When you have limited visibility, limited resources and capacity planning, or when you are missing a consistent methodology, you usually start building a PMO. However, it is necessary to ask yourself the relevant questions that will assure its success and meeting the objectives. In fact, only 40% of projects met schedule, budget and quality goals (IBM Change Management Survey of 1500 execs). In this article, we are going to see the key characteristics of those 40% and the important questions to ask to make sure you’re going in the right direction.



Download our new eBook: how to set up a sustainable PMO with ITM Platform

How do you define a good PMO?

Regardless of the PMO you choose, there are four universal parameters that are markers of quality and excellence:

1. Provides clarity
Because of its objective and unbiased audits, the PMO is a source of transparency and intelligent analysis. It doesn't just throw data at you.

2.Facilitates decision-making
Gives senior management oversight of the portfolio allowing them to make coherent decisions. Imagine your company is a car, the PMO provides the headlights that allow you to decide whether you need to turn left or right or even to stop. And how quickly to do so.

3.Enhances accountability
The PMO defines roles and responsibilities, motivating and empowering people; ultimately this will also allow them to be held accountable.

4.Encourages shared ownership of goals
The biggest challenge for a PMO is to be accepted within the organization. Sharing the vision and expected benefits is a good way to get stakeholders on board.

4 questions to help you plan the future of our PMO

These four questions might help to plan the future of our PMO:

1. Which projects should we pursue?
Or, which are the projects that meet our organization’s goals in the most efficient way?

2. Which projects should we start?
Out of all the project proposals in front of us, which should we prioritize? What’s the best way to plan ahead and optimize resource allocation?

3. Which projects should we continue?
Looking at the projects already in place, which of them are accomplishing what's expected of them? Which of the non-performers should continue?

4. Which projects should we kill?
Following on from the previous question, which projects aren’t worth continuing because the resources would be better employed elsewhere?

To answer these questions, the PMO should align its PPM (project portfolio management) processes with your company goals. Managing the portfolio of projects means asking every day: how are the projects, programs and portfolios facilitating the achievement of my company’s goals? If you can offer real-time information about on-going projects that help with decision-making the PMO will quickly win supporters.

Define the value that you expect a PMO to add

1. Governance
2. Organization
3. Planning
4. Cost Management
5. Asset Management
6. Risk Management
7. Information
8. Quality Management
9. Change Managment
10. Resource Management
11. Communication Management
12. Procurement
13. Document Management

Depending on the type of PMO on the table you will need to stress some aspects more than others. A strategic PMO will focus more on Governance, Organization and Planning, whereas a process-focused (tactical/operational) PMO should concentrate on Quality Management, Change Management and Document Management.

You cannot design a PMO without working out which model suits both the business and its clients.

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Since 2008, the correlated PMO implementation failure rate is over 50% (Gartner Project Manager, 2014). It is therefore crucial to find out what type is adequate for my company. In fact, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. An effective PMO is one that both meets the demands of today and adapts to those that may arise tomorrow. To define the mission and function of our PMO we should consider the standard models on offer and assess them based on the unique needs of our business. That way we can determine which PMO best suits our reality.


Since no two businesses are exactly the same, the design process is bound to vary from organization to organization

Download our new eBook: how to set up a sustainable PMO with ITM Platform


2 different types of PMOs

In the eBook Roadmap to define your own Project Management Office we described the widely accepted types of PMO: ‘weather station’, ‘control tower’ and ‘resource pool’. In this blog post, instead of using those terms, we will draw a distinction between strategic and tactical PMOs.

  • A strategic PMO measures – and ultimately determines – how a project drives forward corporate strategy.
  • An operational or a tactical PMO is more focused on the success of individual projects.

An operational or a tactical PMO will ensure projects deliver their expected value. Strategic PMOs go beyond this to play an active role in planning strategy and will monitor and evaluate projects against the company’s strategic plan.


3 variables to help you determine what type to select


1. The organizational maturity

A mature organization has clear and established processes, executed by staff trained in those procedures. The holy grail in business excellence is when your people know what they are doing and are constantly striving to improve. If your company is one of the lucky ones with a high degree of maturity, then implementing a strategic PMO should work like a charm. Organizations with a lower maturity level (and don’t worry there are plenty of those!) would be better off concentrating on the basics and introducing an operational or a tactical PMO.

2. The nature of the business

In practice, all organizations manage projects, whether they know it or not. What does your company do day-to-day? In other words, what is the nature of your business? Spend some time considering if the efficient management of projects is key to the success or failure of your company. The greater the impact of projects on the business, the more need there is to introduce a strategic PMO. For example, an organization that is running cross-functional business transformation projects is crying out for a strategic PMO in contrast to organizations with discrete unrelated projects.

3. The management model

What is your company’s management model? If management is project-based instead of/or in combination with other models – eg management by objectives – it makes sense to implement a strategic PMO, since this PMO model highlights the relevance of projects to the organization. If the managing board is closely involved in the definition and delivery of projects, then this is fertile ground for the strategic implementation of the PMO. On the other hand, if the board’s involvement with the project portfolio is limited, this means projects are less relevant to the business – in this case, choosing an operational or a tactical PMO is the best option. If you want the PMO to have managerial – rather than operational – functions, then you should opt for the strategic PMO model.


Does the PMO have the power to “kill” a project?

In a strategic PMO

If the answer is ‘yes’ or the PMO can make this recommendation to the board then it is strategic in nature. That means the PMO

  1. understands the business,
  2. is aware of the resources in use and
  3. understands the value added by each project.

To sum up, the PMO has the information needed to make informed choices.

In an operational PMO

If the answer is ‘no’, then the PMO should be operational (providing administrative support to projects, support to the reporting mechanisms in place, and guiding project leaders) or tactical (managing the methodologies, resources and tools). There is no merit in choosing one type of PMO over another. One is not necessarily more complex than another; they just fulfill different needs. Not every company requires a strategic PMO. We cannot stress this enough. If what your company needs is a tactical PMO then stick to that! Don’t overcomplicate life. In contrast, if a strategic PMO is required then you may want to establish a tactical one as the first step.

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