Project Management Office – Structure, Roles, Functions, and More

19 min. read

There are several types of organizations and industries. However, they have a common aspect: project delivery. Organizations initiate, execute, control, and complete projects to make a profit, sustain their business and grow. There is a brain behind the project delivery mechanism of the organizations: Project Management Office. The Project Management Office, also known as PMO, of an organization, will have several project managers, project professionals, or project delivery related personnel to complete projects successfully in an organization.

About Project Management Office: 

  • There are different type of PMO structures (projectized vs functional)
  • PMO can have different roles such as Project Managers, Controllers, Assistants, etc.
  • PMO Managers, PMO Directors, or Project Management Officers lead the PMO
  • Project Management Office is the key accountable for the project delivery success in many organizations
  • The success of a PMO depends on competent project managers, competent project team, thorough project planning, risk anticipation, proactive project management, preventing and managing project cost overruns, and rewarding the project’s successful delivery

We will be going over different aspects of a Project Management Office in this post. If you wish to learn about the head of PMOs, read our Project Management Officer post.

Different Project Management Office Structures

A project management office acts as a backbone of successful project management. The office provides several services to the project as well as to the organization. Depending on the needs of the organization, the project management office may be structured in a Functional or Projectized manner.

The Functional PMOs are organized around different organization functions, such as Sales, IT, Engineer, Marketing, etc. In contrast to this, the Projectized PMO is organized around projects. Once the PMO has been structured as either Functional or Projectized, the organization then adapts to its dynamics. Each PMO structure also defines the roles, responsibilities, and work environment necessary for its day to day work.

We will be explaining both the PMO structures in detail below.

Functional Project Management Office

This is the most common PMO structure that is used by organizations. In Functional PMO, there are functional roles e.g. engineers, marketers, developers, each working in their respective department, e.g. Marketing, IT, etc. These roles are very much skilled in their work. Since the roles are grouped by their skill sets, they can focus their collective energies on specific tasks easily. That’s why the functional roles are expected to perform excellently and produce first-class results.

Each function has its own project manager to manage the functional resources that come under it. However, the project managers for each function are assigned by the PMO. The functional resources report to their respective line managers or functional managers.

Since the functions have their own managers and no one controls them centrally, there could be some challenges to face. For example, there would be a lack of inter-departmental communications. So, if multiple departments are working together on the same project, there could be different expectations from each functional department. This consequently would result in issues down the road. The advantage of this structure is the consistency of work, excellent cooperation between the employees, and high productivity.

Projectized Project Management Office

This type is more common in contractual works. The project management office constructs the project delivery team, and the project manager leads all the resources. The majority of the organization’s resources participate only in the project work and they report to the project manager. Therefore, the project managers have increased authority and have all the project resources available to them. With the increased authority, they also have more responsibility. For example, they would be responsible to the sponsor for issues that may arise from anywhere in the project.

Since the team members are hired for a specific project, they are usually co-located. Co-location could exist physically in one place or virtually. The resources are only utilized for the project work and usually, they won’t have non-project work assigned to them. When the project has been completed, the resources are released for new endeavors. In the Projectized PMO structure, there could be a few but small functional departments. And, they are in a supportive capacity only with no functional managers. If there are functional managers, they would have minimum authority.

The Projectized PMO structure offers maximum project management effectiveness. Since everyone in the organization is working on the same project, they have the same one focused goal. This helps in reducing conflicts between the team members and the decisions can also be made faster. Projectized environments are also adaptive. The team members learn from each other’s experiences and tailor their way of work for the betterment of the project. The disadvantage of Projectized PMO is often said to be stressful deadlines. Moreover, the cost of the resources is higher since these are hired for a temporary and shorter period of time. The employees are not focused on a specific skill set, rather they are involved in a variety of project activities.

How can you increase the Project Delivery Competence of an Organization?

Once an organization invests in improving the project delivery competency, they will see mid and long-term productive results. When making an investment for the project management processes, project managers, or any other aspect that will impact project delivery, executives must be ready to see results in six to sixteen months. Because the project management knowledge and competency do not improve over the night. It is an ongoing process.

