By Mike Gilpin

I was in the audience at our recent “Business Process & Application Delivery Forum” for the track session “Using The Next-Generation PMO To Promote Innovation,” which was delivered by Margo Visitacion. The premise of the session was that leading-edge PMOs (project management offices) are evolving to a more strategic role, focused on portfolio management of business investment rather than just IT projects or programs.

I know this phenomenon is real because I, too, have talked with multiple Forrester clients, PMO leaders, who have elevated the mission of their PMO to this level — often to the extent that they no longer report into the CIO but are outside IT, reporting into a business exec like the COO or CEO. In so doing, they have refocused their efforts on everything from guiding business leaders through building a business case for the investments they want to make, to guiding decision-makers through selection from the portfolio of investment proposals, to tracking benefits realization and ROI after the fact. PMOs with this kind of business-focused, strategic mission have greater business impact and are often close partners with executives leading their firm.

During the session, one of the attendees asked an interesting question: “At our firm, the functions you describe are led by the enterprise architecture team as part of the strategic planning and business architecture process. Which is better suited to doing this function, EA or the PMO?

Our answer? It can work either way — what's really most important is that the people you choose have the right qualities to take on this critical role, by background, inclination, and capability. What matters in choosing which path is best for your firm?

  • Which group has more relationships with the business leaders who make investment proposals?
  • Which group do execs see as better able to understand the business and its strategy?
  • Which group has already demonstrated an aptitude for this work?
  • Are any of the relevant parties battling negative perceptions of their role that might present obstacles to their taking on this responsibility?

Furthermore, it’s not just EA or the PMO that could be placed in this role. Responsibility for strategic investment planning is sometimes located as a staff responsibility in the office of the CIO or, for smaller firms, handled directly by the CIO. In these firms, the PMO is usually in an earlier stage of maturation, still focused on promoting project management best practices and ensuring that the trains run on time.

Other candidates for this role include relationship managers, demand managers, and the like. So many options.

What about your firm? Which path are you on? Which approach do you see succeeding more often, and why?

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