Every organization reaches a stage of growth where teams start doing things a little differently. For example, let’s say your marketing team develops a unique creative brief template to kick off and coordinate work across the entire team. At the same time, your product team decides to develop a robust intake request process. Having these processes in place helps marketing and product get their highest-impact work done—but what happens when the two teams need to collaborate? How do you decide which template they should use, or which process they should follow?
This is where a project management office (PMO) comes in. PMOs increase efficiency and effectiveness by standardizing processes and defining best practices across your organization. In this article, we’ll dive into what a project management office does and help you decide whether or not your team can benefit from a PMO.
A project management office (PMO) sets and maintains your organization's project management best practices—including defining how your organization executes core processes and strategic initiatives. Sometimes called a program management office, a PMO can be an internal team or an external support system.
PMO is an acronym that stands for project management office.
To support cross-functional collaboration and reduce chaos within your organization, a PMO defines, standardizes, establishes, and runs business-critical planning and operational processes across the entire organization or within a specific department. Typically, this includes determining how products and services are built and delivered at a department- or company-level.
These teams are shared services organizations, which means that in most cases they are a central support team that drives and enables the work of many other teams and departments. For example, at a small organization, you might have one PMO team that standardizes project management best practices across all of your departments. Alternatively, at larger companies with many different systems and less cross-functional collaboration, PMOs may be embedded in the departments they serve.
An internal PMO is an in-house team that supports project success. Internal PMOs are permanent teams that collect all of your organization’s processes to establish standards and best practices. Then, an internal PMO continues to support your team by providing trainings, updating guidelines, and continuing to standardize best practices as your organization grows.
Alternatively, an external project management office is an agency or consulting group that helps you create best practices for your company. These PMOs typically intake processes then suggest optimized best practices. Unlike an internal PMO, external PMOs won’t be available to enforce those practices or continue supporting your organization.
The type of PMO you invest in depends on your organization’s unique needs. However, an internal PMO is generally better equipped to support your organization in the long term. So in this article, we’ll talk about the roles, responsibilities, challenges, and benefits of an internal PMO.
An internal project management office is a shared services team. Usually, these project managers work as cross-functional partners to standardize processes across the department or organization they support. In addition to project and process managers, PMOs also consist of business strategy team members—who not only standardize processes, but help to optimize and improve upon them.
There are three types of internal PMOs. The type of PMO you choose depends on where your company is at, how disorganized projects are, and what your specific needs are.
A supportive PMO focuses on providing training, information, and support—without being too prescriptive. Supportive PMOs will often provide suggestions and structure for projects, but allow each project manager to decide whether they want to adopt those suggestions or not.
A controlling PMO is most beneficial if you need to reign in processes and ensure every team is marching to the same beat. Unlike a supportive PMO, a controlling PMO will standardize guidelines and expect project managers to follow those guidelines effectively. Controlling PMOs may also review projects to ensure they’re compliant.
A directive PMO will take over the project management elements and coordinate most project planning details like resource allocation, project risk management, and project scoping. Because the PMO is effectively running most large initiatives, these project management offices tend to staff the most people.
The biggest benefit of a PMO is the ability to standardize systems and processes. When everyone on your team is in sync, you lower the barrier to cross-functional collaboration and unlock higher-impact work.
This is simultaneously one of the most challenging things to tackle as a PMO and one of the main reasons PMOs are helpful in the first place. Over time, teams and departments naturally develop their own processes. In order to get their best work done, each team implements their own standards, technologies, and project management tools. But because they’re only adopting processes and tools that meet their specific team’s needs, this can quickly create information silos and knowledge gaps.
Left unchecked, these silos lead to operational inefficiencies and make cross-functional coordination challenging.
A PMO’s first job is to understand each team’s individual processes, aggregate that information, and establish one standardized process for the department or organization it supports. This level of change management can be difficult to achieve—to learn more, read our article on the six steps to build a successful change management process.
In addition to helping teams get their best work done, a PMO:
Aligns projects to corporate strategy, connecting daily work to company goals
Enables cross-functional collaboration by standardizing systems
Establishes organization-wide project management standards
Shares real-time visibility and context between teams
Develops, shares, and monitors project management best practices across your organization
Trains new project managers or teaches new project management skills
Integrates and democratizes data throughout your organization
Increases operational efficiency
Improves resource utilization
Reduces the time and cost spent on projects
A PMO helps you standardize project management processes across the business. They do that by putting best practices and guidelines in place for your team. This includes:
A PMO’s first task is to standardize how project and program managers align cross-functional stakeholders and move projects forward. The PMO provides guidance, methods, and systems for how your organization runs projects. This includes:
Established project kickoff meetings
Clear ownership between project leads, budget owners, and other stakeholders
Guidelines around how project milestones are set and how project health is communicated
Standardized project status reporting processes
Clear expectations around project planning, QBRs, and post mortems
Project governance is the framework for decisions made during the project lifecycle. This includes details within the project itself—like where information is stored, who has access to information, and how the team will collaborate—and best practices like the five phases of project management or other project management methodologies. Project governance also standardizes, in broad strokes, how projects are supported by the organization. In the latter case, a PMO establishes project governance rules to ensure that their organization is investing in projects that are contributing to long- and short-term company goals.
