What does the PMO Acronym mean?

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Shakespeare’s Romeo famously posed the question, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?”. It would indeed, and this holds true for the PMO, just as it does with roses.

What does PMO stand for?

The PMO acronym is familiar to anyone who works in projects and programs. But what does PMO mean? It most commonly stands for Project Management Office. There are variants, as the ‘P’ can also stand for Portfolio (Portfolio Management Office) or Program/Programme (Program Management Office). The term P3O describes the trinity of management offices. There is universally applicable guidance published by AXELOS – the P3O® Manual.

It is also worth noting that people who work within a PMO are sometimes called Project Management Officers. This can lead to a confusing situation where Project Management Officers (PMO) work in a Project Management Office (PMO). That PMO can report to a Program Management Office (PMO). And Oversight provided by a Portfolio Management Office (PMO)!

Things get even more confusing when you head out onto the internet to find out more about the PMO. Searchers soon discover that PMO is commonly used in India to describe the Office of the Prime Minister. And woe betides anyone who naively decides to search for PMO on Reddit! The results are what Reddit users would describe as NSFW – Not Safe For viewing at Work. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

The Project or Program Management Office | PMO

Project or Program Management Offices are usually temporary entities to support a Project or Program. The role of PMO and the services they provide will vary. They can be either internal or external to the project organization. But the focus is generally on providing support, transparency, traceability, and governance.

Support services:

  • Administration such as maintaining logs and gantt charts
  • Coordination of people and resources
  • Creation of project status reports and other reporting
  • Action tracking
  • Finance tracking
  • Project planning and maintaining a project schedule
  • Tracking against key success factors

Transparency services:

  • Reporting (internal to the project/program, and externally to stakeholders)
  • Providing information that is relevant and accurate to enable effective decision making

Traceability services:

  • Data management
  • Document management
  • maintaining project history
  • managing knowledge

Governance Services:

  • The role of the PMO from a governance perspective is described as making sure the right decisions are made by the right people, based on the right information.
  • Supporting the corporate governance function within the project/program.
  • Maintains Standards, and holds project teams accountable to them.
  • Defining a standard project management methodology to be followed.
  • Audit and review.

The Portfolio Management Office | PMO

The Portfolio Management office, or as it is also commonly known, the Enterprise PMO, takes a strategic view of project management. In addition to undertaking some of the roles of the Project/Program PMO, this function is more concerned with ensuring the totality of the projects’ portfolio is optimized to make optimal use of the organization’s people and resources to deliver on the corporate strategy, strategic plan (or departmental plan).

The Portfolio Management Office maintains a birds-eye view of projects and initiatives and how they can impact each other. By doing so, they support management teams and ensure the business always has the best possible understanding of how even small decisions and actions play out on a larger scale.

This type of PMO usually owns and maintains the project management body of knowledge for the organization. This BoK would include references to external data and such as the PMI Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowlege and the APM Body of Knowledge. What separates the internal BoK from other reference materials, is that the internal BoK will contain developed frameworks, and standardized project approaches for delivering effectively within the constraints of the organization. While this body of knowledge usually focuses on traditional project methodologies, we are increasingly seeing the PMO playing a role in defining and maintaining standards for agile frameworks too.

The shift towards an outcomes focus

While Project Management Offices are concerned with getting the project delivered, Project Portfolio Management Offices are more interested in those projects’ outcomes. In this world of Enterprise Project Management, the focus is not just on ‘doing projects the right way’ but also on ‘selecting the right projects to deliver.’ These types of PMO teams will ensure project outcomes align with the organization’s strategic goals. Project success is more relevant to PMOs that are permanent and strategic. They will be looking at strategic delivery throughout the organization and have a vested interest in delivering value rather than merely delivering projects. Through this lens, successful projects support the corporate strategy, and benefits realization will be bigger success factors than the traditional Project Management metrics or time, cost, and quality, which are commonly used to define successful projects.

