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Available online at International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656

Available online at

Available online at International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656

International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656

Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656 Towards a conceptualisation

Towards a conceptualisation of PMOs as agents and subjects of change and renewal

Sergio Pellegrinelli a, * , Luciano Garagna b

a SP Associates, 20 Templars Crescent, London N3 3QS, UK b Into Consulting, Verona, Italy

Received 22 July 2008; received in revised form 23 October 2008; accepted 8 December 2008


Many writers on Project and Programme Management Offices (PMOs), whose remit covers a range of projects and programmes undertaken, suggest that they are valued by, and are enduring features of organisations. However, these descriptions neither resonate well with the experiences of practising managers nor with the limited empirical research available [1] . This paper proposes a re-concep- tualisation of a PMO as an organisational construct, created in response to a perceived need, and as that need is progressively addressed, the relevance and value of the PMO decreases – the dissemination of tools, expertise and insights ultimately leads to its existence being questioned. PMOs evolve or risk being disbanded. Leaders of PMOs can generate new value by redefining the purpose and activities of the PMO. 2008 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Project and programme management offices (PMOs); Organisational construct; Project/programme management maturity; Agent of change and renewal

1. Introduction: a forum to understand PMOs

In October 2007, a forum was convened at which seven senior managers from large organisations participated. It had taken over a year to come to fruition, but the breadth and depth of experience of the participants boded well. The forum was hosted by Tetra Pak ( ). The other organisations represented were: GlaxoSmithKlein (R&D) (pharmaceuticals: ), ARM (processor technology and IP: ), two major European financial services groups, a networked IT services provider, and a semi-conductors business. The latter four organisa- tions asked to remain anonymous, and the networked IT services provider is referred to as Netprogram in this paper. In addition, the authors participated, one as the forum

* Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: (S. Pellegrinelli), (L. Garagna).

0263-7863/$34.00 2008 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.


facilitator, the other contributing to the discussions by syn- thesising the concepts and research in the project manage- ment literature as well drawing upon personal experiences. The aim of the forum was to share experiences and insights, and to reflect on implications for practice. In essence, the forum was a form of participatory inquiry [2] , guided by the authors, with the purpose of co-produc- ing management knowledge [3] distilled from and grounded in collective experience. The participating managers either had responsibilities related to their organisation’s PMO, or were trying to understand whether their organisations should create or re-create a PMO. All had considerable experience in the field of project and programme manage- ment. For most, the conventional wisdom and pre-pack- aged solution offered by some consultancies were unappealing. Some had already questioned the implied per- manence of PMOs in some texts. Others had raised ques- tions about the future of their own PMOs. All had insights to contribute and pressing managerial challenges to address with any new knowledge produced.


S. Pellegrinelli, L. Garagna / International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656

A further person was present, but did not actively partic- ipate in the forum discussions. His role was to take notes and photographs which were used to create a photo-reportage journal for the participants. The plenary presentations and discussions were recorded and transcribed (group work dis- cussions were omitted), and were subsequently re-analysed in the development of this paper. Extracts from these tran- scripts appear in this paper as italicised quotes to give voice to the experiences and insights of those present at the forum. The participants responded to a brief presentation of the literature and research on PMOs, as summarised below, by sharing their personal experiences and views. Individuals’ comments combined into a richer collective narrative, through an iterative process of reflection, direction and syn- thesis. The intent was to generate some meaning and develop some practical constructs beyond individual accounts or explanations. The authors, throughout the unfolding of the forum and in subsequent analyses of the individual accounts and collective narrative, adopted an abductive research strategy [4] to generate conceptions (the- ory). Our facilitation valued everyone’s experience while promoting a process akin to disciplined imagination [5] to enable us to transcend specific instances and begin the jour- ney to a more generalisable view of PMOs. Our facilitation was also informed by the works of Fritz [6] and Bohm [7] . The shared view that emerged quickly was that PMOs are organisational constructs, intimately embedded within their organisations. They, as senior managers within their organisations, shaped (or had disbanded) their PMOs in collaboration with others as part of ongoing organisational adjustments and re-structuring. Rational technical consid- erations informed the choices and outcomes, but were nei- ther the only nor the dominant considerations. Rather the decision to establish a PMO, and in what form, or to dis- band it reflected the outcome of organisational commit- ments, agenda and tensions [8] . This paper thus reflects a social constructionist ontology and interpretive epistemology [5,9] and its contribution is in organisation theory building [10] as well as project man- agement practices and organisational project management [11] . The resulting synthesis and conceptualisation of PMOs has been reviewed by the forum participants, and their comments have been incorporated. The next sections of this paper provide a brief summary of the literature on PMOs followed by a synthesis of the unfolding narrative from the forum, drawing on and quot- ing extensively the experiences of the participants, and the debates and views within their organisations. A re-concep- tualisation of PMO is proposed and then discussed.

