Which PMO Is Right for Your Organization?
Building a project management office (PMO) can bolster an organization’s power to deliver initiatives with strategic value. But not all PMOs are created equal. Whether they’re established to provide an enterprise-wide governance framework or to underpin an organization’s specific initiative, different types of PMOs provide different levels of guidance, control and support.
What an organization needs a PMO to do should dictate the type of PMO it chooses. Of course, some orgs achieve these functions in structures beyond a PMO, like a value management office or a transformation management office, so it’s worth noting that other suitable options exist.
This guide details the most common types of functions each type of PMO can provide—and what you need to consider when choosing to stand up a PMO.
Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO)
Function: An EPMO creates standards, processes and delivery approaches to improve project performance across the organization—and typically is the go-to authority for allocating resources to different projects. Designed to operate at the corporate level, EPMOs hold maximum strategic influence and ensure that projects are aligned with organizational objectives and priorities. By having executive support, EPMOs drive mission-critical initiatives, accelerate change across an organization and report to the highest levels of the organization, like the COO.
Deploy it: When competing projects and priorities threaten organizational cohesion, an EPMO can tighten the grip. EPMOs are designed to ensure that the portfolio aligns with strategic priorities and that each project follows organizational standards.
Avoid it: Project teams that need day-to-day support are often better served by PMO models with a more granular focus. Beyond that, smaller and less mature companies often lack the talent and resources to justify investing in an EPMO.
Sustain it: The power of an EPMO is dependent upon how strongly it’s connected to the C-suite. If an EPMO succeeds at delivering ongoing value to a company’s executives, it can thrive as the nerve center of the organization’s project infrastructure.
PMO perspective: “The success of an EPMO is entirely contingent on the C-suite. If the C-suite does not value the EPMO or there is turbulence among executives, the EPMO’s lifespan is short-lived. Otherwise, of all types of PMOs, the EPMO has the longest life.”
—Abid Mustafa, chairperson, RPA Master–TIAC, and a former PMO leader at multiple telecommunications firms, Dubai
Function: A departmental PMO supports multiple projects at a department or business unit level. Its primary role is to integrate initiatives of different sizes within a division, such as IT or finance—from small, short-term initiatives to multiyear programs with multiple resources and complex integration of technologies.
Deploy it: A departmental PMO adds value when there’s a need to ensure that all relevant projects stay within scope and on schedule—and that the teams are equipped with the resources and support they need.
Avoid it: With a narrow focus, departmental PMOs won’t provide value unless additional organizational structures are in place to help adequately connect it to other departments and initiatives—as well as to the C-suite.
Sustain it: The PMO must simultaneously serve the targeted needs within any department while ensuring that the org-wide vision is carried out across the project portfolio.
PMO perspective: “Having dedicated project managers support departments while reporting into the enterprise PMO offers significant benefits. This allows flexibility to match initiative complexity with individual skill sets, amplifies knowledge-sharing and ensures alignment across all functions.”
—Fiona Lin, VP, business transformation, enterprise and agile PMO, Snap Finance, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Function: Designed to develop a framework for infrastructure, document management and training for a single complex project or program, individual PMOs set basic standards and oversee planning and control activities for a single project.
Deploy it: When a particular project is so big, vital or unprecedented, it can benefit from added attention that a departmental PMO isn’t suited to provide—and where direct EPMO oversight doesn’t make sense. Prime examples: Change initiatives or a mission-critical project like building a new healthcare facility with complex requirements or an infrastructure overhaul with an accelerated timeline.
Avoid it: Unless the project or initiative is an exception to the portfolio or enterprise norms, other PMOs are better suited because they retain an org-wide perspective.
Sustain it: Because they’re designed to support specific initiatives, individual PMOs have relatively short lifespans—sometimes lasting no more than a year or two. As a result, oversight needs to reflect that sharp focus.
PMO perspective: “Organizations will customize an individual PMO based on what a particular change initiative might be. That factor will dictate what kind of processes they might follow and what type of oversight is warranted.”
—Lindsay Scott, co-founder, House of PMO, London
Function: By leaning on internal experts, a supportive PMO provides a consultative assist to projects by supplying templates, good practices, training, access to information and lessons learned from other projects.
Deploy it: While capable, mature project teams can be trusted to deliver the goods, they still might benefit from a supportive PMO. With the added insights and resources gleaned from other successful projects, the two become a powerful force.
Avoid it: Inexperienced teams will need a heavier hand to guide them. Supportive PMOs exist primarily to fill gaps in mature teams that are stretched too thin.
Sustain it: An effective supportive PMO never stops evaluating the needs of a project team—no matter how small they might be. These PMOs are designed to reinforce weak spots—whether it’s granular knowledge or administrative support.
PMO perspective: “If you're a project manager or program manager with a lot of things to do, a supportive PMO can pick up some of the slack on the admin side.”
Function: Designed to provide more control by facilitating compliance, the objective for this type of PMO is to adopt project management frameworks or approaches and designate specific templates, forms and tools. With a top-down structure, it might conduct regular audits and require project teams to follow rigid processes—think “PMO police.”
Deploy it: This type of PMO delivers the most value in heavily regulated industries, such as finance or construction, where a failure to adhere to standards can lead to catastrophic results. If there’s a heightened need to ensure that a team complies with regulatory and industry standards, a controlling PMO helps to fortify compliance.
Avoid it: A controlling PMO is often a poor fit for projects that require innovation or a constant need to pivot.
Sustain it: Controlling PMOs often lack active, executive-level champions because their work is disconnected from the C-suite. As a result, the viability of a controlling PMO depends on its ability to imbue the projects it oversees with quality and consistency.
PMO perspective: “Creating a community of practitioners will champion the efforts of a controlling PMO—and build a pipeline of education and training as project manager. Constant communication and reference to the PMO will maximize the value of the approaches and systems.”
—Cathy Hoenig, senior manager, People PMO, Rivian, Irvine, California, USA
Project Management Community of Practice/Excellence
Function: Establishing such a working group (also known as a center of excellence) within an organization can help seed a project management framework and establish a consensus for basic tools, templates and approaches.
Deploy it: A center of excellence can deliver the most value alongside—or within—an EPMO by setting or revising organization-wide project standards. It is often comprised of a collection of internal project experts who work to ensure that teams across the organization put those standards into practice.
Avoid it: If there’s no executive-level mandate, the group’s standards might struggle to gain traction, limiting the value of a center of excellence.
Sustain it: Organizations need to develop a pipeline of project professionals with mature skills to ensure there is ample knowledge and a steady supply of project leaders who can step in to review or maintain standards.
PMO perspective: “The center of excellence creates the ecosystem for projects. This is where project leaders come together to establish the templates, tools and processes that together say: ‘This is how we do stuff around here.’”