Project Practitioners > Deconstructing the PMO to Save the Brand

Deconstructing the PMO to Save the Brand

By Alan Zucker

What do the following have in common? Best Practices, Business Process Reengineering, Matrix Management, Six Sigma, and Management by Objective

According to Inc.com1, these are five of the 10 worst management fads.  Based on current trends, I fear that the PMO will join this list, as well. 

Several research firms have found that PMOs fail at alarming rates, with 50% of PMOs closing their doors within three-years2.  One driver of this high failure rate is the expectation gap between PMOs and their customers.  I believe that poor organizational branding has created confusion about the role and function of the PMO and has contributed to this expectation gap. 

Based on current trends, I am afraid that the PMO will become another business fad

Once, I challenged a colleague to list all of the PMO organizations in his company.  Without hesitating, he listed a dozen groups that called themselves a PMO.  Most of these groups were not really PMOs, but they all used the label. 

The label, PMO, has become ubiquitous and is applied to many types of project organizations.  To save the PMO brand we need to deconstruct the function and create a clear taxonomy.  In other words, we need to use organizational titles that clearly describe the services provided. 

The Project Management Institute’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®)3 identifies the functional aspects and domains of a PMO, but does not provide a concise definition.  In 2013, a PMI PMO Community of Practice working group published  ‘PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: PMO Frameworks’4, which set out to define what PMOs do and why they exist.  The paper identified five PMOs types that resonated with the survey respondents:

  • Organizational Unit PMO/Business Unit PMO/Divisional PMO/Departmental PMO
  • Project-Specific PMO/Project Office/Program Office
  • Project Support/Services/Controls Office or PMO
  • Enterprise/Organization-wide/Strategic/Corporate/Portfolio/Global PMO
  • Center of Excellence/Center of Competency

To a large extent I agree with the Community of Practice framework and functional definitions.  However, I find the names and titles to be impenetrable and they defy the ‘elevator pitch’ explanation.  In practice, I have observed the following types of PMOs, and I suggest that we simplify the labeling to improve brand clarity:

PMI Blog Table











Program and Portfolio Oversight: Program and portfolio oversight organizations are permanent structures that provide governance and oversight activities at the enterprise or divisional level.  The organizations can be responsible for:

  • Prioritizing funding decisions to ensure alignment with enterprise strategies.
  • Monitoring project, portfolio, or program execution.
  • Providing executive stakeholder management and reporting.

 These organizations may also be responsible for the investment or project funding process. 

I believe that the PMO title should be reserved for these types of organizations because of their governance responsibilities.  They should have the title: Enterprise PMO, Finance Division PMO or Consumer Markets Division PMO. 

The PMO title should be reserved for organizations that have governance responsibilities

Project Management Services: Project management services organizations provide a pool of PM resources that can be deployed to projects across a business area.  These groups can ensure consistent project execution and efficiently allocate resources across multiple projects and programs.

They should be titled:  Technology Division Project Management Services or Online Banking Division Project Execution Services. 

Special Projects:  Most large companies have large, cross-organizational projects that require the leadership of a formal project office.  The project office manages the inter-related projects as a program ensuring coordination and oversight.  Special project offices are usually temporary structures that disband when the work is done.  Examples of these types of projects include technology or business initiatives, such as: data center moves, technology upgrades, organizational restructuring, or major product launches.  

They should be titled:  Desktop Upgrade Project Office, Legal Entity Consolidation Project Office, or Diamond Project Office.

Standards and Quality Oversight: The standards and quality oversight role is a broad category that can encompass several areas, including:

  • Authoring the policies and standards for managing and executing projects and programs.
  • Developing best practices, job aids, process documentation, etc. which are used by the practitioner community.
  • Managing enterprise project management information systems and related tools. 
  • Reviewing or evaluating program and project execution to ensure alignment with enterprise standards.

Enterprises that execute a large number of projects, complex projects, or operate in a highly controlled environment will have permanent organizations that create and maintain the infrastructure needed to ensure projects are executed in the prescribed manner.

They should be titled:  Program & Project Standards Organization or Project Management Center of Excellence. 

Administrative and Reporting:  Large project organizations frequently require administrative and reporting support groups that perform functions such as:

  • Logistics management (e.g., space planning, resource on-boarding, etc.)
  • Vendor and resource management and support.
  • Tactical reporting for project teams and portfolio owners.
  • Strategic reporting for senior executives.
  • Standard performance metrics reporting for all levels of the organization.

These groups or functions should never be called a PMO because they do not have governance responsibilities.  These teams are usually associated with one of the other organizations and should be titled with their parent.  If they need their own title, they can be called the Administrative Support Group or Reporting Office. 

Clarifying the roles of project organizations and better aligning their names to the services they provide will improve the brand identify of the PMO and other project functions.  Hopefully, improved brand recognition will help close the expectations gap and improve the perception of the PMO.  Project organizations can add value to the enterprise and should not discarded as just another management fad. 


1  James, G. (2013, May 10). World's Worst Management Fads. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from

2  Needs, I. (2014, January 6). Why PMOs Fail: 5 Shocking PMO Statistics. KeyedIn Projects Blog. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from

3  Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3), Third Edition (3rd ed.). (2013). Newtown Square, Pa.: Project Management Institute.

4  Aubrey, M., Doerscher, T., Dosunmu, F., Fladager, D., Furfari, J., Ghaleb, P., ... Letavec, C. (2013, November 1). PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: PMO Frameworks. Retrieved August 10, 2014, from

© 2014 Alan Zucker

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