2. PMOs: normative descriptions and empirical research

PMOs, in the guise of departments consisting of sched- ulers (planners), cost engineers and estimators providing central services to projects, have existed for many decades in certain sectors, such as engineering, construction, and oil and gas. Along with the increasing use of project manage-

ment in other sectors, PMOs started to become more wide- spread in the mid 1990s and their numbers have grown significantly since. Their proponents have typically been practitioners and consultants. The prevailing argument has been that projects are non-routine, transitory and insu- lar by nature, yet have become the principal method for effecting change in large organizations. The need for and value offered by some form of coordination, presumed most effectively provided by a dedicated, enduring organisational entity , has been taken for granted by many advocates of PMOs. PMOs create value by facilitating control: e.g. supervising funding submission; ensuring mandated pro- cesses are followed; collating, summarising and reporting on the progress and status of projects and programmes, and by extracting synergies: e.g. leveraging economies of scale and scope (e.g. deployment of specialist skills, shared tools); transferring knowledge; facilitating re-use (e.g. tem- plates, software modules, development protocols). The Project Management Institute (PMI) [12] defines a PMO as:

‘‘An organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordi- nated management of those projects under its domain. The responsibilities of the PMO can range from provid- ing project management support functions to actually being responsible for the direct management of a pro- ject. PMBOK Guide, PMI, 2004, page 369

According to Marsh [13] , PMOs typically perform a number of functions: project definition and planning; cost/benefit analysis of projects; risk management; moni- toring and control; supply of experience and knowledge; support in undertaking PM processes and procedures; knowledge capture and dissemination; provision of special- ist skills; maintenance of projects tools; standards and pro- cesses. For most commentators, a PMO is an organisational entity comprising a group of people and resources, though Marsh does acknowledge that the func- tions of a PMO may be performed virtually. Various prac- titioners and consultants [14,15] have offered PMO categorisations, mainly based on their experiences, as sum- marised in Table 1 . While these categorisations and the roles attributed to PMOs have rational underpinning and prima facie validity, actual PMOs exhibit considerable more variety in terms of their roles and primary functions. Also, multi-project PMOs, whose remit covers a range of projects and pro- grammes undertaken by an organisation, appear to be tran- sitory rather than permanent organisational entities. The research by Hobbs and Aubry [1] suggests that the popula- tion of (multi-project) PMOs shows considerable variation of not just a few, but many characteristics, thus creating myriad possible forms that PMOs can and do take on:

‘‘Organizations establish a great variety of different PMOs to deal with their reality include some or all of their project managers or place them elsewhere in

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Table 1 Categorisation of PMOs




Multi-Project Entities



Project Office

Project Support

Project Management Centre of Excellence

Programme (Portfolio)


Management Office

Principal Focus

Co-ordination and support of project (programme)

Operational ! Strategic

Process driven ! Business-driven

Narrow scope ! Enterprise-wide

of Activities

Supportive ! Standards ! Direction

their structure


may cover all the organiza-

agement processes. Relevant questions when examining a PMO, or exploring its formation appear to be: what is the nature of the business? What is the role of projects and programmes in the realisation of its business goals? How mature are the organisation’s people and processes? What is the organisation trying to achieve in establishing or dissolving a PMO? There is unlikely to be easily (unthinking) transferable ‘best practice’, and benchmark- ing comparisons need to take into consideration the partic- ular purposes and contexts of the PMOs. The ARM experience reflects the view that PMOs are created for a specific purpose and then disbanded, poten- tially being re-established to address a new requirement or make a step-change in the maturity of project or pro- gramme management within the organisation:

