IPMA International Project Management Association
20 June 2016 / 12:09

Virtual Project Management Offices – a real option for large organisations

Project Management Offices (PMOs) are recognized and established in many organisations. A survey of GPM, the German Project Management Association revealed that 80 % of the organisations involved in the study run a PMO, independent of the size of the organisation. A PMO was defined as “permanently integrated into the project business of the organisation or a part of the organisation. As the process owner, it is responsible for the entirety of the processes shown here. It is a Centre of Competence, which further develops project management in the organisation.” The main tasks of PMOs are to develop standards for the management of projects, programmes and portfolios, to advise, train and coach the leadership and staff in managing projects accordingly and to monitor, control and report all project-related activities in the organisation to the top management or steering committees involved.

Large and internationally spread organisations may operate the PMO function not only from one place, but establish a “virtual” PMO. This kind of PMO is not located in one (physical) place, it is spread all over the organisational units, for example a global Automotive Supplier with units in Africa, America, Asia and Europa. The people working for the PMO are mainly collaborating via electronic tools and they only meet once in a while physically. All data, standards and information are shared electronically. The members of a virtual PMO may be specialized in and represent the field of project, programme and portfolio management but report directly to their functional department heads or the unit leads. Their engagement for the PMO is typically part time. A virtual PMO is like a PM Community, specializing on project-related topics, but still having a base in a specific functional area…

One advantage of a virtual PMO is a high degree of flexibility, balancing functional expertise with project management competences. Another advantage are lower cost, avoiding travels across countries and making use of electronic tools. Disadvantages could be a lower engagement by the people representing the PMO in their units, a lack of identification with the PMO and potentially also a conflict of interest between their organisational unit and the PMO. Prerequisites for establishing a virtual PMO are a clear vision, mission and strategy for the management of projects, programmes and portfolios, a project-friendly culture, a clear leadership and team-setting with roles and responsibilities as well as availability of electronic tools fostering the collaboration.

This is why a virtual PMO is something that should be considered in large and globally spread organisations. For small or medium-sized organisations a normal, physical PMO may be the preferred option. A virtual PMO could also be a way for connecting several PMOs in different organisational units or countries. The leading PMO, often called “Enterprise PMO”, could be established virtually with representatives from each PMO. The evolution of the PMO continues…        

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.