Supportive PMO vs. Controlling PMO: Know the difference?


PMO or project management office refers to a department within an organization responsible for defining and maintaining project management standards within. The PMO helps standardize and centralize project management within an organization, providing guidance, documentation, and metrics on its project management practice. After identifying the three key types of PMO, supportive, controlling, and directive PMOs, I immediately looked deeper into supportive and controlling PMOs since their roles are quite closely related—here is what I found to be their main difference.

So, what is the difference between supportive PMO and controlling PMO? Supportive PMO focuses on providing support in the form of templates, best practices, on-demand expertise, and access to information. On the other hand, controlling PMO provides support and requires compliance by adopting project management frameworks using specific forms, tools, templates, or conformance to governance.

A controlling PMO’s role covers everything that Supportive PMOs do and has the power to enforce compliance with organizational practices. Read on to find out more about supporting PMO and controlling PMO and the differences between these PMOs.

What Is a Supportive PMO?

A supportive PMO is great for organizations that achieve success in projects that are loosely controlled. They are incredibly efficient in projects where there is no need for additional control.

The major role of a supportive PMO is to provide on-demand expertise, best practices, templates, and support without actually exercising any control over the project. The term ‘on-demand’ indicates that a supportive PMO will only provide information, training, and technical support to project managers and teams when needed and without having any direct involvement in the project.

With less involvement in the day-to-day management of the project, a supportive PMO supports the teams with continuous mentoring, guidance, and training. A supportive PMO is on standby, ready to provide expertise to project management teams and managers who need it. Its role in a project is more consultative than active.

A supportive PMO has a respiratory role in your organization’s projects. In addition to the templates, best practice, and training, a supportive PMO also keeps track of the lessons learned during the project’s running.

If your organization has a weak or functional matrix type, you could benefit from adopting the role of a supportive PMO. Why? In a weak or functional matrix organization, the project managers assume very little control over the project. The functional managers are in charge of virtually all activities, and the project’s budget is entirely under their control.

The project manager plays either the role of project coordination or project expedition, where they collect, document, and store project activities in the organization’s library of assets.

Supporting PMOs also train the team on managing PMIS, which is the project management information system. As the name suggests, supporting PMO is formed to offer support to the project managers. A supportive PMO has no authority to enforce anything in any project and has no need for control.

What Is a Controlling PMO?

In simple terms, a controlling PMO acts as an auditor of a company by checking whether organizational processes, tools, and standards are applied in projects. They check whether the organization’s processes, tools, and standards are appropriately applied in projects.

A controlling PMO works best in an organization that requires more control and rule over the activities. They hold a moderate degree of control in projects, making them suitable for organizations with a balanced matrix.

In a balanced organization, project control is split between the project manager and the functional manager, who share the project activities and budgeting together. Controlling PMOs confirms the organization is applying the right tools, processes, and standards to the project or not. If not, the controlling PMO takes corrections actions to deal with the problem occurring in the efficiency or application of the tools, processes, and standards.

As the name suggests, the controlling PMO is in charge of project controlling. This infers that it has control over all the projects and assesses the projects in terms of goal realization, time, cost, and quality.

The controlling PMO has the mandate to intervene if the project starts to struggle. It aims to correct the mistakes that may have resulted in low performance, such as inefficient resource allocation and poor project communication.

By design, the controlling PMO exercises a moderate level of control. The major theme in a controlling PMO is conformance and governance. It provides appropriate frameworks to work with or adapts models such as the PMI’s IPEMCC (Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring, Controlling, and Closing) model.

When it comes down to duties and responsibilities, a controlling PMO can do everything that a supportive PMO can, and more. The crucial aspect of controlling PMO is the authority to enforce compliance within the organization. While a supportive PMO can offer guidance and recommendations, it cannot enforce compliance across projects.

Differences Between Controlling PMO and Supportive PMO

The main difference between the various types of PMOs is based on the degree of influence a PMO has over the project and its management process. To have an effective and efficient project management office, you need to understand the meaning of the two types and the main differences in roles.

Here is a summarized table with the differences between supportive and controlling PMOs.

Supportive PMOControlling PMO
Has no authority to perform the duties of a controlling PMOCan perform all the duties of a supportive PMO
Offer guidance and recommendations in project management.Oversees the adherence of standards as well as the application of tools and processes in the project management
Provides support and guidance in managing projects, including training in project management and related software. It assists with specific tools when required.It also provides support and guidance in managing projects, including training in project management and related software. It assists with specific tools when required.
Has a low level of control over projectsHas a moderate level of control in a project
Plays a consultative and repository role in your organization’s projectPlays the role of enforcement, compliance, and control in your organization’s project
Supplies best practices, templates, access to information, training, and lessons learned from other projects.Enforces the adoption of a specific methodology, templates, conformance to governance, forms, and application of all PMO controlled rules
Best for weak or functional matrix type of organizational structureBest for balanced mix type of organizational structure
Requires no periodic reviewsProject offices may need to pass periodic reviews by a controlling PMO.,
Best for organizations with loosely controlled successful projectsBest for organizations with strict control in their successful projects
Table 1: Supportive PMO vs Controlling PMO

Final verdict

The role that a supportive PMO plays is quite general. It’s more of a consultative role that relies primarily on best practices, training and lessons learned from other projects. The guidance and recommendations from the supportive PMO are not compulsory, and they come from the point of a project repository.

Conversely, a controlling PMO, takes up a more strict role, enforcing all the set standards, frameworks, and methodologies. Their recommendations need to be adhered to, and if prompted, the project team needs to pass a review from the controlling PMO.

A controlling PMO’s role is more strict and more necessary because it covers more ground in ensuring that the project is running efficiently. A controlling PMO can perform all the roles of a supportive PMO and more.

The moderate control an organization provides over a project, enforcing compliance, and ensuring standards and frameworks are adhered to is crucial for any project. It’s best suited for organizations since it can exercise command on policies and processes while having a fair amount of governing abilities.

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