It wasn't that long ago that the only training available to PMO professionals was Project Management training. And whilst studying for the Project Management Institute PMP® (Project Management Professional) and PRINCE2 Practitioner exams may be useful to PMO people from a control, compliance and delivery perspective, they do not cover the fundamental processes and competencies that are required in the Project Management Office space.
In the PMI's Pulse of the Profession report for 2018, it was pleasing to see the role of PMOs being recognized. The report notes that "Organizations continue to empower the PMO to shift the focus from an administrative function to one that manages value delivery by keeping stakeholders informed of progress and outcomes, and helping to control costs and improve quality. This can be seen in 85% of organizations who say the PMO establishes and monitors project success metrics. The strategic role of the PMO and enterprise project management office (EPMO) will continue to be vital, no matter what they are called. The EPMO, referred to as a transformation office in some organizations, has the ability to support senior management with strategic initiatives and, according to our research, many are doing that. Exponential technologies, multi-generational work-forces with differing work styles and priorities, and demand for faster delivery have combined to make the EPMO a dynamic environment of increasing importance to the organization. Consider that 80% of champions have a PMO and 72% indicate there is high alignment of the EPMO to organizational strategy". (https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2018.pdf)
Yet despite this recognition, there seems to be little appetite to create development paths and certifications for those who work in the PMO space. This may be a conscious decision - the enterprise PMO in particular bears more resemblance to a business department than a project. It focuses on the business strategy rather than project objectives and embraces continuous improvement rather than hitting the next milestone. Were APM and PMI start to take too much of a role in this space, they would quickly find themselves delivering more operational standards and ultimately jostling with some of the business schools who are already experienced in providing the broader management courses that PMO professionals require. There could be another reason for APM and PMI to hold back - both are exceedingly busy with other things right now. Last year the US Senate Approved the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act. This was a significant step forward in getting Project Managers recognized as professionals. But it has also meant a lot of work for PMI as numerous government bodies seek to put Project Management career paths in place and to up-skill/up-certify their workforce. APM too have their work cut out. They were recently awarded Chartered status in the UK - again, a significant step forward in recognizing Project Managers as professionals. However this has presented APM with a mountain of work to do in defining standards and certifications and consulting with industry. So one possibility is that the big players want to focus on Projects and Programs because it is their specialist area. The other possibly is that they are simply too busy to focus on the PMO right now.
It is of course unfair to imply that APM and PMI are doing nothing for PMO professionals. PMI continues to sponsor PMO research and hosts a massive three-day PMO Symposium every year and APM has a very active PMO Special Interests Group. Both PMI and APM sponsor their own PMO award schemes - recognizing good practice in industry. Training paths and certification continue to be a gap though.
What PMO Certifications are there?
Fortunately APM and PMI aren't the only players in town. There are several courses and professional certifications available that focus squarely on the development of people working in the PMO space. Let's take a look at them:
AXELOS - P3O
P3O® stands for Portfolio, Program and Projects Offices. P3O® is a set of guidance originally published by the Office of Government Commerce, a department in the UK Government, to help organisations build PMOs to support Projects, Programs and Portfolios respectively. The P3O® standard is now owned by AXELOS - a company owned jointly by the UK Government and Capita PLC. AXELOS also runs a P3O® certification scheme at two levels: Foundation and Practitioner. You can find out more about the certification program on their site: https://www.axelos.com/certifications/p3o-certifications
BCS - PPSO
BCS are the British Computer Society. They are a chartered body who have been around for over 60 years. They offer two certifications: PPSO Essentials and PPSO Advanced Practitioner (PPSO stands for Program and Project Support Office Essentials, in case you were wondering!). The Essentials certification is aimed at entry level candidates, whereas the Advanced certification is aimed at experienced PMO Managers and focuses more on setting up and managing PMOs at all levels. You can find out more about their certification program on their site: https://certifications.bcs.org/category/17909
AIPMO - IPMO
The AIPMO is a professional association for PMO leaders, managers and staff. They offer three levels of certification, and have partnered with the SBS Swiss Business School to offer academic courses both a Masters and a Doctorate. The certifications are Foundation, Practitioner and Expert. I took the Expert course and gained the certification last Summer, so I can vouch for it being a demanding curriculum targeted at senior level PMO professionals. The course focused on the latest academic research and the tools needed to critically evaluate PMOs and put appropriate typologies in place. You can find out more about their certification program on their site: https://aipmo.org/certifications/
There are several other providers and instructors offering their own PMO training courses if you want to build your competency. In the UK, Wellingtone are offering a PMO Practitioner course. The course content has been put together by Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton (Chair of APM's PMO SIG) and Marisa Silva (aka the Lucky PM). In the US, Bill Dow frequently runs PMO training based on the approach outlined in his book The PMO Lifecycle:Building Running and Shutting Down, and PMO Advisory also offer their own proprietary PMO training course. In Canada, Carl M. Gilbert runs on Implementing a PMO, but you will need to be reasonably fluent in Quebecois French to gain the full benefit of his wisdom! Also noteworthy is The PMO Value Ring certification which is available in a number of countries. The Value Ring certification is based on research by Americo Pinto and focuses on setting up PMOs that align to the needs of the business.
Choosing the right PMO training course for you
With a variety of training options to chose from, it is important to assess the quality of the course, and the value the certification will bring you before you commit. Sites such as Course Conductor are worth looking at, as they gather independent reviews of training courses and trainers to help you make effective decisions. But it is also important to consider exactly what it is you want to get out of the course. You should carefully weigh up whether you are focused on gaining an industry recognized certification, or whether practical course would be of greater interest. Are you looking for a course that covers many PMO disciplines, or do you want to focus on a specialist area such as resource management, project planning or process improvement? Do you learn better in a classroom context, or would you prefer self-study, webinars or online training? All of these are valid options and it is important to take the time to weigh up the options rather than diving in headfirst.
Supply and Demand
The increase in PMO certifications and courses aligns with the increase in the number of organizations who now have permanent PMOs inside their organization. Supply is expanding to meet the demands of PMO professionals who require focused learning, and certifications that recognize their skills outside of conventional Project Management certifications. Recently in the UK an organization called PMO Learning has been formed, which focuses exclusively on PMO Training (https://www.pmolearning.co.uk/). They are all experienced in the PMO space and are offering all the key certifications listed above. They are also offering some specialist courses which (at time of writing) include a Lean-Agile PMO course. We wish them well for the future and look forward to seeing the number of high quality PMO training offerings grow as the PMO finally comes of age.
Want to know more about PMO training?
Take a look at this video from Eileen Roden talking about PMO careers and learning paths at Project Challenge.