PostHeaderIcon PMO Design Constraints

PMOs need enduring architecture too

The function and practices of a Project Management Office (PMO) lie on a continuum spanning a wide variety of designs. For example, a PMO can exist solely as a passive ‘library’ of some set of project information that it occasionally presents to management; a PMO might also be a highly active enforcer of project management methodology, play a lead role in facilitating planning of all significant projects and make recommendations to management on the optimization of resources across the project portfolio.

The success of any PMO is ultimately governed by how well it is designed and how well it fulfils its mission. The importance of the design part is often underestimated. There are plenty of failing PMOs around, staffed by well-intentioned people, but offering processes and resources poorly matched to the needs of the organization.

Four Major Constraints

Whatever the intent, the form of the PMO needs to be designed with careful consideration of four major constraints:

1—The Perceived Need

Minor issues or big problems? No PMO can succeed without the buy-in and support of the project community it serves. If that community believes project issues are mostly small, isolated occurrences and/or solvable without the overhead of a PMO, then a full analysis of the facts – hard data – will be required before the PMO mission and vision can be defined. If resistance persists, then the PMO will likely have to be designed to start small and earn its credibility progressively, in a step-by-step evolution.

2—The Project Environment

Small projects or large, complex projects? A few projects or hundreds? All local resources or often global? A cultivation or control culture? These are fundamental variables that should determine the shape the PMO. It’s surprising how often this is misunderstood. Deep knowledge of the environmental characteristics and behaviors is a vital design pre-requisite.

3—The Level of Maturity

Does the organization currently exhibit high or low levels of project management capability? Some form of maturity assessment can determine this – but choose the model carefully (see Project Management Maturity Models). An effective assessment helps define the type and form of PMO resources, products and services, and provides a key indicator of the PMO’s performance over time.

4—The Level of Executive Support

Strong, unified commitment or general disinterest? Funding and resources available or hard to get? The broader the PMO’s scope, the bigger the backing it will need. The better the design is aligned to the constraints above, the greater the chance of securing the top-down support it will need. The design itself must also appropriately address the interests of the senior stakeholders, such as the level and type of project portfolio information, and consistency of project planning and reporting.

Important Questions

PMO design needs to answer important questions, such as:

  • What are the responsibilities and reporting lines of the PMO?
  • What is the scope of PMO operations and authority?
  • How many PMO resources and with what skillsets are needed?

Getting the PMO design right should ensure that the answers are properly aligned to the project community’s needs, thereby building a sustainable and valued component of the organization.

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5 Responses to “PMO Design Constraints”

  • Daniel says:

    This is a good artical Howard, It all depends on the importance an organization attaches to it’s PMO. A PMO must have a clear scope of work and the reporting lines should be made clear to all team members.In situations where the PMO team is not clear about it’s scope of work, the team idles about and there’s duplication of work, waste of time and team gets paid for achieving nothing.

  • Thanks Daniel – indeed you’re right, scope of authority and associated responsibilities are crucial to get right. PMOs have the potential to dramatically accelerate project management capability – and equally, to perpetuate resistance and stagnation.

  • Tom Caruso says:

    Thank you for this information. Check out my related blog about Optimized Project Management Office Structure Parts 1 ( & II ( This information complements yours quite well.

  • Thankyou Tom, your articles nicely highlight how organizational design impacts choices of where to position PMOs and with what level of scope and authority. Central to this are decisions on trade-offs between business objectives, project efficiency and functional specialization, and, not least, the political interests of powerful stakeholders.

  • Thank you Howard for the brief and effective list, executive support is one of the biggest constraints you have mentioned, especially when it comes to funding which has become difficult in the recessionary times, it would also be difficult to anticipate the level of executive support during the PMO design phase..

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