‘‘We put a PMO in for one reason – nobody understood in the company what project management was. So, we estab- lished a PMO and put in project management processes. Once they were established and everybody had gone through that change, the question arose: What does the PMO do? Part of the organisational development was that projects aren’t unique entities – they are part of the oper- ations of the whole business. So, where we didn’t have pro- ject management, we needed to get everybody along into the concept project management. But, the problem with centralising it was that we then had to make it standard operating practice to use projects. That’s why we got rid of the PMO, because we wanted to force it into the oper- ational business. We perform all the functions that are typically associated with a PMO, but we do it as part of our standard project management. Our project managers do that as part of their job. It’s part of the process. It’s part of the procedures. We’ve got a lot of infrastructure in place, we’ve got a lot of tools in place, we’ve got a lot of processes in place. But, what we’ve done is as much as possible is to push it down, to make it the operational practice of the business so that everybody naturally works in project management mode.

tion’s projects or only a select few

number of possible

roles or functions

support role with little or no


considerable decision-making power.

Hobbs & Aubry, 2007, page 85

Hobbs and Aubry also found that PMOs are relatively young, with over half (53%) being less than 2 years old, findings that they state are consistent with earlier research. PMOs emerge and are shut down, and then potentially re- emerge. The relevance, or even the existence, of PMOs was seriously questioned (in the previous 12 months) in 42% of the organisations in Hobbs’ and Aubry’s survey. As Hobbs and Aubry point out: ‘‘practitioners and organizations would be well advised not to implement a PMO under the naı¨ve assumptions of value for money or because PMOs are popular (page 85). PMOs have to show, on a continual basis, that they are making a substantial contri- bution to organisational performance at a reasonable cost. The principal themes from the Hobbs and Aubry research are that PMOs: (1) are diverse; (2) are expected to justify their value added; (3) are formed, disbanded and then potentially re-formed; and (4) should be expected to go through change. As Hobbs and Aubry acknowledge, our knowledge of PMOs is sketchy. The normative presumptions of longevity and obvious value creation, and the descriptions of PMO generic types appear at odds with actual practice, thus offering neither sound theory nor pragmatic guidance to managers investigating the merits of (re)establishing a PMO or leaders of PMOs wanting to add sustainable value to their organisations.

3. Our narrative

The forum participants were not surprised by the diver- sity of PMO forms, nor their emergence and disappearance from the organisational landscape.

3.1. PMO purpose and tensions

PMOs are organisations’ responses to their needs and environments – unique structural arrangements designed to fulfil a specific purpose. As such, PMOs are unlikely to fall neatly into generic types and would tend to have less in common across organisations than might project man-

Now we’re faced with massive programmes and nobody knows really what programme management is about. We’re starting to ask: How are we going to educate the whole company in programme management? We need to take it to another level of maturity within the operation of the business. I’ve got to move these guys a step forward.


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That’s why we’re starting to think - actually now it makes sense to create a PMO. We encourage our project manag- ers to think global, act local. So, we’re trying to get all of them to think about the implications of their project at the divisional level but within their project to act within that entity. We’re struggling at the moment with the idea of reinstating a PMO just to do what we’ve come to do rou- tinely, but we’re struggling to take the operation to the next level of maturity.