As you might expect, Program Offices fall neatly between Project and Portfolio Offices: ensuring successful projects achieve the objectives of the program.

The Agile PMO | APMO

A variation on the PMO acronym comes from the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). SAFe describes a team known as an Agile PMO or APMO. They describe it as a team that works with other functions to provide Agile Portfolio Operations. Rather than viewing the Agile PMO as a support function for Agile Project Management, they advocate moving away from project management entirely and focusing on Products and Value Streams instead. It is interesting to see the PMO transcending the world of projects in this way! SAFe 5.0 defines three critical responsibilities for the APMO:

  • Coordinating Value Streams – exploiting opportunities and managing dependencies between (and at the boundary of) Value Streams.
  • Supporting Program Execution – maintaining and developing successful delivery patterns, establishing objective metrics, and reporting on business agility. In some cases, SAFe suggests the APMO may also take on a sponsorship role.
  • Fostering Operational Excellence – acting as a center of excellence that serves as an advocate for change and helps the organization move towards the SAFe view of agile. They note that such a PMO would usually:
    • Lead the move to objective milestones and Lean-Agile budgeting,
    • Establish and maintain the systems and reporting capabilities,
    • Foster more agile contracts and leaner Supplier and Customer partnerships,
    • Offer key performance indicators Provide financial governance,
    • Advise as a communication liaison regarding the strategy to ensure the smooth deployment and operation of the value stream investment,
    • Support HR in Agile hiring and people development.

You can read more about the SAFe APMO and how the PMO supports agile project management here: Link

What other types of PMOs exist?

When you work as a PMO consultant, you come across lots of different types of PMO. There are many other names for the PMO that operate within organizations. As you would expect, each has its variant of the PMO acronym. While these may sound different, they are typically variations on the types of PMO outlined above.

Sparky, our PMO Bot reading a book and asking, "How Many types of PMO are there?"

Examples we have come across include:

Project Support office | PSO

This type of PMO usually exists within a project and explicitly focuses on support activities such as the ones outlined further up this page.

Project Controls Office | PCO

Offices with a specific focus on controls are more usually found in major (and mega) construction projects. They tend to focus explicitly on the data gathering, data management, and analytical processes used to predict, understand, and constructively influence the time and cost outcomes of a project or program.

Delivery Management Office | DMO

Delivery Management Offices are another variation of PMO. They are usually responsible for both planning and controlling the execution of projects to business expectations. The DMO will drive project delivery and keep projects on track Often Project Managers will report into the DMO, and the DMO will assume a sponsor role.

Change Management Office | CMO

The CMO variation has a focus on building change management capabilities in the organization. They are usually more business-centric than a traditional PMO. They will have a much higher emphasis on getting the business ready to adapt to change. It is not uncommon to have both a CMO and a PMO. The PMO has more of a project control and governance function. Whereas the CMO focuses on maximizing value by preparing teams to make use of the project deliverables.

Outsourced PMO or PMO as a Managed Service | PMaaS

Some organizations recognize that PMO skills are something that sits outside of their core competency matrix. They may also decide that they would prefer to leave it to experts in the domain. In these situations, it may be beneficial to outsource the PMO in its entirety or on a service-by-service basis. PMO Managed Services can have advantages for small and large organizations. Such approaches can allow organizations to take advantage of scalable project teams while benefiting from working with a supportive PMO partner who specializes in strategic delivery. Choosing to outsource the PMO to professional services teams is something that requires careful planning, and great care should be taken not to lose valuable intangible assets in the process.

Project Office of One | POO

This unfortunate acronym is often used to define a small PMO function that comprises a single project officer. Such functions are usually found embedded in Projects and Programs and are commonly supported by a central, enterprise-level PMO.

