An Attribute of the Business
Many of the greatest champions of PMO and many PMO practitioners have trouble with this concept: PMO is an attribute of the organisation as a whole. Surely PMO as a discipline is just a subset of project management? Surely PMO is about supporting projects, just helping, accountable to the PM, keeping things tidy, admin roles? In fact, once the programme/project is done surely you can safely disband the PMO? Surely, if the PMs did their job better, or more comprehensibly you could do without the PMO?
I will cover in another post the parallels between the historical journey of PMs themselves from admin to a focus on unique skills, and the journey of PMOs from admin to a focus on their own unique capabilities. For now, what matters is to understand very clearly that the PMO in any organisation is a tool of the organisation, not a tool of a temporary arrangement like a project. This is because of the unique benefit that a well-run PMO brings to the organisation: the optimisation of the project environment at all levels.
I made this point a few years ago, in the June 2010 issue of Project magazine, the APM's house journal:
In companies that manage change through projects, the project environment consists of all the organisational elements that enable those companies to optimise and control their concurrent changes. The PMO is the visible, measurable and above all improvable manifestation of a company’s project environment. Sometimes that environment is so chaotic that few projects succeed, but between them they generate considerable costs. Such environments have no visible manifestations of control, process or maturity and all PMs have to be heroes. Sometimes the environment is more mature, and it includes a PMO. Sometimes it is very slick indeed, providing sustainability and competitive advantage to that company. An enduring PMO provides the means to improve the project environment in a way that is measurable during good and bad times. This returns value over and above the smoother delivery of change it facilitates: it also enables a company to establish a direct and measurable link between strategy setting and its execution.
My views on this matter have not needed to change in light of any new facts. It remains critical that the PMO sees itself and is seen as something the organisation as a whole does. Something that brings greater certainty to the management of change, and therefore more predictable benefits. Change is, by its very nature, a source of instability and potential damage as well as reward. The role of the PMO at the organisational level is to fine-tune the environment in which ALL projects run, not just to help one or two major projects with the details. What organisations need is a repeatable and measurable way of managing change, which is embodied in the portfolios of change 'bets' they have on the go at any one time. A worthwhile PMO, by increasing the level of control over the project environment, does help the PMs - it removes obstacles to delivery. Above all, however, it helps the organisation to have a better chance of executing its strategy and meeting its commitments to stakeholders.
The PMO is an attribute of the business in the sense that the PMO mission is a permanent and organisation-wide objective. The PMO can only be understood, managed and improved in the context of the whole organisation in which it operates.