The rapid birth and death of PMOs – with an average life span of 3–4 years – and the need to justify themselves [1] was deemed to reflect inherent tensions within the orga- nisation. PMOs are the fulcrum between forces for central- isation – the tendency for decision and policy making, executive powers and resources allocation to reside in a dedicated (line of) business unit or corporate function – and decentralisation – the tendency for decision and policy making, executive powers and resources allocation to be devolved throughout the organisation to individuals or operating unit. The PMO can be the battle ground between empowerments and control, between people and processes, and between political factions. As new forms of organising gain the ascendancy or the balance of power shifts, which seems to happen periodically in most organisations, the PMO falls under the spotlight. Creating a PMO takes away a degree of autonomy from project managers and some power from the sponsors and line managers, by bringing some decisions to a centre. That stirs up political debates. The experience of some forum participants was that project managers are individuals who typically value autonomy and dislike standardisation, and might well be expected to resist the discipline and ‘interference’ imposed by a PMO. Unless the PMO adds considerable value it may find itself under pressure from its own community, especially if the PMO is seen as an ‘ivory tower’, deciding upon things that it knows little about or coming up with solutions and standards that ‘can- not’ be used by project managers. PMOs can easily trans- gress into doing work that is considered by others, including project managers, as their role and so provoke protectionist reactions and calls for their dissolution. If the costs associated with central control, which may include the loss of autonomy, creativity, entrepreneurship and ownership, are too much to bear, then the PMO is likely to be disbanded. The disbanding of the PMO may, though, present the organisation with a challenge, one being grappled by Tetra Pak which is contemplating the future of its PMO:

When we reach a state of really mature project managers and get the community, then they can self-manage. But how do we manage the continuous improvement? How will we ensure that we keep on fostering professionalism? Peo- ple will be leaving and new people will be joining: Who will ensure that project management will still be at the state of the art? These are questions we haven’t answered yet.

3.2. Virtual PMOs

As a physical reality, the PMO is a point of contact, whether it is high profile or low profile, and a repository for processes, tools and expertise. It is a powerful manifes- tation of the importance attached to (aspects of) project and programme management. Nonetheless, a virtual PMO [13] , namely the discharge of the functions associated with a PMO in the absence of an organisational entity, is a viable option. ARM has created coordinating mechanisms to take on some of the roles previously undertaken by the PMO:

In terms of creating a virtual PMO, we’ve used the con- cept of Steering Groups to re-create the functions of the PMO. So, for example, we’ve transferred all the infra- structures to the IT guys, but the way we define specifica- tions across the Divisions is we have a Steering Group made up of representatives of all the Divisions. They determine the specification of any changes in the underly- ing infrastructure. So, we’ve used Steering Groups as a physical representation of what we’re doing within the PMO at the end. We do it for the tools. We also do it for the underlying project lifecycle framework. In a sense that’s what we’ve used as a way to replace that PMO. We’ve measured our success by how well has the PMO actually managed to transfer all its knowledge, basically how much has it made itself redundant.

The Steering Groups developed out of a need. We didn’t sit down and think how are we going to create a virtual PMO? We didn’t think that at all. It just evolved, because we sud- denly realised we had thrown away something of value. When we actually blew away the PMO, we went off in the Divisions and we all did our own thing. The Operations guys suddenly realised that they had actually thrown away some value in this ‘practice stuff’. There was nobody who really owned it. So, we got together and said: How do we do this, how do we resolve this problem? And then the steering com- mittees came in. What we essentially did was delegate and certain project managers have got the responsibility of rep- resenting Divisions across the company in those Steering Groups and sorting out priorities and so on.

The Steering Groups have been very good at evolving what exists. But like any committee it takes a long time to do anything. Our thinking is that there is a value in a small but unique entity which is prepared to break the existing structures and create something. You need something to break them and remake them again, which is where a PMO comes in. Three, four, five years down the road you come back and you say; ‘Right I’ve got to move the whole organisation, not just simply add to it and therefore this evolutionary change doesn’t work’.

Virtual PMOs may be unable to bring about step- changes in the capabilities within the organisation, either

S. Pellegrinelli, L. Garagna / International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656


in response to organisational needs or developments within the wider project and programme management commu- nity. The risk to the organisation of a virtual PMO is very slow evolution or relative decline, as the organisation fails to keep up with and exploit the latest tools, techniques and/ or technology.

