PMO: What’s in a name?

It is said that one good thing about IT standards is that there are always so many variations!

So it is with “PMO” mdash; an acronym with a range of different meetings with very different implications for those involved.

“Project Management Office” is usually a group within a project that handles the administration for the Project Manager.

The “Program Management Office” is the same function but across projects within a program for the Program Director.

They are both quite different to a “Portfolio Management Office”, or at least they should be.

But too often the Portfolio Management Office (which is the definition I’ll use for PMO in these articles) is only a macro-administrative body that organises reporting and some other administration, this time across all of the projects and programs. This is not what a PMO should be.

Information collation and reporting is the least valuable role of the PMO and yet it is the most common. It is symptomatic of organisations that feel that they are losing, or have lost, control of their project portfolio and need someone to pull it all together for them.

But, if the PMO does not have any authority (and most don’t) having them in this role is actually worse than not having them at all.


The recipients of the PMO collated project/program reports tend to assume that the PMO has exercised some level of quality control over the data and that the reports are, therefore, reliable. The PMO’s role, however, can make them less reliable.

If the reporting project finds that they are to be rated “Red” they’ll often ‘adjust” their information to avoid this rating. If the PMO has some authority they’ll resist this and report the project as “Red”. However, most PMOs do not have this authority and so have to acquiesce to the project and re-rate the project as updated mdash; thus giving the committee the wrong information.

So, the first rule of thumb for PMOs is, “If you don’t have any authority and you cannot question and adjust project’s reporting to reflect the true situation, then you should not exist.”

Harsh but true. Remember the middle word is “Management” mdash; if you cannot ‘manage’ you cannot add value.

Next week, the different roles of the PMO.

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Jed Simms is CIO magazine's weekly project management columnist. Simms, founder of projects and benefits delivery research firm Capability Management, is also the developer of specialised project management and project governance Web site

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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