Let us get one thing straight: there is no ONE universally applicable list of a PMO’s functions and responsibilities. The PMO functions and their prioritization always depend on the type of project the project management office (PMO) is expected to manage in a multi-project environment. At the same time they also depend on the individual objectives a PMO is meant to achieve.
This article provides an overview of many functions for which a project management office can be responsible.
What is more, the extensive PMO survey conducted by TPG The Project Group provided very interesting and data in this field. The results show how often PMOs are engaged in which area of responsibility and how well established these individual areas are. This provides you with a good comparison as well as ideas for functions you could consider next for your PMO.
- PMO areas of responsibility
- Results regarding PMO responsibilities from the TPG PMO Survey
- Area of responsibility 1: Standardization of methods, processes and tools
- Area of responsibility 2: Training / coaching
- Area of responsibility 3: Project implementation
- Area of responsibility 4: Multi-project management
- Area of responsibility 5: Resource management
- Area of responsibility 6: Strategic support
- What are PMO manager tasks and necessary skills?
Let us start.
PMO Areas of Responsibility
A PMO is a permanent organizational unit that is centrally responsible for all projects within a company or a department in the context of multi-project management.
In our opinion, the PMO is a service provider dedicated to giving its stakeholders the good feeling of being in full control of all projects. In most companies, the PMO also has functions appertaining to the control of activities and data. However, this should not bring forth a kind of project police only. Rather, the goal should be to create trust with a view to maximizing the success of the projects and the stakeholders’ satisfaction with the PMO.
Special Download: 10 Vital PMO Success Factors (PDF file)
Possible areas of responsibility of the PMO are as follows:
- Strategic support (sPMO): Aligning project work with the corporate strategy by classifying, selecting, and prioritizing (and, if necessary, terminating) projects.
- Managing a multi-project environment / Resource management: This is the PMO’s primary function, and it includes maintaining a good overview of all the projects and ensuring that all the necessary data is always up to date and plausible. In this context, decisions regarding the scope, budgets and resources are prepared and made in due consideration of interdependencies between projects.
- Project implementation / services: This involves providing operational support in projects by taking on the management of a project, executing defined subtasks or providing project assistants.
- Training and coaching: Project managers and participants in the processes are trained and supported in the field. Possibly, career paths for project managers are offered.
- Methods, processes and tools: Choosing and adapting the PM methodologies and processes to best suit the needs of everyone involved at the company. Selection, implementation and management of appropriate tools for the different roles in project and portfolio management.
Tip: The Project Management Institute PMI® also provides a list of many PMO activities and insightful information on the PMO benefits in this article.
Results regarding PMO Functions from the PMO Survey
The results of the study are based on 330 comprehensive datasets from companies with a PMO in the DACH countries (i.e. Germany, Austria and Switzerland), that were collected in mid-2020. What makes it particularly fascinating is its comparison of low, high and top performers: what do top performers do better and what should latecomers focus on in particular? You will find more detail on the subject of PMO functions and many other results from the survey as well as important PMO tips in the TPG PMO Survey.
More detail about TPG’s extensive PMO Survey here (+ free download).
The survey assessed the different areas of responsibility and asked how well each of them was established. In addition, the participants were asked to estimate the current and future distribution of time spent on the different sets of responsibilities. This enabled us to generate an overview of PMO functions and planned changes regarding them.
Special Download: How to setup a PMO in 4 simple steps (PDF file)
The questions asked in this context were as follows:
- “How is your PMO’s annual workload distributed among these duties?”
- “How should your PMO’s annual workload be distributed among these duties going forward?”
The result (see chart below):
A quarter of all participants’ PMOs concerns itself most with the two areas “methods, processes and tools” and “implementation of projects”. “Resource management” plays the smallest part.
However, more time budget is intended to be taken up by “strategic support”, “multi-project management”, “training” and “resource management” in the future. To accommodate this, PMOs mean to reduce the time spent on “standardization” and “implementation of projects”.
