Wednesday 16 February 2022

A project office is...

Recently, I received so many letters with the request "tell us about the project office" that I had to spend a day off and still write an article about the project office.

I do not pretend to be the ultimate truth, my experience is only practical. For the second year I have been managing the project office, which is responsible for the implementation of projects, participated in its implementation "from scratch". I am familiar with the rest of the species in theory and from the stories of friends who also manage project offices in other companies and solve problems different from mine. Let's go!

What is a project office?

To understand what a project office is, you need to start with definitions, no matter how boring it is. All definitions are from memory, so if anything - do not hit hard and correct in the comments.

A project is a joint work of a group of people that has clearly defined limitations (at least in time), as a result of which a unique and previously non-existent result is created.

A project program is a group of projects and operational tasks related to each other on some basis, the joint management of which is more profitable for the organization than the management separately. The characteristic by which the projects in the program are related may differ – the overall budget, the overall management of risks or resources, the common customer, and in general anything and that makes sense.

A project portfolio is a group of project programs, individual projects, and related operational work prioritized and executed to achieve the strategic goals of an organization.

And what is a project office and how does it relate to the concepts above?

PMBoK gives the following definition: a project office is a unit that centralizes and structures project management in an organization. The key here is "subdivision".

It is important to understand that the project, and the project program and the portfolio of projects may well exist without a project office. There can be several portfolios in an organization, and the project office, as a rule, is still one, since, again referring to the definition above, it "centralizes and structures".

Very often at the conference you can hear "I manage the project office", and then it turns out from the speech that a person has closed on himself the tasks of managing resources or allocating the budget, and hangs somewhere in the matrix structure. This is anyone – a resource manager, a portfolio manager, but not the head of the project office. So far, there is no dedicated structure with specific tasks – there is no project office either. If you have one administrator with excel, in which he keeps a list of projects - this is also not a project office, this is an administrator with excel.

Goals of the project office, or why you need a project office at all

To paraphrase all of the above, the purpose of a project office is to establish and maintain order in the management of projects in the organization to the extent that the organization needs it.

It is not a fact that with the advent of the project office with projects everything will be fine, but in the case of a large number of projects, project programs and portfolios - without it it will definitely be, if not bad, then certainly "messy" (I can not find another word).

Types of project offices

The following types of project offices:

Supportive PMO – provides methodology, templates, maintains a database of lessons learned, supports the CSMS (corporate project management system), if any. He does not control the course of projects, at most he collects statistics on their course and on the application of the same methods and templates, and complains where necessary. It does not directly affect the projects and therefore, in most cases, it is meaningless and not respected by anyone. The reverse situation is possible only with the very strong support of top management, but I have not seen a successful supporting project office in any company when I was in consulting.

Controlling PMO – acts not only as a methodologist, but also as a center of expertise and control: participates in decision-making on the continuation of the project, teaches RMov, helps in some difficult situations, ensures compliance with accepted project practices and hurts for non-compliance, sometimes even provides integrated work planning and resource management. This is a more lively option, everyone is moderately afraid and respectful of it.

Project Office Manager (Directive PMO) – directly manages projects: distributes projects and other resources, determines priorities, is responsible for the progress and results of projects, reports to management. Sometimes it is even responsible for the compliance of projects and the strategy of the organization (Strategic PMO), although this is actually already about project portfolio management (in English there is the term Project Portfolio Management Office, PPMO). That's what I'm in charge of.
This classification is very conditional, PMBoK offers it as a basic one. It is not the ultimate truth, you can come up with your own, if the company is so convenient. While writing this article - I googled, there were several examples of another classification on the network, but, if you think about it, they are all about the same thing.

Depending on the type, the degree of authority and responsibility of the project office throughout the organization is determined.

Functions of the project office

The activities of the project office and the tasks that it performs depend on the type of project office, so the standard list, unfortunately, does not exist.

For example, the functions of a project office may include:

  • Resource management and allocation;
  • Manage dependencies between different projects, programs and portfolios;
  • Training and certification of RMs and other project participants in project management practices;
  • Implementation, adaptation and administration of the information system for project management, user training;
  • Control over the correct application of the adopted project methodology;
  • Consolidation of information about current projects for top management;
  • Expert support of the Republic of Moldova;
  • Prioritization of projects;
  • Participation in management committees or change management committees;
  • Maintaining a database of lessons learned, assisting in risk management, i.e. managing the organization's knowledge in the field of project management;
  • Development of project documentation templates;
  • Audit of ongoing projects;
  • Development of methodology, study of new and best practices;
  • And so on.

Project Office and Project Portfolio – What's the Difference

The concept of "project office" is often confused with other things related to project management - project programs, information systems, CSMS, etc. Most often, the concept of a project office and a project portfolio is mixed "in the heads", and an equal sign is placed between these concepts.

