02 | 17

The Competing Values Framework and the PMO

Every so often, someone publishes that landmark study that continues to reach into the future and impact further research. That’s definitely the case with this article by Robert E. Quinn and John Rohrbaugh entitled A Spatial Model of Effectiveness Criteria: Towards a Competing Values Approach to Organizational Analysis, published in Management Science, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Mar., 1983), pp. 363-377. Even though this study is over thirty years old, it provides crucial context for later research into PMOs and their role within the dynamics of the organization. That’s why we think every project management leader should understand the principles behind the Competing Values Framework.

In a nutshell, Quinn and Rohrbaugh attempt to formulate a theory for understanding organizational effectiveness. They base their theory on 30 indices of oganizational effectiveness by J.P. Campbell (1977) and attempt to identify associations between these indices by plotting them on a two dimensional axis. The result is a spatial model with flexibility and control as polar opposites of one axis and internal focus and external focus as polar opposites of the other axis. Here is their original diagram:

Overlaying these two variables of flexibility/control and internal/external focus, Quinn and Rohrbaugh describe four quadrants:

  • The Open System model, with high flexibility and an external focus
  • The Rational Goal model, with high control and an external focus
  • The Internal Process model, with high control and an internal focus
  • The Human Relations model, with high flexibility and an internal focus

Each of these models has its own means and ends, as you can see in the diagram. We won’t go into those at length in this summary.

Why should you care about this? Because it serves as a framework for discussing the effectiveness of PMOs within their organizations in later research, which we will also reference in our library. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these concepts. They will help you understand your own organization better and help you start to formulate action plans to help your PMO work better within your organizational context.


CAMPBELLJ., P., “On the Nature of Organizational Effectiveness,” in P. S. Goodman and J. M. Pennings (eds.), New Perspectives on Organizational Effectiveness, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1977