In the following chapters, the PMO areas of responsibility are split into individual PMO functions. In each chapter, you will find a chart from the PMO Survey breaking down the results into four categories:
- “Implemented, but improvements are planned”
- “Start in 12 months”
- “Not planned”
This enables you to identify which PMO functions the companies perform to what intensity and how well-established they are according to the survey.
Where would you place yourself in the different charts?
Area of Responsibility 1: Standardization of Methods, Processes and Tools
The standardization of the multi-project environment tends to be among the first responsibilities of any PMO. To obtain an overview of the project landscape, a centrally managed project list is an essential prerequisite. If you wish to create one, you will need methods such as the project order and the status report from which the essential information must be transferred to the list.
Our tip: To keep the data up to date, you need appropriate processes in place. Your project managers and other stakeholders have to be able to understand and apply these, which is why a project manual or a PM guide should be available to all involved.
Therefore, the functions in this area of responsibility are at a minimum:
- Selection and provision of methods
- Definition and specification of processes
- Creation of a PM guide
- Selection and operation of suitable PM tools
Interested in finding out more about the tools? Read our article on PMO Tools.
Area of Responsibility 2: Training / Coaching
Since the establishment of methods, processes and tools includes their application by the staff, the PMO also has to provide the respective training and active fostering. This concerns qualifying your project managers and other stakeholders and providing further training of, and assistance in, daily project work. In this area of responsibility, we subsume the following PMO functions:
- Coaching in daily project work
- Training for project managers and others
- Meetings for project managers to share knowledge
- Maintaining a knowledge base for the stakeholders
- Development of career paths for project managers
Area of Responsibility 3: Project Implementation
This concerns the operational support in projects headed by the organization and implementation of project-related meetings for moderation and coordination. Your PMO could also provide assistants and administer support for individual project management tasks. Another option would be to have a PMO member take on the role of project manager full-time. Full-time project managers tend to deliver better project results than individuals who are only occasionally appointed as project managers. Therefore, possible PMO functions in this area could be as follows:
- Moderation of meetings
- Provision of full-time project managers
- Temporary provision of assistance
- Provision of full-time project assistants
Area of Responsibility 4: Multi-Project Management
With the functions in the area of multi-project management, your PMO is meant to create a clear overview of all projects and ensure the currency of the necessary data. You must provide stakeholders with valuable information so that they can make sound decisions. For this, you need to prepare and conduct portfolio meetings properly.
Another interesting read: Why Have a PMO? Definition, Advantages and Added Value
The topic of multi-project management and the regular activities involved is certainly one of the key responsibilities of the PMO. They include:
- Ensuring data quality
- Preparing multi-project reports
- Identifying deviations and taking countermeasures
- Controlling the flow of information in case of escalation
- Exchange with finance / accounting
- Controlling cross-project dependencies
- Overview of cross-project objectives, resources and deadlines
- Preparing and conducting portfolio meetings
Area of Responsibility 5: Resource Management
Of late, PMOs have increasingly given priority to the topic of resource management. In volatile times like these, resource management has become a real challenge to be mastered at all levels. This topic concerns the support in strategic capacity planning, tactical resource planning between project and line managers as well as functional work planning.
As the PMO Survey has demonstrated, incorrect effort estimations are a frequent reason for unsuccessful projects. In this area, a PMO can contribute to the improvement of the results not only by selecting the right people for the projects but also by assisting with the effort estimation. There are many possibilities for your PMO to provide value in resource management. Such PMO functions include:
- Resource planning in projects
- Work planning and effort estimation
- Coordination of project manager / team leader
- Resource allocation and conflict resolution
- Maintenance and planning of skills
- Strategic capacity planning at portfolio level
Special Download: Capacity Planning – 4 Important Success Factors (PDF file)
Area of Responsibility 6: Strategic Support
Usually, PMOs only take on strategic support in the company once they have been around for several years. Our approach to this topic is different, however.