In fact, as mentioned, the project portfolio is allocated in order to provide support for the strategic goals of the organization (and everything inside it works towards this goal), and the project office – to provide "order and accounting", the strategic goals of it may not worry much.

For example, the functions of the project office may not include the investment component or the evaluation of projects for inclusion in the portfolio (or may be included). Or, for example, a project office can be both fully portfolio (or portfolios) and be responsible for them, or simply provide templates of charters to their owners, and there they are already somehow themselves.

The most cheerful and the saddest thing at the same time is that for Russia the very concept of portfolio management is so alien that even in the circle of people who are engaged in this professionally, there is no common understanding of what it is and why it is needed. Even there, the concepts of "project portfolio" and "project office" are mixed, not to mention just articles on the Internet. Although the very words "project office" sound very often and almost everywhere.

So in December 2016, at the project management conference, I went to a master class on project portfolio management, which was conducted by two well-known experts.

As a result, I sat for an hour and a half, trying to hide my bewilderment in half with hysterics: dear comrades clung at the very beginning on the question of what it is – a portfolio of projects, and all for an hour and a half tried to agree. Their versions were very radically different. The master class did not advance further, as a result, everyone dispersed, mutually dissatisfied with each other.

Or here's another example - in google, in the process of writing this article, I found an excellent training program for the course Project Office Manager / Project Portfolio Manager. And everything would be fine, both competencies go hand in hand and most often exist together, but the person who compiled this description is clearly very far from the topic.

And then we wonder why there is such chaos in Russia at the level of the most basic knowledge in project management, honestly.

Project office  – what is the difference

In the most neglected cases, the project office is confused with the CSMS (Corporate Project Management System). A couple of times I heard a statement like "in our CSMS we do this" or "I manage the CSM", which meant the management of the project office, which means that the speaker has a very poor understanding of what he, in fact, manages.

KSUP is a methodology of project work at the level of the entire company. It is within the framework of the CSMS that it is determined how we decide that this is a portfolio of projects, that we really need this project, and that we will have a supporting type of project office. As part of the implementation of the CSMS, as a rule, a project office is organized (if it did not exist before) and a project management information system is implemented. That is, the project office is part of the KSUP, but not the KSUP itself and may well exist without it. Moreover, even a CSM technically may well exist without a project office. That is, as in the case of a portfolio of projects - these concepts are very close and go hand in hand, but certainly not identical.

Off-topic, but I can't resist: personally, I do not believe in the implementation of the KSUP "from scratch" by the forces of talented consultants. I am in favor of consistency in everything - first the organization of the project office, then - the selection and testing of suitable practices, and after all this - the introduction and adaptation of the information system and the release of official documents.

Implementation of the project office

About the creation of a project office on the site there is a large course with answers to all questions, from a step-by-step implementation algorithm to the choice of an information system and the career growth of the head of the project office.

Buy a course for 5990 Dollar

More about the course

By the way, at least for the start you need the following things:

The role of the project office is clearly defined. In the process, it can change and evolve to meet the needs of the organization, but at any given time there should be specifics, and not "Sasha is in our project office, let him do it."

Top management should understand why a company needs a project office, and support it. Otherwise, everything will end with the very release of a ton of waste paper, and everyone will work in the old way. Here in the comment from the reader there is a good example of such an introduction "just because it is necessary".

The work of the project office is based on standard approaches and techniques of project management, the project office promotes and adapts them, and does not reinvent the wheel. Being the smartest is good, but experience and practice suggest that most of the smart things have already been invented for us.

From practice - at my current place of work, we did projects from the very beginning, even before the appearance of the project office. Then we realized that if you combine them into separate programs, life will become easier and more comfortable. A portfolio emerged from the programs, which included ongoing and planned projects, applications for new projects and maintenance of already developed systems.

To manage all this goodness under the leadership of one person, at some point a project office was allocated as a structure in the organization. And now it is even difficult for me to remember what happened before – a chicken or an egg – and what we had first – a conscious understanding that this is a portfolio of projects, and to manage it we need a project office, or a project office, whose task was to understand the chaos, to bring some order to the processes.

And now I understand that if this had been determined from the very beginning, everything would have been faster and easier, and I would still not understand the consequences of some ill-considered decisions. Which does not negate the fact that the very fact of the introduction of the project office I am very proud and consider one of the achievements in my career of the Republic of Moldova. Only the one who does nothing is not mistaken.


A project office is a necessary and useful unit that centralizes project management and brings it to certain standards. How much the PMO is directly involved in project management depends on the needs of the organization, and may change in the process.

The very concept of "project office" is adapted to the organization, and in life it can be both a group of methodological and a group of IT specialists under the management of the head of the IT project portfolio. The main thing is to understand what and for what purpose you manage. There is no gold standard, there is a reasonable application and adaptation of best practices for yourself.

Experienced project office managers, can you add anything?

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