reveal the nature of the relationship between the two variables. It may well be that the PMO is highly considered in an organization that is mature in project management because project management is valued in this organization. On the other hand, it may be that a high-performing PMO has raised the level of PM maturity in the organization. The relation is likely to be circular and self-reinforcing, with the high-performing PMO contributing to the level of PM maturity and to the organizational context in which project management and the PMO are valued. The survey also showed that an organizational culture that is supportive of the implementation of the PMO is associated with the legitimacy of the PMO. This is indicative of this circular relationship.


The literature promoting PMOs presents them as a best practice with obvious positive effects on project, program and organizational performance. The reality is quite different. Many PMOs are struggling to show value for money and some are failing, causing a very high mortality rate among PMOs. Practitioners and organizations would be well advised not to implement a PMO under naive assumptions of value for money or because PMOs are popular.

The results of the survey have shown the hypothesis that “the structures, roles and legitimacy of PMOs vary significantly from one organization to the next” to be true. The organizational reality surrounding PMOs is complex and varied. Organizations establish a great variety of different PMOs to deal with their reality. Organizations may decide to include some or all of their PMs within the PMO or they may place them elsewhere in their structures. The PMO's mandate may cover all the organization's projects or only a select few. Organizations choose from among a number of possible roles or functions when deciding upon the mandate to give to a PMO. They also choose between a PMO in a support role with little or no authority and a PMO with considerable decision-making power. These organizational design choices create PMOs of varied form and function.

Many different properties can be used to differentiate “types” of PMOs. The results presented here show that PMOs do in fact vary considerably one from another and that the variation is not limited to a small group of properties or characteristics. The population of PMOs shows considerable variation of not just a few, but of many characteristics, thus creating a myriad of possible forms that PMOs can and do take on. This creates a population that is difficult to reduce to a small number of models.

The Ongoing Program of Research

The survey that forms the basis of this paper is the first phase of a three-year research program to investigate PMOs and the dynamics through which they contribute to organizational performance. In collaboration with their colleague, Dr. Denis Thuillier, the authors responded to PMI's 2005 annual RFP for research proposals and were awarded a research grant, titled “Modeling Organizational Project Management and PMO Performance.”

The second phase of this research program involves four in-depth case studies of PMOs in their organizational context. These commenced in late 2005 and will be completed in 2006. The objective of the case studies is to uncover the organizational dynamics that lead to value creation through the use of project management. The PMO is seen as the point of entry into the organization to study the dynamics of value creation in context. The case studies draw upon the results of the survey to establish a rich and reliable representation of the reality of PMOs prior to the detailed investigations. The analysis of the case studies is intended to produce a model of value creation.

The third phase of the research program will involve the validation of the findings from the in-depth case studies using a survey of a larger sample of organizations and PMOs. This will be carried out in 2007. The objective is to produce a conceptually rich and empirically grounded model.


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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2006 Project Management Institute



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