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Project governance and Project Management Office (PMO)
Project governance and Project Management Office (PMO)

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2.4 PMO relationships

The PMI classification shows that PMOs can be powerful and, in some activities and situations, may have more control over a project than the project manager. Therefore, the roles and responsibilities between the project manager, the PMO and other parts of the organisation (such as project sponsor and senior management) need to be clearly defined and effectively communicated. The PMOSIG [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] mentions ‘wariness of PMOs’ by the project management profession, rather than ‘curtail(ment) of autonomy’. It is more often concerned with increased bureaucracy and constrained decision making.

Demarcations between PMOs and project managers are an interesting question for stakeholder management and the balance of power between them. The need for clearly defined roles and responsibilities had already been mentioned. Earlier in this course we highlighted the need for good communication skills and these are equally needed in stakeholder management and in communicating and negotiating with senior managers.

The PMI (2013) refers to the PMO as the liaison between the corporate management systems and the project management (and portfolio and programme management), particularly in bringing together the data and information needed by organisational senior management. In undertaking this, and other support roles, the PMO brings together projects within the organisation that may not be related to each other in any way except being supported or administered by the PMO. It is therefore essential that the PMO functions and structures are defined by the needs of the organisation. This is especially important where the PMO itself is a stakeholder and decision maker.

As a decision maker a PMO is likely to be making recommendations about the continuation, or not, of projects to ensure that organisational activities, and the deployment of organisational resources, remain aligned with the business objectives. In this context, the PMO and the project manager are pursuing objectives that may not be the same; whereas the PMO is concentrating on the strategic organisational objectives, the project manager is focused on the objectives of the specific projects. For example, from PMI (2013) these differences might include:

  • The project manager focuses on the specified project objectives, while the PMO manages major programme scope changes, which may be seen as potential opportunities to better achieve business objectives.
  • The project manager controls the assigned project resources to best meet project objectives, while the PMO optimises the use of shared organisational resources across all projects.
  • The project manager manages the constraints (scope, schedule, cost, quality, etc.) of the individual projects, while the PMO manages the methodologies, standards, overall risks/opportunities, metrics, and interdependencies among projects at the enterprise level.
(PMI, 2013, p. 12)

This is not to suggest that the PMO and the project manager are frequently in conflict. The decision to go ahead with a specific project would have been part of the business strategy but there may be changes in the business environment that might give rise, from time to time, to differences. Communication between the PMO and the project manager is needed to discuss and resolve such differences.

There will be a relationship between the PMO and the organisational quality assurance team and when working well this will be symbiotic, so that experience of one supports the other and problems identified in one area, which might impact elsewhere, can be shared, explored and resolved. The PMO or other members of specific project teams may be represented on the quality assurance team. When an audit is due, the project manager typically prepares the project team. This preparation can build the team confidence in responding to the auditor. The PMO may support the project manager in audit preparation.

An advanced PMO will have organisational oversight for quality assurance within the governance structure. This will include spot checks and scheduled audits. Since audits are undertaken by someone outside of the project, a member of the PMO may be the auditor. Training PMO staff as auditors develops this expertise within the organisation and also can support sharing of good practice.