Seems like an easy enough question, What is a PMO? However, the answer is a bit more complex. There really isn't a single answer to the question. Some organizations employ a PMO to serve as a Project Management Office. Others establish a Program Management Office and others build a Portfolio Management Office.
These multiple definitions create confusion within our industry as peers debate the benefits, challenges, and roles of the PMO. As an industry we don't have a governing body which we can all look to to define the PMO for us so we are left to our own definitions which best fit our own organization.
This too can create confusion. For instance, if your PMO has long been established as a Project Management Office and for years has been functioning in that capacity what do you do when a new executive leader joins the organization and expects the PMO to be a Portfolio Management Office? Do you have the proper team members with the appropriate skills? Do you have the necessary processes to support the Portfolio Management Office? Is your technology suite aligned to meet the expectations?
Perhaps we can find some common ground across definitions and coin a new term? Generally, Project Management Offices are focused on the execution of projects. They establish processes, train resources, and utilize tools to work towards successful delivery of projects. The Program Management Office generally focuses on a group of related projects collectively forming a Program with the PMO governing the work of that Program. While the Project Management Office oversees all projects, the Program Management Office usually oversees just the projects within the specific Program. Lastly, the Portfolio Management Office generally oversees the performance of the Portfolio of all projects rather than the performance of individual projects. For instance, the Portfolio Management Office may be more focused on "Are we working the proper projects" not "Are we working the projects properly".
There is some commonality between all the various PMOs but each truly is uniquely defined. The industry has also accepted all three PMO definitions so it would be difficult to rename one, two or all three versions of the PMO. So, what do we do to limit the confusion of what is a PMO?
To limit the confusion, clearly define your own PMO and ensure that all within the organization know the purpose of your PMO. Use visual management and frequent widespread communication to help drive the messaging. Stop using the acronym and use the full term to clearly demonstrate that you are leading a Project or Program or Portfolio Management Office. As the PMO Leader your job is to eliminate the confusion, ensure all are aligned, and deliver on the expected outcomes from your team.
So, what is a PMO? Well, that's kinda like asking what is a UFO? We all have our own definition and some of us think they are aliens!