Did you know that more than half of Project Management Offices (PMOs) fail within 3 years of kicking off? This absurd failure rate is driven in large part by a gap in expectations. Most of the time, an executive looks around and sees a competitor with their own PMOs driving change and adding value, and they say, “I want that”. But like anything else, a PMO goes through stages of maturity and it can’t tackle huge challenges right away.

So how can you tell the maturity of the PMO in your organization? Most existing maturity models revolve around nonsensical diagrams or arbitrary levels with no defining characteristics. And I’ve had enough! I believe that the maturity of a PMO should be evaluated by what it reasonably be expected to accomplish, and by what value it creates. This way, stakeholders know what to expect and PMO success rates will improve. I’ve created a detailed model to help organizations assess their PMOs by capability and you can find the details below:

Nascent PMOs
A nascent PMO is just starting out. It has been formally authorized and staffed, and is just getting off the ground. To get off to a good start, the PMO needs to add value fast and triage problems that can be solved quickly. At bare minimum, a PMO in the nascent stage should be able to provide standard templates for key project documents. What constitutes a “key project document” may vary by organization, but the templates should be agreed upon by project managers and owned by the PMO. Creating a baseline level of consistency across projects will value fast, and set appropriate expectations for the business.

Developing PMOs
A developing PMO has collected or created a lot of different project assets, including templates, archival documents, and lessons learned. The next stage in maturity is creating a place to store those assets; some kind of repository that project managers can access on their own without contacting the PMO directly.

In addition to improved access to project assets, a developing PMO should be able to serve as a source of knowledge on project management practices. The PMO should be able to advise project managers on key challenges, connect them with industry expertise, and help them align to common standards.

Finally, a developing PMO can perform some level of resource support for stressed projects. This can involve temporarily stepping in themselves or deploying an available resource on a controlled basis.

Functional PMOs
A functional PMO has established itself as the owner of project management assets, practices and standards within the business. It should manage a library of project assets and archival documents. It should define clear standards of governance that projects are expected to adhere to, and be able to advise project managers on how to implement best practices. The PMO should also improve its ability to manage resources, coordinating the across multiple projects if needed.

But it’s not enough to build on the old; a functional PMO has added new capabilities too. At the functional stage, the PMO should start coalescing standard processes and implementing them on a portion of projects within the organization. It should also be able to perform rudimentary reporting around project KPIs and provide some training resources on core project management skills.

Established PMOs
Established PMOs are the final stage of maturity. An established PMO will own a full knowledge base that contains process assets, archival documents, governance standards, and solutions to common project management problems. It should offer a more detailed reporting, developed training courses on important skills, and be able to manage project staffing needs across the lifecycle of a project.

What’s new for an established PMO? At this stage, the PMO should begin to look outward at industry trends and new ideas. It should evaluate project performance beyond scope, schedule, and budget and start to manage “benefits realization” – the degree to which the project adds value to the business. Finally, an established PMO should lead continuous improvement efforts of the processes, standards, and tools that are the backbone of the businesses’ project management practices.

A visual model of PMO maturity.

Wrapping Up
If expectations around PMOs are managed according to maturity level, then businesses build up better project management competencies. If you have a PMO in your organization, take some time to evaluate its capabilities and map its maturity. Once you have a good sense of what your PMO can do, you can communicate its capabilities to the executives and project managers in your business and what they can expect in the future. Proceed in this way and your PMO will survive to its fourth birthday and beyond.