Program Management versus the Project Management Office (PMO)

It is sometimes a PMP exam question to know the difference between a PMO and Program Management. I will give you a moment here to define both terms… The short answer is that program management refers to managing an interrelated project, which shares common goals, outcomes, and requirements. An example might be the development of a new R&D campus. Designing and later constructing the campus’ labs could be an independent project, but its functionality depends on the administrative offices of the same campus. The PMO, on the other hand, refers to an entity responsible for the centralized and coordinated management of the projects under its domain. Therefore, using the R&D campus noted above, the PMO might assist the project manager working on the library project and the project manager working on an unrelated off-campus project for the same client.

Program Management versus the Project Management Office (PMO)

Both the PMO and program management share similar goals, such as sharing resources for maximum efficiency. Compliance is also a typical common goal, as are adhering to the organizations’ strategic goals. However, whereas the projects under program management must be interrelated with certain interdependence, PMO projects can be completely unrelated with no dependence on each other whatsoever. Furthermore, PMO is usually a stand-alone entity, which, as noted above, supports the organization’s projects, including those projects within a program. But program management does not support the PMO in the same manner.

The above description relates mostly to traditional “waterfall,” predictive lifecycle projects. However, the lines between a PMO and program management are often blurred is in Agile projects. Part of the reason might be the nature of Agile projects versus predictive lifestyle projects. In the latter type of projects, risk analysis, change management, and adhering to standards and the triple constraint are critical. In contrast, Agile projects have an inherent value-driven approach, which sometimes does not mesh with compliance and adherence. Therefore, the PMO, which was born out of the “waterfall” approach to project management, primarily takes on the role of compliance officers and checking off boxes, as opposed to seeking the added value that Agile continuously strives to achieve.

In the same vein as comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges, program management of Agile projects, it is best to use the correct approach and corresponding nomenclature when managing and scaling Agile projects: Agile Release Train (ART.) The ART is the foundation for scaling Agile, composed of dedicated Agile teams that plan, manage and coordinate their project work at the same delivery cadence. This format provides the various teams with the opportunity to work collaboratively towards an agreed-upon goal. The ART also provides program leaders to more easily organize the teams and their work and better understand how to decompose and concurrently execute the work across the teams.

Although many organizations sometimes employ hybrids of program management and PMOs to get their work done, ideally, it is best to adhere to the purposes each one was designed to carry out. In the long run, this adherence will generate successful projects and scale the work more easily across organizations, multiple owners, project partners, and other stakeholders.

Program Management versus the Project Management Office (PMO)

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