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The Project Management Office: it’s just not what it used to be

Eric John Darling (Faculty of Business, University of Southern Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)
Stephen Jonathan Whitty (Faculty of Business, University of Southern Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 4 April 2016




The Project Management Office (PMO) phenomenon is a dynamic and regularly evolving feature of the project landscape. The functions and practices expected of the PMO differ as widely as the industries and organisations, which host them. By uncovering the documented and undocumented history of the PMO and its practices the authors see how PMOs have developed to current times, how PMOs develop their ideas, how useful PMOs are, and what associated activities they partake in. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


In this paper, the authors conduct an extensive literature review of the academic and non-academic literature. The first phase involved searching academic journals and published theses. The second, deep searches with Google Scholar and Books using a variety of parameters to capture the changing nomenclature of the PMO over many years. These searches discovered lost academic literature within university libraries, examples of very early essays on the project office and numerous government reports on PMO and project office undertakings.


This research reveals how the form and use of the structure we now call the PMO has evolved and adapted over time. In recent history the PMO has evolved to be the central repository for tools and methodologies for this non-operational work. The PMO has become an asset, a commodity to be traded upon and a badge to be worn to attain certain privileges.

Research limitations/implications

This research identifies a number of deficiencies in existing literature. Particularly highlighting that many practices, methods and PMO typologies exist, frequently their custodians tout these as “best practice”. Although some research has been conducted by academics on PMOs vast gaps exist in PMO literature.

Practical implications

This research identifies a number of assumptions in practitioner literature and professional practice. Organisations both private and public are investing enormous resources in the pursuit of enhancing project management outcomes often turning to the PMO concept to resolve their problems. However there is limited evidence to suggest PMOs create a favourable return. If the authors were to use medicine as an example, prior to a scientific approach in medicine the field relied on potions and magic, however medicine changed to evidence-based practice this has lead to enhanced life prospects. An evolution in project management doctrine may enhance outcomes.


This review of the PMO which possesses archaeological attributes in it’s historical context adds a rich understanding to organisational knowledge by considering the history of the PMO and the dramatic shifts in its purpose over a prolonged period of time. The discussion draws out the critical PMO topics to be addressed and includes a critique of practitioner and academic knowledge.



Darling, E.J. and Whitty, S.J. (2016), "The Project Management Office: it’s just not what it used to be", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 282-308.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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