Our tip: Work on strategic topics as soon as possible. In our opinion, it makes more sense to improve the strategic decisions in the selection and prioritization of projects first, before you address the individual methods and processes in the ongoing projects. Pursuing the wrong projects properly is not a good option.
PMO functions in this strategic area can encompass:
- Support of top management
- Prioritization of projects and ideas
- Distribution of strategic information
- Strategic alignment of projects and ideas
- Cost-benefit analyses of projects and ideas
- Check for achieved strategic contribution
What Are PMO Manager Tasks and Necessary Skills?
Possible PMO manager tasks can be derived from the PMO functions described in the previous chapters and also depend on which of them can be mastered at the company concerned at this point in time. In addition, the tasks depend on the size of the PMO team. An important factor is also that the PMO manager does not usually have disciplinary authority and therefore needs support from the top (in certain cases there are very powerful department heads that are able to block things, also in relation to top management).
Important PMO manager tasks can be:
- Managing and optimizing the PMO
- Linking development / production and top management
- Supporting the project managers
- Building and expanding methodological competence and PM tools
- Reporting to top management
- Creating acceptance and transparency
- Ensuring data quality
- Finding appropriate tools
- Developing and structuring processes
- Preparing the steering board
- Ensuring the response rate (% of updated timesheets)
- Coaching project participants (encourage and challenge)
- Change management to establish tools and processes and their acceptance (impossible without backing from top management)
A PMO manager is sandwiched between the decision-maker level and the project manager level. The person needs to be able to handle this position and to hold their ground both upwards and downwards. In this context, the following PMO manager skills are required in particular:
- Solution orientation and pragmatism
- Strong organizational skills
- Exceptional skills in dealing with the stakeholders
- Good leadership skills and empathy
- Critical thinking and attention to detail
- Ability to work under pressure
- Excellent oral and written communication skills
- Maturity and experience in the project environment (for sufficient standing)
- Assertiveness and diplomacy
- Sufficient financial knowledge
- Commercial thinking
Conclusion – Typical PMO Functions and Areas of Responsibility
The functions of a PMO can differ widely depending on the requirements of the company and the length of the PMO’s existence. This article has introduced you to the key areas of responsibility of the PMO and possible related individual functions.
The extensive PMO Survey by TPG The Project Group has demonstrated that the most time is currently allocated to the PMO functions of standardization of methods, processes and tools as well as implementation of projects. According to the respondents, this focus is however supposed to shift in the future towards strategic functions and those in the areas of multi-project and resource management as well as training.
What is more, the PMO survey showed significant differences in the PMO functions between the performance levels of top, high and low performers. The differences were most pronounced with regard to the functions of supporting multi-project management and resource management as well as in individual areas of training and strategic support.
The lead of the top performers’ PMOs is most advanced when it comes to the following four PMO functions:
- Strategic capacity planning
- Managing the skills of staff members
- Provision of career paths for project managers
- Proof of strategic contribution of projects
Any questions? We are happy to answer them here. Where is the focus in the PMO functions of your company and how would you like to see it shift in the future? We look forward to receiving your comment below.
Johann Strasser, certified engineer, has been a managing partner at TPG The Project Group since 2001
After many years as a development engineer in the automotive and energy sectors, Johann Strasser spent a decade as an independent trainer and consultant in the field of project management. During his tenure, he also served as project manager for software projects in the construction industry and provided scheduling and cost management support for large-scale construction projects. At TPG, he applies his expertise in product development and consulting services for international clients. His special focus is on PMO, project portfolios, hybrid project management, and resource management. For many years now, he has shared his knowledge through presentations, seminars, articles, and webinars.
After earning his engineering degree in environmental technology, he gained many years of experience in project management through his work at an engineering office, an equipment manufacturer, and a multimedia agency. Achim Schmidt-Sibeth and his team have been responsible for marketing and communication at TPG The Project Group for many years now.