PM Earth

A Controlling Project Management Offfice

24 October 2007

A Controlling Project Management Office

A controlling PMO focuses on the four controlling services: governance, assessments, reviews, and audits. The primary goals of the controlling PMO are:

To ensure that the methodology, standards, processes, and tools are being used correctly

To define and direct corrective action to create ongoing improvement in project management

There are a number of reasons why a PMO should not define itself as controlling when it first starts up:

At first, general and supportive services are more valuable for online project management. If the organization recognizes its problems, then project managers will be eager to adopt the PMO's  new solution. That enthusiasm will lead to improvement as soon as the methods are provided. During that time, there is little value in focusing on monitoring and control, and a great deal of value in providing and supporting use of PMO methods.


At first, there is likely to be resistance to reviews and audits. Reviews and audits are often perceived as being tests, or demands to prove one is doing a good job. As a result, a controlling approach at the beginning is about as welcome as a pass/fail exam given when no training course was provided before the exam!


Governance is complex, and takes time to implement. The notion of controls is foreign to many managers, and can seem like an unnecessary burden. It is easier to demonstrate the value of governance and implement controls once the value of the methodology has been demonstrated through general and supportive services.


Reviews and audits require familiarity with the methodology, standards, and processes. When a PMO begins execution, the methodology, standards, and processes are new to the PMO, as well as being new to the organization. As a result, it would be difficult to perform effective reviews and audits. When the methodology is new, it is hard to compare work to the methodology. Once the methodology is familiar to the PMO, it will be much easier for the PMO to perform reviews and audits.

As a result, it is best if a PMO is defined as controlling only some time after it is launched, once the supportive and directive services have made the PMO's methodology, standards, and practices familiar and accepted.

A PMO, however, can and should perform the Initial Assessment during initiation. This has two functions:


The assessment provides critical information for defining the problems the PMO will solve.


The assessment provides an initial benchmark showing the level of project management capability and the costs of the problems the PMO is tasked with solving.

If the PMO then performs periodic – perhaps annual – assessments, it can demonstrate the value the organization is realizing from its services. When the increase in that value begins to plateau, it is time for the PMO to change type. The focus on supportive services has reached the limits of its benefit, and the PMO needs to become a controlling PMO and focus on more detailed assessment, review, and audits to define the corrective action that will provide optimal benefits that justify the PMO's continued operation.

In summary, a controlling PMO:


Takes a "we'll make sure you're doing this, and doing it right" approach to customer service


Relates to stakeholders by evaluating their compliance and performance


Offers executive ongoing assurance that the organization is using standards and best practices


Benefits the organization by ensuring that the solution that has been put into place – the methodology, standards, processes, and tools adopted by the PMO – are being used universally and are being continuously improved by evaluation and corrective action.

The controlling PMO provides general and supportive services, but focuses on controlling services. The controlling services provide directives for corrective action that continuously improve project management and also continuously improve the services offered by the PMO. A controlling PMO can continue to benefit the organization for a long period of time. An effective controlling PMO is perpetually improving itself and its offerings.

The controlling PMO governs use of the methodology, standards, and processes, but rarely directs project management activities. A controlling PMO will only direct a project under two circumstances:


Specific guidelines defined by the PMO make this a "special project" that is to be directed by the PMO. Reasons for declaring a project special include:


The project cuts across an unusually large number of divisions


The project is high risk


The project is high profile


An audit of the project finds that the project is at risk of failure, so the auditor directs that the PMO should take over the project directly, assign a senior project manager, and work to turn the project around.

To learn more about the activities of a controlling PMO, see these two advanced learning topics:



Reviews and Audits

A controlling PMO rarely manages projects directly. The fourth type of PMO – the directive PMO – is quite different. The directive PMO directly manages most or all projects within the organization.


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