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Project, Programme, Portfolio Offices – What are they and how are they different?

Often referred to as a PMO (Project Management Office or Programme Management Office or Portfolio Management Office), there seems to be a fair amount of confusion regarding their function, services, role and responsibilities.

Luckily, there is a guide gaining recognition internationally to help demystify the differences.

This guide is known as P3O®, which is an Axelos Ltd standard. Axelos is the same organisation responsible for administering other internationally recognised best practice standards such as PRINCE2®, MSP® and ITIL®, to name a few.

The acronym P3O standards for, firstly the 3 P’s – Portfolio, Programme, Project with the ‘O’ being the office part, giving us P3O.

The P3O guide is designed to provide clarity around the functions, services and roles for each of these offices as well as the responsibilities of staff working in each office. It also outlines an approach for reviewing your current office, referred to as ‘re-energizing’ an office or establishing a new office.

The use of the term ‘P3O model’ describes an organisation’s or a division’s decision enabling structure to support business change (projects, programmes or portfolio). This means an organisation’s P3O model could consist of:

  • A single physical office, example a ‘Project Office’ supporting a single project
  • Centralized ‘Portfolio Office’, supporting multiple projects and programmes
  • Multiple physical structures, example multiple ‘Offices’, one office per division

The office could be a permanent structure, this means fixed as part of the organisation’s line management structure, or temporary meaning a single office fixed to a single project and closing when that project ends.

Virtual offices also exist, example staff coming together to discuss project management improvements and many management elements already integrated in the way the organisation manages its projects.

Some P3O definitions:

Portfolio Office – Permanent office set up to support the definition and delivery of a portfolio of change (programmes and projects) across the entire organisation or enterprise

Programme Office – Temporary office set up to support delivery of a specific change initiative being delivered as a programme

Project Office – Temporary office set up to support delivery of a specific change initiative being delivered as a project

The P3O model design selected for your organisation or division will be based on several factors, which may include:

  • Size and scale of the organisation
  • Organization’s maturity in portfolio, programme, project management
  • Business needs and drivers
  • Size and scale of projects and programmes
  • Cultural and political environment
  • Existing organisational structures
  • Geography

Take a note, the offices that form a P3O model, may currently exist under different names and may prefer to go by:

  • Organization portfolio office
  • Enterprise Portfolio Management Office (EPMO)
  • Programme Management office (PMO)
  • Programme Office
  • Project Management Office (again using the term ‘PMO’)
  • Project Office
  • Centre of Excellence (COE)

The title may be important, though of more importance is understanding and agreeing to the functions, services and roles of each office. This is to avoid overlap and confusion. Remember when designing a P3O model it’s key aim is to act as a:

“Decision-enabling and support model for business change within an organisation”

Our P3O training will cover, amongst other items:

  • How to design and review your current P3O (PMO) model
  • Roles within a P3O and responsibilities for each role
  • An approach to re-energize or implement a PMO or broader P3O model
  • How to design a P3O implementation team
  • PMO success criteria and Key Performance Indicators of a fully functioning P3O model
  • Different P3O model types, key P3O principles, tools, techniques, functions and roles
  • P3O implementation challenges and barriers

MSP® and ITIL® are registered trade marks of Axelos Limited.

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