Types of Project Management Offices

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In most organizations, if nobody is responsible for maintaining project management practices they will fade away and become just another fad.  For this reason, we have seen the rise of the project office.

Project offices come in a variety of forms, but can be loosely broken into the categories of duties and authority.  Each type of project office provides a different service to the organization:

  1. Center of Excellence
  2. Project Support Office (PSO)
  3. Project Management Office (PMO)
  4. Accountable Project Office

Center of Excellence

All of the project office types maintain the project management standards and procedures used by the organization.  They act as a central repository for project management knowledge and organizational practices.

The Center of Excellence provides advice only.  It does not directly manage projects, or maintain an active role within the organization’s projects.  The Center of Excellence assists project managers and gives them a vital line of support to ensure that organization-specific project management processes are being followed.  It also provides a repository for company wide lessons learned, risk analysis, and other organization-wide project data.

The Center of Excellence provides training to project managers, and promotes the use of project management practices throughout the organization.

This type of project office is ideal for organizations that have strong project managers throughout their organization, such as consultants, construction companies or engineering firms that manage fewer, larger projects.

Duties:  Maintain project management standards, processes, and data

Authority:  None

Project Support Office (PSO)

This type of project maintains an active role in the management of projects.  Items like the project schedule and budget are produced by the Project Support Office.  The project manager focuses on the technical aspects of the project, and leading the project team, while the PSO provides the project management processes and advice.  The project manager and PSO must be in constant communication to ensure a successful project, but it is the project manager who is responsible for project success.  The PSO is staffed with professional project managers who advise the project manager.

The PSO fulfills the Project Support function in the PRINCE2 methodology.

This type of project office is ideal for organizations that have lots of technical expertise but little project management expertise.  This would include the trades (plumbers, electricians, etc.), software development firms, or construction or engineering firms that manage many, small projects.

Duties:  Maintain project management processes, standards, and data.  Perform project management tasks.

Authority:  Limited to project management tasks

Project Management Office (PMO)

The PMO also maintains an active role in the management of projects, but the major difference is that it supplies project managers to the organization.  The PMO “loans” the project manager to a project, and they return after the project is complete.  It becomes a central place for the professional project managers to grow in their careers and expertise, and the project management processes and standards are maintained by the PMO.

The project management office provides training on an internal basis, to maintain the knowledge and competence of its “in-house” project management staff.  The direct promotion of project management practices and procedures to the organization, however, is not necessary since its own project managers are tasked with taking that knowledge and applying it to the projects they manage.

PMO’s are ideal for organizations where there is little project management expertise within the organization.  This could be manufacturing companies, government agencies, or retail businesses.

Duties:  Maintain project management processes, standards, and data.  Provide project management staff to individual projects.

Authority:  None.  The project manager manages individual projects and is responsible for the project’s success or failure, but PMO’s can inherit some responsibility for project success.

Accountable Project Office

Unlike the other models, the accountable project office differs in that the project office, rather than the project itself, is responsible for project success.  If the deadlines are missed, or budgets are exceeded, the project office is held responsible.  Thus, it directly manages individual projects, rather than exporting project management staff out to the projects.

Promotion of project management practices is not a major responsibility of the Accountable Project Office because the office itself is responsible for project success.  The project managers that work for the project office must ensure their training and development is sufficient to accomplish project success.

Accountable Project Offices are often used by resource companies or organizations that are operational in nature but have just a few, large projects.  Often, most of the work is completed by consultants and contractors.  The project office accepts and approves deliverables, and is tasked with the responsibility for project success while the rest of company maintains its focus on the operation of assets.

Duties:  Maintain project management processes, standards, and data.

Authority:  Full.  The project office is responsible for project success or failure.

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