PMO Executives can consider the following to improve the project delivery competence of their organization.

  • Facilitating servant leadership
  • Rewarding and recognition systems for success
  • Coaching and mentoring the project management talents
  • Organizing corporate training programs for the project and non-project people to increase project management awareness among the organization.

Based on the respondents’ answers who attended our corporate training programs, 68% of the group agree or strongly agree that the overall project management competence of the organization improved. Note that, this is a response we’ve recorded after one year since the program inception.

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Project Management Office Roles

A project management office is run with a variety of roles. Each role contributes differently to the mission of the project. If one role is missing, achieving the project objectives may become difficult. The team members in the project management office work together and help each other throughout the project.

Depending on the needs of the project, the PMO will acquire different roles to help them in the project activities. However, some of the most common roles that a PMO utilizes include project manager, project controller, and project assistant. In the sections below, we will be explaining these project management office roles in detail. Note that, the PMOs are managed by the roles like PMO director, PMO manager, and Project Management Officer.

Project Manager

A project manager has a major and lead role to play in the project management office. They have the overall responsibility for the successful completion of the project. They ensure success by applying their knowledge and skills in the project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, controlling, and closing. A project manager is a risk-taker. They are team players, they are the interface between the client and the project. They have to look after the product as well as the project. Being in the senior role, they have to make sure that all the tasks in the project complete seamlessly.

Project managers do not need to possess industry-specific skills to become a project manager. However, having some industry-specific is always an advantage. Often a senior team member, for instance, a senior engineer, with his good performance wins the chair of the PM. So, they would already have a good deal of industry-specific experience in hand. Project managers often do not know a specific methodology or standard to manage a project. However, with a project management certification, they can accomplish more.

A project manager needs to be an all-rounder to be able to deal with the many aspects of the project. From scope, schedule, to quality and procurement management to dealing with project stakeholders – they have to do all that. To be an all-rounder professional, a project manager must possess a variety of skills to successfully manage their projects. These skills include but not limited to the following:

A project manager’s must-have skills
  • Understanding of business cases.
  • Understanding of high-level organization strategy.
  • Knowledge and skills to meet specific circumstances.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Communication skills.
  • Project planning skills.
  • Project monitoring and controlling skills.
  • Negotiation skills.
  • Ability to monitor and control the project budget.

A good project manager must master these skills. And they should ensure that they update and expand their skills from time to time. They should also tailor their skills according to the needs of the project. With a variety of skills and knowledge that a project manager possesses, he or she must be willing to make hard decisions. They must also take ownership of the projects at hand. A project manager has to be a bright professional. They should be a charismatic and creative individual who inspires their teams and can do their tasks well and wisely.

Project Controller/Expediter

The project controller/expediter is a key member of the project team. They work directly with the project manager in the project management office, assisting them in defining project objectives and goals. Moreover, they create a project schedule, budget, and report the project progress against the project management plan. Being the controller of the project, they have to ensure that the project is going according to the plan. If they find something going off the track, they would report that to the project manager. In addition, a project controller also participates in controlling the change requests. They would make sure that only the changes that deliver good results are accepted. They will even recommend preventive and corrective actions where necessary. Project controllers coordinate the project plan with the stakeholders. And they also assist the project manager in refining the plan to meet the project goals.

Although the project controllers have the duty to participate in all-rounded tasks, they often specialize in their roles too. For example, they would train themselves or certify on project scheduling, costing, or procurement. To specialize in project scheduling, a project controller could do the PMI-Scheduling Professional (SP) certification. And, to implement a project schedule digitally, they would learn Microsoft Project. To deal with Agile projects, they would take training on Agile.

Distinguishing between a project coordinator and project expeditor, there aren’t many differences between these two roles. Both have mainly the same day to day activities, the difference comes in their level of authority. Project controllers are given limited authority by their project managers in making decisions. Project expeditors on the other hand have no authority to make decisions. In some cases, however, their managers may give them very little authority.

