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

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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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skyscrappersCorporate PMO = EPMO

Corporate PMOs are also generally known as Enterprise PMOs or EPMOs. The term has been strengthened over time because it is understood that there are features common to all corporations, regardless of the nature of their products and services, which directly affect the challenges and attributions that the project office should assume.

An EPMO reports directly to one of the highest executives in the organization. Very often, there are other PMOs of lower rank, for example for the coordination of programs or a business unit; but none has the global reach of EPMO.

It has often been said that EPMOs are the most important instrument to ensure that the corporate strategy is truly executed in all areas of the organization. The EPMO would be, then, a catalyst, an engine oriented to promote the constant transformation in an environment whose natural inertia would lead, otherwise, to immobility.

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Responsibilities: start by deciding just initiatives

Every action has associated an opportunity cost. Even when it is clear what is being done, it is clear that many other possible actions are being discarded.

When, in addition, you work in a huge organization, the lack of alignment of the departments to the corporate strategy results in a very voluminous waste of energy.

For that reason, the EPMO approach is twofold:

  • make sure that the right initiatives are started (doing the right things)
  • make sure that they are managed properly (doing things right)

It is, therefore, a constant monitoring of the strategic alignment for all the work planned and underway.

Other responsibilities include, of course, traditional areas of the PMOs, such as training and counseling (of the other PMOs); value management, which is easy to lose sight of in highly complex environments; resource planning; Demand management or coordination among PMOs. 

You can discover more in the White Paper: Project-Based Management (PBM)

Benefits of an EPMO

The benefits of an EPMO are similar to that of a smaller PMO, but with strategic orientation. The big difference is that the EPMO has the necessary governance structures to navigate and master the bureaucratic complexity and processes that can often become the biggest enemy of change in a corporate organization (from 5,000 employees).

In any case, it is worth reviewing those benefits:

  • Increase in the number of projects delivered on time and in time
  • Better strategic alignment between projects and business objectives
  • Greater support for departmental projects, and with this, greater chances of success for the project, which can gather the required support at critical moments
  • Less overlap of work between department
  • Greater interdepartmental collaboration
  • Greater visibility of corporate initiatives
  • Higher ROI for the projects implemented, especially in non-financial terms
  • More efficient delivery of projects –and faster to put new products and services on the market
  • A better structured approach to the treatment of risks, including risk mitigation

Success factors of an EPMO

  • Organic location, immediately below the General Management
  • Change management according to good practices, so that the new EPMO is not perceived as a rival of the existing PMOs and projects managers
  • Complementation of the managerial function: support in the decision-making, without robbing autonomy or generating political problems
  • Autonomy with respect to functional areas, so that it does not depend on IT, Financial, Human Resources, etc.
  • All subordinated PMOs must report, either directly or indirectly, to the EPMO. Otherwise, pockets of information are created that do not flow
  • The competence profile should combine project management with the business vision: those who are part of the EPMO will advise managers in making critical decisions and train project managers to continue advancing as professionals
  • No EPMO can work reasonably well if a high degree of standardization is not achieved.


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chessProject based management is a widely spread practice in the business world because of its effectiveness in generating competitive advantages. However, it cannot be effective without the support of a strategic project management office (PMO) that actively helps define corporate strategy.

Unfortunately, project management is not applicable in the same way in every organization because companies do not all share the same processes, functions or need for oversight (what we call "maturity" in project management).

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For this reason, we distinguish between different levels of maturity according to the workings of the project office, from the most basic to the true strategic PMO:

Low maturity of a strategic PMO: Inventory and control

In corporate environments it is essential to make an inventory of all the initiatives that are under way. That is the mission of a PMO of low maturity: to gather and consolidate information about all the projects and other relevant activities to report where resources are being invested.

Medium maturity of a strategic PMO: coordination

The next step for a PMO is to have the ability to forecast problems and, consequently, to tackle them. This function is common when the PMO coordinates the resource allocation. For example, during periods when there is a high volume of work, it is the PMO that should be aware that projects are accumulating and identify bottlenecks.

A PMO of medium maturity aims to improve the efficiency of the organization, recognizing possible conflicts in the planning process and proposing solutions.

High maturity of a strategic PMO: strategy and business

The highest maturity of a PMO is achieved through a fit with the corporate structure that makes it the right hand of the Board of Directors. This fit implies a governance model where strict methodologies are followed while the most important practical decisions are taken, precisely, based on the information that the PMO offers.

In these cases, the project office becomes a key element for the corporate strategy to become a reality.

Strategic questions for a high maturity PMO

A strategic PMO should be considered as an internal service that offers practical information, answering questions like:

  • What is the status of the project portfolio?

  • Are resources scarce? Does this shortage affect cashflow?

  • Are we executing projects that are no longer worthwhile?

  • Which proposals or ideas will improve the current portfolio?

  • What kind of new processes can be implemented as a result of the experience acquired from past projects?

However, this approach does not allow a PMO to fully develop its potential. Strategic PMOs have a proactive spirit: they collaborate with the management in strategy development and manage all project-based work.

While PMOs should be empowered, at the same time they should leave the most important decisions to management. For example, if a protocol is put in place requiring the cancelation of projects with a budget greater than a certain amount (for example, € 500,000), it makes sense to warn directors beforehand allowing them to authorize or indeed veto the final decision.

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