3.3. PMO re-emergence as an organisational entity

The debates within GlaxoSmithKline, Research and Development (GSK R&D) suggest that PMO may re- emerge with fundamentally different roles:

In GSK R&D project managers are working more or less in the same way. Standardization isn’t a major issue. But, GSK R&D needs a PMO, but a different form of PMO, one more focused on providing administrative support. We started with a group of project planners. We gave up this as the organisation developed. Portfolio manage- ment and project management are now established, in terms of the project manager’s role and project manage- ment tools and approaches. We have had a centralised PMO function at different points in time, sometimes with, sometimes without the PMs in it. Now, after several years we are discussing the potential benefit of again having a centralised PMO. In terms of the PMI definition of a PMO, our current PM organisation is a PMO, so we already have one, with the activities normally associated

with a PMO distributed across the site directors, portfolio management and capabilities. What we don’t currently have in our PMO is the role described in the texts, i.e. a planner/planning specialist - this role could be part of a PMO, but is not the totality of it. Our vision of the PMO is a group of planners or analysts working across the project management organisation, supporting and relieving the project managers, with some of the project management skills but not necessarily all of them. A PMO person can come from a Masters programme in Project Management for example, not necessarily having

a drug development or a scientific background, but this is not true for the other roles.

This shift is being driven by a need to do more with less. We have to decide what kind of professionalism we are looking for, how many people we need, how costly is it

to have people in different roles. That’s the level of analy- sis. The other key question is who is the project owner? The project managers need to be the owner, and have to be supported in providing the necessary levels of quality. Today project managers in GSK R&D can have from one to seven projects. A project manager has one project

if it’s a very big project – for instance, when the product

is approaching commercial launch, which has a high degree of complexity. But with seven projects, for exam- ple, at the early stages of development, a person cannot manage without any support. That’s the level of support we envisage, as well as some form of career development.

The PMO would not be limited to purely administrative tasks.

3.4. Re-conceptualising PMOs

PMOs, as organisational entities appearing on formal organisational charts and endowed with dedicated resources, might better be conceived as agents and subjects of change and renewal rather than stable, enduring entities. Their creation or re-configuration is a major symbolic act and it signals a prospective change to some aspects of organisational life. It says that a scope of work or set of responsibilities is important enough to be pulled out from the existing routines and handled separately or differently. PMOs take on responsibilities and powers that might otherwise reside in other parts of the organisation. In some instances, they set themselves up on the organisation chart, almost like a target to be shot at. From a senior manage- ment perspective, it must be worth the organisational debate, haggling and upheaval. Arguably, a PMO’s value lies in fighting battles that make a major difference in the performance of the organisation, establishing core disci- plines or prioritising longer terms objectives over quarterly results. Wider organisational change processes play a key part in determining the opportunities and timings for the creation, disbanding or re-creation of PMOs. Advocates or leaders of PMOs need to tap into these organisational shifts and tensions, and to (re)shape their PMOs’ roles and activities accordingly. PMOs bring about change in an organisation and in the process, if they are successful, can make themselves redun- dant, or at least unable to justify their continued existence in the face of political pressures, strategic priorities or eco- nomic cost/benefit analysis. The process can be conceived as a transfer of value from the PMO to the rest of the organisation. For instance, once the PMO puts methods, standards and tools in place, and these become embedded in the organisation’s routines and processes, then the contribution is made. As the PMO fosters professionalism in project and programme management and establishes a thriving community, its once unique expertise now permeates throughout the orga- nisation. The PMO ‘empties’ itself in ‘enlightening’ the rest of the organisation. PMO managers and staff may feel they have more to give. But, other members of the organisation may feel they have learned (enough) and know how to suc- ceed on their own. Influential individuals may feel that a PMO, at least in its existing configuration, is no longer needed. In some instances the process of emptying is accel- erated or forced upon the PMO by other functions within the organisation, as illustrated by the Tetra Pak experience:

When we started, we implemented and hosted within PMO some IT tools, solutions for planning and managing projects. At the early stage we owned the tools in PMO. Now we plan to transfer the tools to IT from an ownership


S. Pellegrinelli, L. Garagna / International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 649–656

perspective, but we have still kept the functional responsi- bilities. So we are still the ones ordering changes and improvements to the tool. This is to ensure sustainability. We are definitely transferring a big chunk of what we did but we still maintain something to ensure this continues - expertise overview. The responsibilities change from deliv- ery to strategic value added.

And the same might happen in relationship to the profes- sionalism of project managers. Today, we are performing the interviews directly, so we are involved heavily in the recruitment of project managers. But, HR will soon be knocking at our door telling us: ‘OK, could you transfer this knowledge because we are the ones performing inter- views’. But we will not transfer it fully, we will keep a small piece.