Center of Excellence

In large organizations, there may be more than one PMO operating. There could also be multiple project portfolios operating across different departments. We build Centers of Excellence to act as an exemplar for the organization. They don’t focus on reporting, resource management, or health checks. Instead, they focus on standardizing processes across the organization and owning project management methodology. These management methodologies are refined through continuous learning and improvement as lessons from project failures (and successes) are integrated back into the management process, ensuring future projects benefit from the lessons of the past. It can also be common for Center of Excellence teams to own the organization’s project management tool or PPM system. This allows system processes to be maintained and evolved in parallel with best practice guidance and project manager training.

What of the Product Management Office?

It is somewhat surprising that there does not seem to be much appetite for a Product Management Office in organizations. Perhaps it is because the project mix is seen as the purview of Marketing/Sales, who have traditionally used tools such as the Boston Matrix to decide on the optimal product mix for an organization. Perhaps it is because Product teams tend to reside in Development/Engineering functions where the introduction of yet another service with a governance remit would feel bureaucratic. Project or Product, one thing holds. Many PMO services, such as knowledge management, reporting, standardization, and maintaining a Body of Knowledge, are still required. It will be interesting to see whether such teams spring up in the future.

What does the Project Management Institute (PMI) say about the PMO?

The Project Management Institute (PMI), has definitions for both a Project Management Office and a Program Management Office in its Lexicon of Project Management terms.  The Project Management Office is described as  “A Management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.” The Program Management Office is described identically, save for the word Project being replaced with the word Program. There is not currently a Portfolio Management Office in the PMI Lexicon.

The Sixth Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowlege (PMOBoK® Guide) notes the variance in PMO structures within organizations and offers a model that has three categories, defined by the degree of control and influence they have on projects within the organization:

Three types of PMO, categorised by levels of influence over projects
Types of PMO structures categorized by control and influence
  • Supportive PMO: PMOs that are categorized as supportive act as consultants to support project delivery. They will typically maintain a project repository and will supply templates (such as Gantt charts or standard report formats), training, information, and lessons learned from other projects. These types of PMOs do not exert much control over projects and project delivery.
  • Controlling PMO: These PMOs provide some support, but also require compliance. This can be by requiring projects to use specific project management standards or project management frameworks. They may mandate the use of Gateways or stage-gate reviews as a way of ensuring compliance with governance.
  • Directive PMO: PMOs in the directive category directly manage projects and may even sponsor them. Directive PMOs will typically have Project Managers either embedded in the PMO or reporting directly into it. Because of this directive nature, these PMOs have a high degree of control and influence over project delivery.

These categories come from a paper presented at PMI in 2015 by Luca Giraudo and Emmanuele Monaldi. They assert there is no One-size-fits-all PMO description. They categorize PMOs based on their influence within an organization (using the categories above, and also by their position within the organizational hierarchy.

PMO categories by position in the organizational hierarchy

  • Individual PMO: These are usually Project or Progam PMOs. They set basic standards and oversee project planning and project controls for a single project or a group of projects within a program.
  • Departmental PMO: These types of PMOs reside in business units such as IT. They provide support for project delivery within a department. They will usually act as mini-portfolio PMOs, focusing on capacity planning and creating a balanced portfolio that supports the needs of the business.
  • Corporate PMO: We’ve more commonly seen these referred to as Enterprise PMOs. They are a center of excellence for the organization and focus on improving project performance within the business. Enterprise PMOs usually have a strategic planning remit and take responsibility for allocating resources to different projects across departmental silos.

The continuous reinvention of the PMO

A broom sweeping away a process as a metaphore for the continuous evolution of the PMO
The continuous evolution of the PMO

Whatever PMO acronym you use, it is essential not to get comfortable. Historically the PMO has been a temporary function, and while strategic PMOs look like they are here to stay, the PMO must be delivering the service that the organization both wants and needs. To achieve this, we advocate having a regular PMO Process Purge to ensure your PMO is lean, fit for purpose, and doing precisely what is needed to ensure project success, and ensure the organization delivers the right things faster.