In addition to establishing project best practices, a PMO is the analytical partner to leadership teams. Part of the office’s role is to frame key questions, determine and get agreement on analytical approaches, and summarize data to generate action plans if necessary. The PMO brings reporting capabilities to effectively evaluate project performance. These reports empower project teams to make data-driven project decisions and reduce business risks.
A strategic plan is a three- to five-year roadmap of where your organization wants to go and how it will get there. A project management office is often the office responsible for creating and monitoring the strategic plan. This includes:
Helping business partners develop their strategy
Standardizing who sets goals
Defining annual OKRs
Breaking OKRs into quarterly plans
Creating a system to track goal progress
Establishing how goals are communicated
The PMO then ensures the strategic plan flows down to the project level as well. This includes:
When teams set up information, folders, and tools for their own use, they aren’t thinking about how other team members will access this information. But this model of information isolation leads to more manual, duplicative work. In fact, the average knowledge worker spends 60% of their time on work about work—things like searching for documents, following up on work status, and communicating about work.
Part of a PMO’s job is to reduce information silos like these. To do so, a PMO will:
Create a central source of truth for key information
Establish guidelines for information storage and sharing
Standardize where information lives and how it’s shared
Assign and monitor responsibility for updating information regularly
Ensure everyone knows who’s doing what by when to reduce duplicative work
A key part of standardizing processes is ensuring everyone is using—and knows how to use—the same tools. If your teams aren’t all using the same work management software already, a PMO drives the change management process and adoption of a new tool, monitoring usage, facilitating trainings, and automating processes where possible.The ultimate guide to choosing a work management tool
Resource management is the process of planning and scheduling your team’s resources in order to complete a project. In this case, a resource is everything from equipment and financial funds to tech tools and employee bandwidth.
PMO resource management depends on how big your organization is. For small organizations, the PMO may be the team directly allocating resources to different projects. For larger organizations, a PMO might establish a system of resource management planning and change control processes to prevent scope creep. At the enterprise level, this includes capacity planning and resource forecasting, as well.
A key part of effective teams is how well your team communicates and collaborates cross-functionally. Part of a PMO’s role is to audit existing processes across different teams and standardize those processes in order to enable more effortless cross-functional collaboration. If necessary, this includes aligning on standardized language within your organization, to build shared values and support healthy organizational culture.
Once they’re up and running, a PMO’s final responsibility is to host ongoing training sessions to train new project managers and support new initiatives. For example a PMO might host training sessions for how to start setting team- or company-wide key performance indicators (KPIs), or offer webinars on how to resolve conflict within a project.Read: The best conflict resolution strategy you’re not using
Creating a PMO is like creating an entirely new team—sometimes, a team that spans the entire organization. Though these offices are incredibly valuable, they are time-intensive to create.
You might benefit from a PMO if most or all of these are true:
Work is siloed and teams are struggling to collaborate
Processes feel disorganized
Information keeps getting lost
Your organization recently grew rapidly
You’re about to implement an organizational change and you want to get ahead of it with change management
If you only need to solve one or two of these problems, try a different strategy:
If your team needs a bird’s-eye view into the status of work in order to monitor all of your initiatives in one place, try project portfolio management.
If you need to establish enterprise-level security and information system management, try enterprise project management.
If you want to give your team the structure they need to succeed while continuously improving, try lean or agile methodologies.
If your team lacks insight into company-wide metrics and how their daily work connects to company goals, try goal tracking software.
PMO teams help everyone move in the same direction so teams know what to do, why it matters, and how to get it done. If you think a PMO is right for you, start by investigating what teams are currently doing. The first step to creating a PMO is understanding where you are—once you’ve aggregated all of this information, you then define best practices and empower cross-functional collaboration.
A good place to start is work management. Work management can help you support a lot of moving pieces as you prepare to develop your PMO team, including resource management, connecting work to goals, project status reporting and visibility—just to name a few.
Want to learn more about work management software? Learn more about how you can coordinate work across all levels of your organization with Asana.