What is a PMO?


A PMO is a department or business unit within an organisation that enables decision making and provides delivery support for projects, programmes and portfolios. PMOs come in many shapes and sizes. 

It can support project managers in the delivery of projects (a Project Management Office) and programme managers delivering programmes (a Programme Management Office). It can also support the senior executives in managing an organisation’s entire portfolio of programmes and projects, too, by facilitating the decisions around which programmes and projects are intiated. This type of PMO is often referred to as a Portfolio Office or an Enterprise PMO.

The PMO is also the place where standards, processes, methods and tools for delivery are designed, created and maintained. This is often called a Centre of Excellence.

What’s fascinating about working in a PMO is the sheer breadth and depth of roles available for people looking to carve out a long-term career. Not only is the PMO a place for those new to project management to gain experience, it’s also a place, for example, for a Programme Manager to move on and lead an organisation’s entire portfolio of programmes and projects - and lots of roles in between.

With this diversity available there are plenty of skills, knowledge and experience to be developed – from reporting and data management to portfolio management; facilitation to leadership; from minute-taking to restructuring the enterprise framework for project delivery.

There are four recognised career levels for those working in a PMO. With level one, the entry level Project Administrator and Project Support Officer works closely with the Project Manager and team. Building up skills in planning, reporting and secretariat, these roles are well supported by the knowledge gained through the British Computer Society’s (BCS) PPSO Essentials certification. This level of PMO work is an ideal place to break into project management work.


Level two roles


In level two, roles, such as the PMO Analyst, they can be supporting projects, programmes or portfolios. With a deeper understanding of how PMOs can bring value to an organisation through different functions and services, such as governance, risk management, prioritisation - the PMO practitioner can draw on development from both AXELOS’ P30® and AIPMO’s certifications. The former focuses on PMO frameworks and the services offered; the latter focuses on a more practical approach to service selection, design and implementation.


Level three and four roles


With levels three and four comes the management and leadership roles of PMO. Heading up programme offices, developing portfolio offices or leading enterprise level PMOs needs an in-depth knowledge and experience of what makes a PMO successful.

The BCS certification PPSO Advanced Practitioner is aimed at those managing project, programme or portfolio offices, as is the AXELOS P3O® Practitioner.

For senior leaders in Enterprise PMOs, the AIPMO IPMO-Expert certification is the most advanced learning and development option available.

To forge a successful, long-term career in PMO – moving from a supporting to leading role – needs practitioners who are passionate about seeing project management thrive in organisations.


Lindsay is the Founder of PMO Flashmob (pictured here) and The PMO Conference


My top 5 insights and advice


Understand what the business needs from the PMO. Provide the functions and services that add the most value and give the biggest return on investment. 

Learn everything there is to know about project, programmes and portfolio management - then understand everything there is to know about PMOs. There is new research and insights emerging all the time; use it.

Don’t neglect your behavioural and interpersonal learning and development. Businesses need PMO leaders who can lead, communicate, negotiate and influence. Working with people across the business needs advanced business management skills.

Build a strong, well-skilled and passionate PMO team. Create principles and values, manage with a ‘servant leadership’ ethos ( the idea that you should be willing to support the greater good even if it means temporarily sacrificing yourself or your ideas. It embraces the concept that meeting the needs of others is what allows communities and businesses to reach their full potential) and create a committed, high-performing team.

Understand if you’re a builder or a grower. If you prefer to set up PMOs rather than the longer-term role of growing and maturing a PMO - find your niche and go with it.