A Practitioner’s Guide to the PMO



By Kenneth F. Smith

Honolulu, Hawaii


A Practitioner’s Guide to the PMO[1]


This is a discussion about Project Management Organizations (PMOs).   The author describes the characteristics of three basic types suited to serve different organizational forms and objectives.

 “For Forms of Organization, let fools contest;

That which Administers best, is best![2]

Unless you were blessed by (or cursed with) overly-protective parents who prevailed upon you to follow in your father’s footsteps; take over the family’s business enterprise; or persistently pushed you towards their vicarious vocation of what they considered a ‘good’ profession – i.e. doctor, lawyer, engineer, ‘tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,’ or whatever“What do you want to be when you grow up?” was a constant query asked of children through emerging adulthood; and sometimes, even beyond.  Indeed — dogged by uncertainty — many college-level students opt for a ‘general studies’ program, then flip from one major to another because they are still unsure what they want to be.  And when they finally graduate to the workaday world, some continue to chop and change – for better or worse!

Organizations are much like people.  Each one is unique.  As they age &/or develop, they continue to metamorphize!  In the world of Project, Program and Portfolio management, the “P[3] manager is the driving force, and the PMO is their designated domain.  However, what they can accomplish is constrained by where they ‘sit’ in a function-oriented Matrix.[4]  Indeed — despite whatever budget, staff, personality and collective skill-sets the PMO may possess[5] – the desired function of the PMO should predetermine its form, locus and hierarchical status in the organizational structure as the alter ego of the Manager-in-charge.

There are three (3) basic forms of PMOswith an almost infinite number of ‘mix & match’ variants – to suit an organization’s self-perceived needs and wants:

  1. Direct Management & Control (DM&C) of Programs, Projects &/or Operations in the Organization’s Portfolio
  2.  NEUTRAL Service CENTER Support (NSCS)
  3. Independent in-house Auditing (IIHA), or Evaluation (IIHE)[6]

THE Direct Management & Control (DM&C) PMO

This form of PMO is most suited for 1) an individual Project Manager; or 2) a Program Manager in a “Strong Matrixwhere the component Project Managers are assigned to, and under the direct management control of the Program Manager.[7]  The DM&C PMO is comprised of a support staff with a set of relevant skills to service any or all of the Manager’s needs to implement the project(s) and deliver the Outputs[8]i.e. WBS, Gantt/MS/CPM, project scheduling software and processing, MIS reporting; and EVA, S-curves and control charts to monitor and assess progress –- that the overall organization does not provide.  [Any residual functions not subsumed by lower levels – such as procurement, financial management, human resources, and legal support — would be retained by the Portfolio Manager, or ultimately the organization’s CEO at the top of this hierarchy.]


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How to cite this article: Smith, K. F. (2018). A Practitioner’s Guide to the PMO, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue XI – November. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/pmwj76-Nov2018-Smith-practitioners-guide-to-the-pmo-advisory.pdf


About the Author

Dr. Kenneth Smith

Honolulu, Hawaii



Dr. Kenneth F. Smith has been a project management consultant for ADB, the World Bank, and USAID for decades. He earned his DPA (Doctor of Public Administration) from the George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia and his MS from Massachusetts Institute of Technology/MIT (Systems Analysis Fellow, Center for Advanced Engineering Study). A long-time member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and IPMA-USA, Dr. Smith is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) and a member of the PMI®-Honolulu Chapter.

Dr. Ken Smith can be contacted at [email protected]


[1] Project Management Office (PMO): “An organizational structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools and techniques.” [Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®.]

[2] Freely adapted from Alexander Pope.

[3] NOTE: Many organizations use the terms ‘Project’ and ‘Program,’ &/or ‘Program’ and ‘Portfolio” interchangeably.  For clarification: Project: “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result;Program: “A group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually;” and Portfolio: Projects, programs, sub-portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.” [Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®.]  However — with no intent to compel others to conform to my usage — for the purposes of this article’s audience, whatever “P” fits your situation, apply it! 

[4] Matrix Organization:Any organizational structure in which the project manager shares responsibility with the functional managers for assigning priorities and for directing the work of persons assigned to the project.” [Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®.]

[5] As outlined and elucidated in my recently-published Project Management PRAXIS book (available from Amazon).

[6] But don’t locate both in the same PMO!

[7] As opposed to a ‘Weak’ or ‘Moderate’ Matrix, where the individual project managers are assigned to — and under the direct management control of — their Functional Department managers; and merely indirectly ‘coordinated’ with, or by, the Program Manager.

[8] In terms of the Portfolio, Program or Project “Logframe.”