Assistants

Project assistants have the responsibility to help the project management office achieving the project objectives. Project assistants work with their project managers in their efforts to manage the projects. The typical responsibilities of a project assistant include helping to optimize the resources, monitoring the project budget, overseeing vendor performance. They also manage the project file system, help the management in creating project documentation, report project updates to management. Moreover, collaborating with the team members to maximize productivity is also their responsibility.

The project assistants participate in many routine administrative tasks and also facilitate project communications. Thus, contribution by project assistants supports the PMO in the smooth and effective management of the projects. The project assistants do not necessarily have to be specialized in one or two areas of project management. However, PMOs prefer to have assistants with fundamental project management knowledge.

In a PMO, depending on the size or complexity of the projects, there could be many assistants in the office. Project assistants are in great demand by the project management offices. In fact, due to their many facilitating activities, they are often considered as the right hand of the project manager.

What Makes a PMO Successful?

The success of a project management office is dependent on the performance of the team. But not just this, there are also various other factors that contribute to either success or failure of the PMO. It is obvious that the failure of a PMO is the failure of the organization. And, it is the failure of the project also. Therefore, the elements that make a PMO successful must be present in the PMO.

We have learned above about the two different types of PMO structures – Functional and Projectized. It does not matter which PMO structure exists in the organization, the PMO workers must be competent. Moreover, the PMO should be following proper project management practices. If this does not happen, there will be many challenges for the PMO to face. The performance of the project will also go downhill. Moreover, the morale of the resources will go down. The organization strategy will also suffer and the sponsor and the client will lose trust in you.

So, what do we need to make the project management office successful? Read on to find out.

Competent Project Managers

Who can we say is a competent project manager? Well, it’s a combination of experience, skills, attitude, and knowledge that makes the project manager competent. The competent project manager possesses advanced project management knowledge and preferably also must have achieved certification in project management. They should know the tools and the techniques necessary for the successful initiation, planning, execution, and controlling of the project. Also, they should have prior project management experience. So, if the project manager has all these, plus, they have the ability to constantly apply these to projects, they are a competent project manager.

An incompetent project manager would not possess these things. So, they would fail to take the project to successful completion. Such a project manager in a project management office would be a hindrance to the success of the office since the project manager is an important role. And that they have all-rounder responsibilities, they must be competent enough to serve in a PMO.

Competent Business People

A project manager or the project management office alone can never lead the project to success. It is always the entire team that makes a collective effort, which completes the project with success. Therefore, not just the key PMO roles, the project team members too must possess fundamental project management knowledge. They should also understand the vision of the organization and align their efforts to it. Moreover, the team members should be competent in technical aspects as well. For example, they should be able to know how much a delay in a task would impact the project’s progress. They should realize the cost of gold-plating or scope creep and ensure that this does not happen. In fact, every member of the project team should be competent in doing the specific task they have been given.

Based on the respondents’ answers attended our corporate training programsSchedule delays, and incompetent resources are the most common issues in project delivery organizations.

  • 47.2% of the respondents reported that their organizations’ projects suffer from schedule delays.
  • 24.5% of the respondents reported that incompetent resources are a project management issue in their organization.

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Often, projects have the most talented members of the PMO but even with vast prior project experience, the project fails. If you have competent team members but just the project scheduler is incompetent for example, what could be the result? Well, the schedule that they have prepared may ruin the project to failure. So, it is not one but all of the team members who are equally responsible for the project’s success. Similarly, if the team members are not competent, the PMO will face difficulties to be successful.

Thorough Project Planning

If the project resources are competent, the PMO is also competent. However, the PMO did not make enough effort in project planning, what would be the end result? The project may fail! You see, with thorough and progressive planning only one can achieve good results. Often, people underestimate the need for planning or they plan very little. This not only leads to project inefficiencies but even failure. Project planning should be thorough. It means that all the elements of the project including quality, schedule, procurement, scope, and others must be planned. Furthermore, planning should cover all the aspects of the project.

