Redefining The PMO: Embracing A Service-Oriented Approach Over Traditional Functional Mindsets

project team staff people

Traditionally, project management offices (PMOs) have been viewed similarly to essential business functions such as finance or marketing. This conventional perspective placed PMOs in a limited role, often underestimating their unique capabilities.

However, recent years have witnessed a paradigm shift, and the Association of International Project Management Officers (AIPMO) has also been instrumental in driving this transformation.

This blog aims to explore the evolution of PMOs from being considered merely as functions to being recognized as dynamic, service-oriented entities.

The Traditional View of PMOs

Initially, PMOs were seen as organizational functions focusing on governance and standardizing project management processes. They were often likened to departments such as finance, which oversees monetary management, or marketing, responsible for brand strategy. In this role, PMOs were perceived as static, their value measured against the efficiency of process adherence and cost-saving capabilities    (Dai & Wells, 2004; Darling & Whitty, 2016).

AIPMO’s Influence in PMO Perception Shift

AIPMO, since 2015, has been pivotal in thought leadership within the PMO domain. Around 2017, two years post-establishment, AIPMO began challenging the traditional function-centric view of PMOs.

AIPMO argued that functions are rarely disbanded, unlike a PMO, which raises a question whether the term “function” is the right term or if a more accurate term should be considered.

PMOs differ from typical functions due to several distinct characteristics that may lead to their more frequent reorganization or disbandment. These characteristics include the nature of their work, direct involvement in organizational strategy and alignment, flexibility and adaptability, perceived value, understanding of their roles, and dependence on organizational maturity, along with the implications of low maturity.

AIPMO believed it was more accurate to describe a PMO as a service-oriented entity rather than simply a function. This perspective was conveyed through its books, courses, certifications, and research papers. AIPMO advocated for a broader understanding of PMOs as service-oriented entities (AIPMO & Joslin, 2022; Kaul & Joslin, 2018).

“PMO Management” According to AIPMO

In 2017, AIPMO defined “PMO management”  as “the practice involving, utilizing, and applying PMO capabilities to design, justify, establish, and manage one or more PMOs, along with their associated services.

The overarching goal of this practice is to enhance operational effectiveness” (AIPMO course training material). This comprehensive approach ensures that PMOs are not only effectively set up but also aligned with organizational objectives, maximizing their contribution to operational efficiency and success.

Unique Attributes of PMOs as Service-Oriented Entities

As service-oriented entities, PMOs possess the following distinct attributes:

Adaptable to change: PMOs are designed to be highly adaptable, adjusting their strategies to align with shifting project requirements.

Delivery focused PMOs: These PMOs are inherently project-centered, dynamically involved in the planning, execution, and delivery of projects.

Non-delivery focused PMOs: These PMOs extend beyond the direct planning, execution, and delivery of specific projects. They are more strategically oriented and can encompass a variety of services including strategic alignment, governance, portfolio management, resource management methodology development, training, reporting, and so forth.

The Benefits of a Service-Oriented PMO

Viewing PMOs as service providers offers several advantages. It leads to improved collaboration, greater flexibility, and enhances the overall value delivery of PMOs. This has been picked up by most of the other PMO groups and communities that talk about PMO services and being service oriented.

Integrating Service-Oriented PMO Concepts in Modern Organizations

Organizations that have embraced this approach report improved project outcomes and better alignment with strategic objectives. For example, two megaprojects using AIPMO’s service orientated approached have reported on improved outcomes.


The evolution of PMOs is a significant development in PMO management. This shift toward a service-oriented approach unlocks PMOs’ full potential, contributing more effectively to organizational success.

There are still old models and online content that advocate PMO functions, including the Wikipedia page of PMOs[1], but this is likely because they have not updated their content. For the reader, make sure you understand the concepts behind the books and other materials you read to ensure they have the last research, facts, and thinking.


AIPMO, & Joslin, R. (2022). PMO services and capabilities. Association of International Project Management Officers (AIPMO).

Dai, C. X., & Wells, W. G. (2004). An exploration of project management office features and their relationship to project performance. International journal of project management, 22(7), 523-532.
Darling, E. J., & Whitty, S. J. (2016). The project management office: It’s just not what it used to be. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 9(2), 282-308.

Kaul, P., & Joslin, R. (2018). Understanding PMO success. In European Academy of Management Conference (Vol. 201, No. 8). European Academy of Management.

[1] This is often more accurate to describe a Project Management Office (PMO) as a service-oriented entity rather than simply a function, especially considering its role and objectives within an organization.

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