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The Changing Face of the PMO: From Accidental PMOs to Professional PMOs

Changing Face of PMO - Marisa Silva - Wellingtone PPM

My “Lucky PM” tagline is not without a reason: I was fortunate enough to have chosen my career. I purposefully entered the PMO space, having received guidance on what it meant, solid months of training and mentoring into the role. I’m conscious, however, that not everyone has been as lucky and instead have stumbled into the unknown yet fascinating role of PMOs.

The APM-accredited PMO Practitioner course has proven to be a rich platform for research on the state of PMOs in the UK and allowed us to uncover the historical career journey for many PMO practitioners. Three main access routes have been identified:

  1. The PMO as the jack-of-all-trades but master of none: unfortunately, it is not yet uncommon to find organisations without a practical understanding of what PMOs are and/or can be. In this scenario, the PMO identity is blurred or null and we encounter a situation where the PMO is the depot for professionals who don’t fit elsewhere – “I don’t know where to assign you, thus, you must be in the PMO”.
  2. PMO as a stepping stone to a PM role: individuals would join the PMO as a step towards the highly-ambitioned role of Project Manager. “Get some preparation first and then, someday, who knows, you can become a project manager”, they would say.
  3. PA/ Admin background: curiously enough, many PMO Practitioners have a background as Personal Assistant or in an administrative capacity, which suggests that the still prevalent perception of the PMO as an administrative function is not without a reason: the expectation came with the person.

While these scenarios show that there are several entry routes to PMOs and that these are available to anyone, on the other hand, they also highlight a concerning reality: the existence of “accidental PMOs”. These are PMO practitioners who had to learn their roles on the fly the hard way and without any proper and consistent guidance. Given the challenges of such panorama, they did well but no wonder there is still so much discussion and confusion about what PMOs are expected to be and do in organisations!

Fortunately, times are changing, and we can see this mindset shifting very clearly in the new generation of PMO Practitioners who attend the APM Accredited Wellingtone’s PMO Practitioner training course. Nowadays, more and more Practitioners see PMO as a (emergent) profession in it’s own right (discussion aside of what a profession is, given that even for project management, this is arguably questionable), involving a specific and differentiated skill set and requiring formal training throughout their careers. In fact, Apprenticeships in PMO are booming and we now note an overall renewed interest in understanding the nature of PMOs, what they entail, how they can deliver value, and how to succeed in the role and advance the PMO career.

Additionally, there is a clear sign of change in the fact that nowadays more and more PMO practitioners have a project management background, having started as Project Managers who now want to move into the PMO space. There are many advantages in following this progression route – after all, by having been in the PM’s shoes, these individuals can now relate more closely to their challenges and more easily enable a relationship of trust and credibility with fellow project managers, because they know what their role takes.

We have come a long way since PMOs were first introduced in organisations. Today, the demand for competent PMO professionals suggest that the recognition of the value of PMOs is also increasing and is interesting to note a similar growing interest on PMO research in academy and industry. The current shift from accidental PMOs to professional PMOs is an exciting one that should make us proud but also leave us alert and supportive for others who are just starting. We have a responsibility to help new joiners in their careers and in being the change we want to see in the PMO emerging profession.

There is a revolution in motion.

Welcome to the PMO revolution.


You can find out more about the APM Accredited PMO Practitioner course HERE

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