PMO program management in federal civilian agencies


Many people in the federal government are certain that they know the meaning of the term program. However, for them, the term has the context of the organizational and functional environments under which these people operate. Within the context of budgetary programs, the term program has a far different meaning than it does within DOD programs that build aircraft or ships. Both of these “programs” are also different than a “shared services program” offered to federal agencies by private vendors.

The concept of shared services can be used to define various types of project management offices (PMOs) in both government and industry. Using the Project Management Institute's The Standard for Program Management—Second edition (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008), this presentation will propose some useful constructs for determining how a PMO program can operate in federal civilian agencies. It will look at the PMO in terms of project, portfolio, and program management. The presentation will then go on to show how the PMO “program” can provide shared services in the form of unique projects for training, mentoring, planning, information dissemination, and oversight.

As stated above, PMOs exist in the context of their organizational environment. Therefore, no two PMOs are truly the same. However, there are sufficient similarities that we may create some broad categories:

  • The PMO as a “Center of Excellence” providing best practices, standards, processes, templates, and general project management information or knowledge to its business customers.
  • The PMO as a center for mentoring and/or training of business stakeholders/sponsors, project teams, project managers, and business executives. The level of training will be geared to the needs of the customers in their unique positions.
  • The PMO as a source of management oversight. Reviews, assessments, and other forms of oversight (more or less stringent, based on the needs of the organization) are conducted for projects, programs, portfolios, or on an enterprise basis.
  • The PMO as project management actor. In these cases, the PMO may house the enterprise project managers, who are assigned to specific projects based on their unique experience or expertise.

There have been various taxonomies of PMOs in the project management literature (see Sources, below). However, I believe that they are all relatively similar and use different terms simply to explain the same basic functions. For the sake of this discussion, we will use the terms defined above for the types of services provided by the PMO. It is very likely that any PMO will have elements of one or more of these categories.

The Shared Service Program

I have talked about the PMO as a service provider. This is a good point at which to discuss what we mean by service and, specifically, a shared service program.

The Standard for Program Management—Second edition (PMI, 2008), states that: “A program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually.” (p. 5)

The Standard goes on to state that benefits accrue to the organization at the end of the program —delivered all at once. This is strongly related to the concept of “outcomes.” Examples of programs cited in the standard include industries such as construction, aerospace, military development, public works, shipbuilding, and other areas where the outcome is clearly a product (e.g., a building, plane, dam, ship).

Now let's look at program in a slightly different way. One “program” commonly found in government and industry is Information Technology (IT). Well, of course, one might say that the IT shop also develops real deliverable outcomes in terms of automated information systems. Yet the IT function or program also provides “services” to customers. These service deliverables have been described in process models such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) literature as a function of providing any desired capability for a customer. (Information Technology Infrastructure Library, 2007)

Such “shared services” across the enterprise include network management/maintenance, desktop management, software management, change management, IT capital planning, user training, help desk/incident management, disaster recovery, and a plethora of other services we sometimes take for granted.

Each set of services may actually be considered a project for this broader IT program, which delivers concrete results and outcomes to an organization. In this same way, providing such a “shared service” can be said to be a role of the project management office (PMO).

The life cycle of such a program may look something like this (Exhibit 1):

PMO shared service model

Exhibit 1: PMO shared service model.

The PMO Shared Service Program

Based on the categorization schema discussed at the beginning of this paper, the PMO Shared Service projects would fall under one of the following service categories:

  1.      Project Management Center of Excellence
    1. Clearinghouse for project management knowledge
      1. Best practices (tools, techniques, policies, processes, templates)
      2. Standards (internal, departmental, OMB, GAO, PMI, DOD, etc.)
      3. Policies (internal and/or OMB)
      4. Processes (internal and/or OMB)
      5. Templates (internal and/or OMB)
      6. Certification (PMI or FAC-P/PM)
    2. Training information
      1. Course offerings
      2. Course materials
      3. Computer-based training (CBTs)
    3. Sources of expertise
      1. Internal
      2. External
  2.      Project Management Mentoring
    1. Internal PMO staff
      1. Just-in-time support for project teams (start-ups or support during critical phases).
      2. Individual support for project managers, team members, and stakeholders
    2. External mentoring – through PMO management of contracted support
  3.      Project Management Training
    1. Conduct formal training classes in-house
    2. Contract for formal training classes
    3. Develop training curriculum
    4. Develop training materials
  4.      Independent Reviews
    1. Formal project management reviews (PMRs)
      1. In-house or contracted out
      2. Monthly or quarterly
      3. IT or other business function (construction, investigation, etc.)
    2. Formal independent baseline reviews (IBRs)
      1. Pre-Award (at the end of the planning phase)
      2. Post-Award
  5.      Project Management Tool Support
    1. PMO administration (this is not operational or system administration)
      1. Access control
      2. Queue management
    2. PMO configuration management
    3. Training
    4. Level 2 help desk calls
  6.      Project Manager Actor
    1. Provide a cadre of certified project managers for the enterprise
    2. Would be a conflict of interest with the independent review service

Information on and links to each of these services should be placed on a shared intranet or collaboration space within the organization. Supplement this site with blogs and community discussions to further the interest and participation of agency staff. A printed catalog of services can also be provided.

