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The PMO: A Quest for Understanding

This 2010 joint work by Brian Hobbs and Monique Aubry of the University of Quebec at Montreal is pure gold. Sponsored by the Project Management Institute, this publication represents years of painstaking research by Hobbs and Aubry into the dynamics of PMOs and how they change over time.

Hobbs, B., & Aubry, M. (2010). The Project Management Office: A Quest for Understanding. Newtown Square, PA Project Management Institute.

This study outlines a definition for PMOs, describing them in terms of their organizational context, their structural characteristics, their functions, and their performance. It also aggregates the various functions of a PMO from across industries and categorizes those functions into several groups:

  • Group 1: Monitoring and controlling project performance
  • Group 2: Development of project management competencies and methodologies
  • Group 3: Multi-project management
  • Group 4: Strategic management
  • Group 5: Organizational learning
  • Other/Miscellaneous

Most insightful, in my opinion, is how this study attempts to describe the way in which PMOs change over time.

“Data show that the drivers that lead to the transformation of PMOs are mostly internal. PMOs change and adapt to situations as part of the construction of a global response to organizational issues. The changes in the PMOs are embedded in the internal political system. From the variety of events and tensions that were identified, a typology was developed. is approach to the PMO examines why PMOs get transformed, and sometimes dismantled.”

In addition to the quantitative gathered, Hobbs and Aubry dove into the history of several PMOs and identified trends in PMO transformation. The key takeaway? PMOs change significantly every two to three years in response to the organizational context and dynamics surrounding them. Even PMOs with tenure of ten years or more underwent a major transformation every two to three years.

This is big news for any PMO leader. Information like this helps establish the expectation that the PMO will transform. So rather than fight it, look for the need for change. Get ahead of it. Align and realign your PMO with the needs of your organization before your organization knows what happened.