The PMO may ‘empty’ itself, but a ‘shell’ may remain, maintaining coherence and providing strategic input. One outcome is the virtual PMO, maintained and evolved in the collective memory of people within the orga- nisation, or through more structured processes such as steering groups, or through sharing responsibilities across nominated individuals. There may be many arrangements that can sustain a necessary, continued ‘strategic’ overview and gradual development of project and programme man- agement practices within an organisation. Another out- come is for the PMO to evolve, relinquishing many of the operational tasks and generating novel forms of value which it can transfer to the organisation. The oversight, coherence, development elements of the old roles are com- bined with more operational tasks of a new role. A PMO’s precise roles and emphasis, and scope to evolve, reflects the organisation’s unique needs and priorities. Organisations for whom projects and programmes sup- plement or are peripheral to their core business might find that their PMOs do not take one roles beyond the develop- ment and introduction of systematic project management (e.g. processes, methodologies, templates, support, exper- tise, tools) and the professionalisation of project manage- ment (e.g. creation of competence models and frameworks for selecting, assessing, developing, appraising and promoting project managers, communities of practice, knowledge generation and sharing). These activities are widely advocated and performed by PMOs [13,14] . In organisations that are more project-based there is a need to co-ordinate and extract the most benefits from projects and programmes since they represent a significant propor- tion of the resources available. Senior management then wants to know: What is being done? What are the benefits? Is the organisation getting value for money? Where is the work taking the organisation from a strategic perspective? These represent logical questions of corporate level control and governance, and hence create a role for the PMO. For some organisations projects and programmes are the busi- ness, and the project/programme management culture is

embedded. Senior management and others in the organisa- tion understand the project and programme management intimately, and conduct the business through projects and programmes. Organisational change that increases the importance and centrality of project and programme management may trigger the development of new roles and competen- cies or the re-establishment of a PMO. Changes and stres- ses may also trigger the re-establishment of a PMO to

bolster or deepen existing (but possibly fading) competen- cies. Greater complexity within and/or surrounding pro- jects and programmes undertaken by the organisation may see a PMO (re)created to increase professionalism.

A radical shift in strategy may see a PMO (re)created to

marshal resources and development efforts. On the outside two PMOs may undertake similar activ- ities, but may be performing quite different roles. One PMO may be compiling status reports as a way of dissem- inating best practices through role modelling what should be done and how – a part of developing and introducing systematic project management. Another PMO may be doing the same work because it is the cost effective solution – a shared services role. In summary, PMOs are best conceived as agents and subjects of change – formed, shaped, disbanded and re- formed through the efforts of their leaders and wider organisational undercurrents, strategic shifts and political tensions.

4. Discussion

The conceptualisation posited in this paper has much in common with the concepts of Aubry, Hobbs and Thuillier [16] , who offer a contextual, historical approach to the study of PMOs. Their work transcends the boundaries of positivist project management theory in building theory on PMOs, incorporating the dynamic relationships between organisational structure, strategy and organisa- tional politics. By studying the development of PMOs in four organisations, they suggest that the changes to PMOs’

form and function ‘‘can fruitfully be seen as an historical process of creative destruction and co-evolution. (page 43)Their concept of ‘‘bi-directional (page 42) influence

is echoed in the narrative of the forum participants, as is

the need to ask: what purpose the PMO should serve? in designing its roles and activities. The conceptualisation derived from the forum narrative complements and builds upon the work of Aubry, Hobbs and Thuillier. It reinforced the notion of the PMO

responding to shifts in direction and supporting new strate- gic directions, priorities and policies. It emphasises the dynamic nature of PMO. It also adds a number of dimen- sions to theory building on PMOs in the literature. First, an explanation is offered on how PMOs might, through the diffusion of methods, tools or expertise, cease