Program Management Standard Processes and the Shared Service PMO

Using the PMI program management process groups and knowledge areas (PMI, 2008), it is easy to see the steps needed to map the creation of a shared service PMO:


  • Assess existing organizational policies, standards, and organizational structures and culture
  • Determine prime stakeholders needs and values
  • Perform gap analysis
  • Develop a roadmap and business case for a PMO (include financial and resource requirements)
  • Create charter – define scope of work and authorities delegated to the program manager by the sponsor
  • Receive initial management commitment to proceed – define initial governance structure – to be updated in Planning


  • Plan the scope of the PMO along the set of features best suited to your organization. Use the taxonomy above to better set out capabilities to your sponsor and stakeholders.
  • Develop a program management plan based on a roadmap that includes (at a minimum):
    • Governance structure
    • Scope, schedule, and costs for implementation and maintenance (including human resources)
    • Assumptions and constraints
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Stakeholder and communication management plans o Acquisition plan
    • Risk management plan and initial risk register
  • Develop a “value proposition” for the PMO that aligns to stakeholder and organizational values determined during initiation.
  • Develop a program schedule for the first year – define program components based on deliverables/milestones set out in the roadmap, sequence them, and define durations and dependencies.
  • Solidify governance structure:
    • Develop policy
    • Assure that the appropriate level of stakeholders are represented
    • Create decision gates based on schedule
    • Create performance criteria and monitoring processes
    • Define change management processes and decision criteria.
  • Refine financial and resource requirements as necessary.


  • Manage work – based on the program management plan, the roadmap, and the agreed-upon scope of authorities in the charter.
  • Engage stakeholders – although meeting stakeholders and getting a sense of their Critical Success Factors and requirements occurred earlier, maintaining communications with them is imperative. As soon as the program moves from planning to execution, meet with each primary stakeholder and discuss the services being offered, elicit ideas and suggestions for how they can use the services—on what projects or initiatives.
  • Manage resources – basic management and leadership skills come into play, along with specific organizational management requirements.
  • Change control – as requests come in, analyze impacts to the program and schedule decisions through the governance structure.
  • Manage budget and costs – basic financial management and accounting of funds.
  • Track benefits and performance – begin with basic measures of benefits, reviewed against those benefits identified in the CONOPS or charter. If performance metrics were defined for the first year, make certain that data is available to measure performance. See “Monitor and Control,” below, for more detailed techniques dealing with program performance evaluation.

Monitor and Control

  • Governance oversight is the fundamental control mechanism for programs. As a decision-making body, their role is fairly obvious. Yet, they can also review processes, strategic alignment of work, keep track of risks, and monitor performance and accrual of benefits.
  • Benefits management consists of the reviews discussed above by the governance structure. Benefit cost analysis is only one aspect of such monitoring. An analysis of the extent to which such benefits impact the organization can also be done.
  • Performance management is where we start looking at the hard data related to earned value. For existing programs, operational analyses appear to be more fitting, although EVM can certainly be used during the program development.


  • If performed well, with obvious benefits and value to the business, close-out may never occur in the same sense as a project.
  • A successful, well-run shared service program can last as long as the service need exists. Yearly operational plans can build on previous years’ successes and lessons learned.
  • Organizational changes may require transition planning and “reimplementation” of the program. This is just another part of governance.

As one manager once told me, “Go forth and be brilliant!”


Ellis, L. (2008, July). Mapping maturity. PM Network, 35–38.

Gale, S. F. (2007, December). Share the vision. PM Network, 31–39.

Hansbeerger, K. (2008, May). The PMO. PM Network, 46–51.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library. (2007). ITIL®, Version 3 (Information Technology Infrastructure Library®), Book 1 – Introduction to ITIL. (2007). Retrieved from®,+Version+3+Book+1&Submit.x=0&Submit.y=0

Ladika, S. (April 2007). Lead the way. PM Network, 46–52.

Letavec, C. J. (2006). The program management office: Establishing, managing and growing the value of a PMO. Fort Lauderdale, FL: J. Ross Publishing.

Project Management Institute. The Standard for Program Management—2nd edition. (2008). Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Thiry, M. (2008, April). Adapting to the times. PM Network, 28–29.


FinCEN disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement of any FinCEN employee. This article expresses the author's views and does not necessarily reflect those of FinCEN.

© 2009 Allan K. Roit, PMP
Originally published as part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA



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