A programme or project management office is a single, central support structure, designed to provide assistance to change and delivery initiatives within an organisation.

What is a Programme (or Project) Management Office?

A programme or project management office can provide a variety of support to a single programme or project or it can have a wider support remit to programmes and projects across the organisation.

This applies particularly in an organisation where there is a lot of ongoing programme and project activity. Without such a PMO, an organisation is forced to replicate support arrangements over and over again as programmes and projects come and go.

Compelling reasons for organisations to establish a corporate PMO include:

  • better continuity and maintenance of standards
  • increased skills development and transfer
  • the ability to collect and handover vital lessons learned from one initiative to the next

A corporate PMO may eventually adopt a portfolio management role, looking across all programme, project and other related activity in the organisation. This enables organisation-wide standards and processes and provides senior managers with important information on progress, costs and resources which helps with key decisions.

Diagram showing how a Programme Management Office might fit into a typical programme management organisation structure.
How a Programme Management Office might fit into a typical programme management organisation structure.

Diagram showing how a Project Management Office might fit into a typical project management structure.
How a Project Management Office might fit into a typical project management structure.

Guidance on portfolio, programme, project office (P3O) and the proposals for foundation and practitioner level accredited qualifications means the P3O model is likely to become more prevalent.

Purpose of a PMO

A PMO should act as an information hub for the programmes and projects it supports. Ideally a PMO will add value to these programmes and projects through the knowledge, experience and skills of its staff. The PMO has a key role to play in coordinating programme and project assurance activities including the scheduling of Gateway reviews, if appropriate.

Resourcing the PMO will depend on the size and capabilities of the organisation and the specific remit it decides the PMO should have. The degree of value-added service the PMO provides will vary and usually falls into one of four levels:

  1. First level PMOs will have a mainly administrative role with a primary focus on requesting, collating and reporting programme and project information for senior managers
  2. Second level PMOs will add some services around providing basic best practice advice and guidance as well as resources like standards and templates for common documents or processes
  3. If the skills and expertise exist, it may be possible for a third level PMO to function; this will provide specialist programme and project consultancy in areas such as business case, risk management or benefits realisation and perhaps even some short-term programme and project management input - it also opens up the possibility of providing specialist input on methods, for example PRINCE2 and MSP, and tools such as MS Project
  4. Rarely, a top level PMO may emerge which occupies a strategic position within the organisation; it may have board level representation and a key role in direction setting, planning and challenge on matters of organisational change and service delivery

Guidance on setting up, and running, a PMO

The portfolio, programme, project office (P3O) methodology sets out best practice for programme and project management offices. The Centre of Expertise for Programme and Project Management has established a PMO community of interest for Northern Ireland public sector practitioners. The Association for Project Management has a Specific Interest Group for PMO professionals.

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