to generate sustainable value and be disbanded, even in

the absence of significant evolution or shifts in their organ-

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isational context. The notion of creative destruction implies that one economic/organisational form is replaced by another, rather than disappearing or taking on a virtual existence. Moreover, organisational change is characterised by periods of gradual or evolutionary change punctuated by occasional periods of rapid, discontinuous or revolu- tionary change [17] . The intervals between revolutionary changes are generally much longer than the 3–4 years aver- age life span of a PMO, even if we believe that the rate of change is accelerating. In two of the case studies of Aubry, Hobbs and Thuillier [14] there were long periods of relative stability. The transfer of expertise and value from the PMO to the rest of the organisation may also shed light on find- ings of Dai and Wells [15] : ‘‘reported project performance is higher in organizations that have a PMO in comparison with organizations that do not, but not high enough to merit statistical significance. (page 531). The prevalence of PMOs being disbanded and taking on a virtual existence requires more empirical research, but the ARM case evi- dences this possibility, along with the debates surrounding the possible re-forming of a PMO. The forum participant from one of the financial services groups was, in essence, acting as a virtual PMO leader and trying to understand whether to recommend to senior management the forma- tion of a physical PMO. Second, the narrative reflects that (these) leaders of PMOs considered themselves part of the organisational debate on their PMOs and instigators of purposeful change and development. In essence, we propose that PMOs are not merely buffeted or dispersed by the winds of (exoge- nous) organisational change. Rather an agency role is ascribed to leaders and advocates of PMOs. Forum mem- bers held and shared views on development, learning and progression, and espoused their commitment to add value to their organisations. They held, and were enacting, con- ceptions on how to advance their organisation’s capability and maturity in project and programme management. PMOs, though, are shaped by the interaction of functional considerations as well as contextual (from a PMO perspec- tive) factors, both internal and external to the organisation and the agendas and aspirations of their leaders and advo- cates. Whether there is a ‘rational’ development path that leaders of PMOs should, do or can pursue, as posited or implied in some texts [13,14,18] , is yet to be determined. But, our re-conceptualisation provides another source of influence on the changing configurations of PMOs. The pattern of change reported by Aubry, Hobbs and Thuillier [14] resembles more a series of collages of activities rather than a form of logical development. Our argument is that the configurations of the PMO are better regarded as an outcome shaped by debate between parties with different knowledge, power and priorities. Third, the notion that PMOs may relinquish the direct performance of some tasks while retaining a degree of over- sight for them is novel. It offers some insight into how much seems to be done by so few [1] . It also indicates that some of the work performed by a PMO may not be obvi-

ous nor declared. The oversight role, performed virtually or alongside more tangible activities, warrants further research, especially its relationship with other managerial functions and formal or implicit knowledge management practices.

5. Limitations

The conceptualisation offered has been distilled from, and grounded in, the experiences of a group of experienced practitioners. It appears consistent with the limited empir- ical findings and resonates with other work in the field. It offers some novel, and hopefully interesting, concepts on an organisational phenomenon which is relatively under- researched and poorly understood. However, it is only a step in the journey of building robust theory on PMOs. While the conception has plausi- bility and consensual validity amongst the forum partici- pants, its generalisability and relevance have yet to be determined. In particular the range, influence and manifes- tations of contextual factors are under-explored. It is impossible to claim that the organisations represented at the were representative of organisation that have or are contemplating establishing a PMO, nor that the individuals present know or shared the totality of the views, debates and tensions within their respective organisations. Repre- sentatives of organisations in other sectors where project management is the deeply rooted way of working might have generated more or different insights.

6. Conclusion

The deliberations of the forum have led to a re-concep- tualisation of the PMO. Rather than a static, enduring entity as portrayed in many texts, the PMO is re-conceived as an agent and subject of change or renewal. It transforms aspects of the organisations processes, routines and culture and in so doing may undermine its very reason for being. The fate of PMOs is determined through the interplay of the intentions of its leaders and advocates and wider organ- isational changes and tensions. PMOs are simultaneously aspects of project and programme management practice and organisational constructions. Our aim in this paper has been to provide a richer insight into a complex phenomenon, in part through the narrative with its cameos of the deliberations, questions, challenges and dilemmas experienced by various organisa- tions, and in part through the resulting conceptualisation of PMOs. We hope the paper has stimulated your thinking. We also hope it will inspire further research, more diverse in terms of perspectives and more informed in terms of theory.


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