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A Beginnerā€™s Guide to Project Management Offices (PMOs)

jan schiller pmo Mar 03, 2021
Steps to build a PMO for the PMO leader

Project management office…project office…enterprise center of excellence…project control group…project support office. Ever wonder what a project management office (PMO) really is, or what the most important consideration is?

(Originally published on PMWorld 360 Magazine)


What is a project management office (PMO)?

In general, a PMO exists to ensure an organization realizes the value of its investments in projects, usually focused on improving the stability and reliability of solution delivery, project management and outcome management processes. In reality, PMOs can take many forms and may have a variety of functions, which gives rise to the various names.

In “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition”, the Project Management Office (PMO) is defined as “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques” (PMI, 2013, p. 10).

What are the typical forms and functions of PMOs?

The most typical forms of PMOs are defined by primary customer. The functions and service offerings of a PMO should be aligned with the form of the PMO. The best PMO form will be the one that best addresses the business value the PMO is intended to deliver, and very well may be a hybrid of two or more forms.

PMO form

Primary customer

Primary function


Project Sponsor



Project Manager












Project Portfolio Manager

Risk mitigation

Center of Excellence

Project Manager



When was PMO defined?

‘Project Office’ was a term used to describe national governance of agriculture in the 1800s. 1939 saw the first use of ‘Project Management Office” in a publication. The definition for a PMO as defined above has been around since the mid-1950s.

Who developed the concept of PMO?

The United States military probably originated the PMO terminology and provided the basic concepts that evolved to support today’s PMO definitions. They developed a project office function in the 1930s to monitor aircraft construction, and again in the 1950s when they needed an approach to centralize multiple missile system development efforts to make budget management more efficient.

Since then, the concept of a PMO has spread to other industries, such as construction and financial services, generally in alignment with the spread of computer technology.

What are the benefits of a PMO?

PMOs are designed to improve organizational performance. A PMO that is perceived to deliver no benefits is a short-lived PMO.


The benefits of a successful PMO are directly associated with the organization’s objectives that are realized in a more timely, less costly, and higher-quality manner. These objectives are as varied as there are organizations, but generally are related to assessing and improving a business process; complying with a regulation, achieving competitive advantage, or delivering a new product or service.


The scope of benefit realization is directly related to where the PMO lives in the organization; higher levels of benefits at an enterprise level, lower levels of benefits at a departmental or program level.

What is the most important PMO consideration?

Know what you want your PMO to be when it grows up. This will help shape how your PMO is initially created, how you will create demand for the PMO’s services, and how you manage your PMO to deliver maximum value to your organization. You must obtain executive-level sponsorship of your PMO to begin; you must sustain that sponsorship throughout the life of the PMO, which will certainly require your PMO to evolve in alignment with the evolution of your business and the environment in which it operates.