What is the organizational and leadership structure of your Project Management Office? Even more narrow, how does your organization receive leadership direction and decisions? Do you operate under a formal Governance Body? Every situation is different, but I believe that the greatest success of a PMO, is when the leaders realize that the role of the PMO, is to be the functional and operational arm of a formal governance body. The strength of the relationship between your PMO and the governing body is crucial to the long-term success of a PMO.

This is a different structure then many in the industry are used to or believe that a PMO should function in. Below find three reasons that I believe that the proper role of a PMO is to function as the functional and operational arm of a governance body.

  • A Governance Body should consist of Business and Strategic Leaders

Your Governance Body is a decision-making authority at its most basic level. It should consist of a group of business and strategic leaders that are responsible for the fulfillment of the organizational mission and vision. They need to be empowered to make the necessary decisions regarding how the projects requests align to and deliver on the organizations mission and vision. This is a key point. Having 30 people sit on a governance body, for the purpose of making sure everyone is aware of what’s going on, and nobody feels left out is just plain WRONG. (Believe me, this happens in many companies) Your Governance Body needs to be made up of empowered leaders, whose purpose is to make the necessary and many times difficult decisions on PMO project engagement, project portfolio management and project priority. We all know that in every situation, demand for project services exceeds the capacity of most organizations to deliver. This requires people that are part of the Governance Body to be comfortable using the words “No” or “Not Now” in their decision making. Having a group of people that say yes to everything, and prioritize everything as High does not bring any value to the process. The success metric of a functioning Governance Body is how well the project portfolio aligns and is prioritized in support of the organizations Mission, Vision and Strategic Objectives. 

  • The PMO Leadership focus is delivering on the PMO’s organizational value, and the Project / Program Value, not priority and approval of Projects

The primary focus of the PMO’s leadership team should be on bringing value to the greater organization for the investment made in the PMO. This involves working with organizational leaders to bring a greater value then just basic project delivery to the whole organization. If the PMO leaders are investing their focus and time on making the decision regarding what projects are accepted into the PMO managed portfolio, and how to prioritize them based only on the available information at the PMO leadership level, how do you insure true alignment to the overall corporate mission and vision. It is my belief that the structure of the Governance Body should include the PMO leader, and the PMO should facilitate and manage the Governance Body meetings and agenda. This is not to say that the PMO Leaders should not focus on Project Delivery, Portfolio Management, etc. Those are the basic price of admission. There is a continuing need to expand on the PMO value proposition beyond the basics if a PMO is going to thrive.

  • The PMO needs to retain the integrity of “Neutrality” in the leadership and functionality of the PMO

A core responsibility of a PMO is to become the “Trusted Source of Truth” on project and program information for the portfolio that it manages. To achieve that objective, a PMO should maintain a high degree of neutrality with regard to project leadership. By working in partnership with a strong governance body, the PMO is not at risk of being viewed as playing favorites in project approvals or prioritization. Project Managers can lead their projects with full transparency of activity and status, and know they have a core level of executive support. By working on the projects in the priority that is established by the business leaders engaged in the governance body, there is no question regarding the neutrality of PMO engagement on a project. A solid relationship with an empowered Governance Body also provides a solid escalation path to assist in the appropriate decision making practices for troubled projects. 

These are foundational thoughts around the relationship between a PMO and a Governance Body. This is a critical relationship that drives the success of your organization. Functioning as an integral part of the leadership decisions helps the PMO drive the efforts that deliver value to the organization. While every organization is unique it is structure and strategy, these are great talking points to begin the conversation on building your PMO and Governance Body.

What are your thoughts? Does your PMO function in partnership with a Governance body? How does your relationship work?


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Don Clarke

Don Clarke

Co-Founder: Project Management for Today

As a Co-Founder of the pmfortoday.com website, Don Clarke has over 20  years of experience in the Project Management / Program Management space.  Having worked for a variety of companies over the last 20 years, he brings a strong base of knowledge in the industry.  Establishing or helping redefine multiple PMO's during this time, there is a unique perspective to his approach to developing the value of a Project Management Office (PMO), as well as his approach to leadership development within the organization.  Having been privileged to have multiple career defining mentoring experiences, Don realizes the importance of sharing that experience and giving back to the organizations where he is engaged.


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