There are very few PMO standards out there. The most widely accepted global standard is P3O, but even that is still relatively new and with patchy coverage across industries, especially outside the UK. There used to be an IT PMO qualification (ISEB). Please note that ISEB courses and qualifications have been rebranded as professional certifications from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. The BCS qualification is more focused on the mechanics of supporting projects and programmes, and IT obviously. P3O, in contrast is pretty agnostic about industry or sector, and very aware of Portfolio Management and considers the possibility that the person using the standard may be setting up a PMO from scratch, or re-energising an existing PMO, or working in (or with) one. The greatest strength of P3O is that it provides a virtual spine running down the organisation, a useful way of structuring the governance that PMO must provide at every level.
Aside from real standards there are many guidelines, definitions and how-to manuals. The PMI (as part of the PMBOK) recognises the different levels of PMO and explains the role of an Enterprise PMO, which is akin to the corporate Portfolio Office in P3O. We have already covered in a previous post the APM definition which is fairly backward looking and strictly admin. The best of the rest of the guidance comes from providers of PMO tools (particularly enterprise PM tools) and providers of PMO services. Their offerings have been shaped by practitioners, and in responding to the market they cover a lot of ground; in fact, most of what they advise is very sensible and pragmatic. The only caveat is that you must keep in mind that they have a specific product to sell, be that a tool or a method or a consultancy approach. It may be exactly what your organisation needs, but it may not be. There is no substitute for understanding your own project environment, I'm afraid.
Right now standards will not help settle the uncertainty around a definition of a PMO and will not necessarily help you to run one. Comprehensive treatments of PMO (like P3O) are definitely worth knowing, in the same way that a PMO practitioner should be very familiar with the PMBOK.
More important than standards is to be in touch with other practitioners, to share questions and experiences, to find collaboratively what works and what doesn't. Bodies like PMI and the APM are good places to start, but possibly even better is LinkedIn, which has a large number of PMO Groups and some of them have lively and sensible discussions.
The achievement of the optimal PMO is still more of an art than a science, due to the differences in project environment that are particular to each organisation and its context and level of maturity. The optimal point is achieved when the PMO enables the governance of change that is appropriate to the organisation, and it delivers that with little friction through the existing project environment.
The next step for me is to summarise the understanding that arises from dealing with the questions posed by the concept of PMO that I outlined earlier. Then I'd like to examine elements of a useful framework for optimising PMOs in real settings. Some of these elements will be common to nearly all types of organisations, as long as they use project management disciplines to deliver Change. Other elements will be more specific to industries, or to size of organisation, or maturity level, or a wide variety of the criteria that contribute to make organisations quite different from each other.
And that's just the start: then we have to explore how changes external to the organisation cause changes to the project environment, which result in the PMO having to have a built-in ability to evolve. We all know what happens to things that don't evolve...