Hence, good project planning always supports the project. It also helps the project management office achieve the project and organizational objectives. With thorough project planning, you have clear objectives, and you can mitigate or avoid risks. Moreover, you have more optimized resource allocations, better communications, and better control of project constraints. Hence, thorough and progressive planning is very important as it sets the PMO up for success.

Anticipating Risks Before They Occur

Risks identification is something that organizations often neglect in their projects. Positive risks are good and we may not necessarily have to identify them thoroughly. However, the project management office must always thoroughly identify and manage negative risks.

It is the primary responsibility of the project management office to actively look for risks that might impact the project. Once identified, the PMO should make effort to analyze the risks. For example, they can determine the probability and impact of those risks and set out a risk response plan accordingly.

Anticipating as many project risks as possible early in the project will help the PMO to overcome them. They would be able to overcome the risk more easily and with lesser cost. Risks that are left to be identified at a later stage of the project may suddenly appear as a surprise. And then you may not even have enough time or resources to deal with them effectively.

Risks that a PMO manages well, results in cost-saving and lesser issues in the project. And when there are fewer issues in the project, the PMO can focus on the work that it is doing. Ultimately, there will be more chances for project success. So, the PMO should start looking at the risks from the very early stage of the project. Furthermore, this should be a continuous process to ensure that nothing significant is overlooked.

Proactive Project Management Instead of Reactive Project Management

It is true that the project management office must be working proactively as well as reactively. One cannot win the situation by just reacting to it and never preparing well for it beforehand. When you are proactive, you have more time to analyze the risks and brainstorm for the best response plan. You also have more access to the resources, which you can plan to use in response to the risks.

Not just the negative risks, staying proactive to seek positive risks is also beneficial. For example, you can look for situations when you can compress your schedule. After that, plan how to grab that opportunity to the project benefit. Or maybe you can look for the availability of better resources or a better supplier for your project.

Similarly, there could be many opportunities as well as threats that a project management office can proactively look for. Undoubtedly, having a system and processes in place to proactively manage risks is far better. It is far better than waiting for risks to occur and then react, without a plan.

Rewards and Recognition for Successful Project Delivery

Reward and recognition of the project resources is something that perhaps organizations neglect the most. It is in fact a key to employee engagement. Rewarding your team members with a bonus or gifts, for their good work may cost some dollars. However, remember that the one who you will reward will have high morale. Moreover, they would like to continue to do good work. Similarly, recognizing your team members for their efforts is the best way to ensure that they continue to be productive.

Therefore, it is important for the project management office to regularly recognize and reward its team members. This is necessary not just to give them another push for continuing good work. But it’s also necessary because it is important to thank and appreciate them for their efforts.

There could be various occasions when a PMO could recognize and award its team members. For example, the PMO could do it when the project is completed 25%, 50%. Or they may want to do it if the project progress is going better than the plan. This activity could even be done weekly or monthly to recognize and reward the best performing employees.

Remember, that the team members are project assets. The project management office is hollow from the inside without its team. So, it is ethically good and also beneficial for the project to recognize and award the team members. If the PMO regularly does this, it will actually help them in achieving the project objectives and be more successful.

Summary

We explained in this post what a project management office is. We also mentioned the two different PMO structures and the different roles that the PMO utilizes. And we also learned here about the factors that make a PMO successful.

A question may come to your mind, why we can’t do projects without a project management office? Well, do you know that the existence of project management offices is not new? In fact, PMOs have been in practice for so many years. Having a PMO has been proven to be vital to achieving project management oversight, control, and support. More importantly, it is necessary to have a PMO in organizations where they deliver value through projects.

Through common standards, practices, and tools that a PMO establishes, greater consistency and efficiency of work can be ensured. And with the central guidance, direction, and support, an organization can witness high productivity and incur lesser costs. There will also be less friction on the way to the successful completion of the projects.

Having a PMO is important. However, having a PMO that is successful in its endeavors is mandatory for the organization’s growth. If the PMO is not successful, the organization may face damages and may even lose its market share.

True that a PMO is not a magic wand that would fix all the problems and bring projects to success. However, with its policies, standards, ground rules, directions, guidance, and support, the performance of the project surely meets the expectations.

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