What Is The Standard Function Of A PMO?

– By Rossana Palummieri, Project Manager at ACI Worldwide


Rossana Palummieri

Rossana Palummieri, PMP, CSM., is a project manager at a global company that focuses primarily on facilitating electronic payments.  She provides an expanded perspective on IT Project Management due to 20 in software engineering and seven years as a project manager for both internal and customer projects.  She understands the constraints and difficulties of projects from both the customer and vendor perspective.

What Is The Standard Function Of A PMO?

An “Organization” according to Merriam-Webster is “an administrative and functional structure” or the “process of organizing and being organized” (Merriam-Webster).  So to think of a “standards organization”, it implies the PMO is organized just for standards.   Is this possible?  Or course it is, but it would be missing out a lot as an effective PMO if that’s all it did – what about teaching what those standards are and introducing best practices (knowledge).   In fact, an insight into the 2015 State of the PMO by ESI indicated that no matter what type of PMO, there are services, including “Methodology, Processes, and Standards” that span across different types (Scott, 2015).  And while the Center of Excellence PMO would be more inclined to focus on these, one could very well find these services in an organization unit PMO or a project PMO (Scott, 2015).  Therefore, in my opinion, this week we are looking at the Standards function of a PMO rather than the PMO as being a Standards “organization”.  In many articles and various research papers (not going to name them all here as we’ve been through a myriad of them over the past few years), I have seen PMOs defined as the Project Management Institute does, and also as related to focus area: supportive, controlling, or directive (Reiling, 2014) .   To limit a PMO to just standards, knowledge, or consulting just feels as if we are missing a holistic view of an effective PMO.

So what is the “standards” function of a PMO?  In a nutshell, it is to provide a framework so that project performance, tools, and procedures are standardized (Nayab, 2010).  In the 2012 publication “executive guide to project management” by the Project Management Institute, Janice Weaver of Norton Healthcare describes how important it is to have “sound, proven project management skills and tools” in times of economic crisis.  In fact, the article goes to describe how standardized templates and processes help companies to cut costs and reduce risks by implementing documented and repeatable processes (Project Management Institute, 2012).  When procedures have been proven and are repeatable, companies [and project managers] can focus on value action items such as innovation and quality (Project Management Institute, 2012),  rather than trying to determine what works or doesn’t or, as I have seen in personal experience, ‘reinventing the wheel’ with every new project.


Standardizing processes into repeatable practices is not the only advantage of the standards function of a PMO.   There are other standards that a mature PMO and organization benefit from.  For example, standardized metrics allow a company to become more proactive since they help to determine direction early in a project or a program and allow for corrective action (Project Management Institute, 2012).

If we were to consider project management in terms of capability maturity models, several project management maturity models have been developed that mimic the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) model with different levels of maturity.   A popular model, PM Solutions’ Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM) uses the PMBOK’s ten knowledge areas as part of the framework for maturity.   With 5 levels in the model, level 3 very specifically outlines maturity as “organizational standards and institutionalized process” (Crawford, 2015).  To reach this maturity level and achieving this level of standardization, a PMO is critical in developing and promoting the project management standards and methodologies (Crawford, 2015).  A 2010 survey on the State of the PMO by PM Solutions indicated that of the companies surveyed, 31% of companies with a PMO achieved the level 3 maturity, whereas only 13% of companies reached this level (PMSolutions, 2010).

With the above literature support, I will add a personal insight into this topic.   Our company has two business  processes PMOs (yes, I know – this somewhat disagrees with my original statement about a “standards organization”, but in my defense, these PMOs not only define the standards, but also audit them, and provide training materials and tools support for project management effectiveness).  In any case, one of these groups is for Product Development and the other for our Services (i.e. Customer) areas.  What is interesting is that I’ve had to transition from the more mature Product Development area of the company to the less standardized Services area.  And, as a project manager, I can truly see the benefits of those standards I used to complain about.   For example, having project websites that keep particular project artifacts – a pain in the neck to be sure to maintain and be audited on – but how helpful when you are the project manager taking over an existing project and need to understand the history of it.  How amazing when we can go back and look at previous similar projects and know that our estimates and plans are consistent with what previously worked and, thereby, reduce the risk to our projects due to the “unknown”.  In this newer less mature group, we don’t have all the standards at our finger tips – they are just developing.  I have seen project after project, over this past year, with the same area of focus (related to a current mandatory business direction) reinvent the wheel.  If I ask whether there is a template I can follow, I am provided with 5 totally different approaches – each with benefits and pitfalls.   So the amount of inefficiency is astounding.   And, so is the amount of risk to the customers I’m trying to service since I am now “reinventing the wheel” yet again.   While I may not agree that a PMO is specifically a “standards organization”, I whole heartedly agree that “standards” are a key and important function of an effective PMO and with promoted standards a company’s projects become more efficient and less risky.


Crawford, K. (2015, March). What is Project Maturity Model? Retrieved from IT Performance Improvement: http://www.ittoday.info/ITPerformanceImprovement/Articles/2015-03Crawford.html

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Organization. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/organization

Nayab, N. (2010, April 28). The Scope of PMO. Retrieved from Bright Hub Project Management: http://www.brighthubpm.com/certification/69777-understanding-pmo-roles-and-responsibilities/

PM Solutions . (2010). The State of the PMO 2010. Retrieved from PM Solutions: http://www.pmsolutions.com/collateral/research/State%20of%20the%20PMO%202010%20Research%20Report.pdf

Project Management Institute. (2012). executive guide to project management. Retrieved from PMI: http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/publications/pmi-executive-guide.pdf

Project Management Institute. (2013, November). PMO Frameworks. Retrieved from PMI: http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pmo-frameworks.pdf

Reiling, J. (2014, July 5). The 3 Different Types of Project Management Offices. Retrieved from projectsmart: http://www.projectsmart.com/articles/3-different-types-of-project-management-offices.php

Scott, L. (2015, June 25). The Most Important Services a PMO Provides. Retrieved from ESI International: http://www.esi-intl.co.uk/blogs/pmoperspectives/index.php/the-most-important-services-a-pmo-provides/

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