The Enabling Capability PMO Principle

The Enabling Capability PMO Principle

A few weeks ago, we introduced our readers to the Principles that make a PMO and PMO regardless of style, maturity level, and strategy. We reached out to the PMO Community to bring to life each principle through experience and thought-provoking articles that will help organisations to develop their PMO to the next level.

This week we have the third instalment in that series and introduce Milvio DiBartolomeo from Queensland Health where he played an instrumental part to bring AXELOS Global Best Practice from the UK to Australia to deliver pilot training in their new Agile SHIFT product. Milvio chose PMO Principle #4: Enabling Capability.

This principle focused on the fact that PMOs are enablers. As a natural knowledge hub, PMOs build PPM capabilities and assist in the formation and development of high-performance teams, enabling the fostering of talent and the successful delivery of organisational change.

Milvio brings to life this principle with insights into some of the key things that PMOs can do to truly live by this principle.

As a service and a natural knowledge repository for any organisation, Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (referred to herein as PMO) are enablers of project portfolio management (PPM) capabilities and enable the delivery of competencies to those accountable for changing the business. PMOs build PPM capabilities and competencies for projects, programmes and portfolios (P3) but particularly the governance boards, accountable decision makers and board members responsible for investment decision making.

PMOs facilitate the formation, development and continuous improvement of high-performance P3 teams, enabling capability development and the maturity advancement needed to successfully deliver organisational and transformational change. By doing this, PMOs actively support thedelivery practices such as those represented in maturity models available in industry. Including perspectives that relate to Organisational governance, Management control, Benefits management, Risk management, Stakeholder management, Finance management and Resource management.

How is this done?
When changing the business, organisations need to ensure that their P3 management capability can deliver consistently, effectively and efficiently. Where this fails to occur, there is a potential risk that any investment in business change may not be embedded and that the organisation may end up reverting to the way things work now rather than the preferred future state.

As a centre of excellent function through people and skills, it is imperative that PMOs provide capability improvement services. This capability and competency support includes the identification and allocation of the right people at direction, management and delivery levels, with the right experience (capabilities, competencies and attitudes) that need to be in the appropriate roles, at the right time.

It’s about PMOs enabling effective organisational governance and resource management, and particularly demand management at a portfolio level. That is, establishing clear decision making structures and matching the experience, capabilities and skill sets of existing resources with the specific programme and project characteristics, complexities and risk profile. This means programme and project resources being assigned to appropriate initiatives, delivering with approved tolerances or parameters and learning from that experience.

The value of a PMO and the premise of delivery support is to provide programmes and project managers and teams all the help they need through best practice guidance, consultation and training, where required at the beginning of the lifecycle between Gate 1 – Preliminary evaluation and Gate 3 – Investment decision, where cost overruns and rework can be minimised. If maturity improvement is being realised, then the need for support should significantly reduce between Gate 4 – Readiness for service and Gate 5 – Benefits realisation ..

Enabling PPM Improvements?

The main activities that PMOs take on to enable PPM improvements starts with:

  1. Induction of any new P3 resources into the organisation’s project portfolio management frameworks, guidelines and practices to ensure a consistent direction, management and delivery approach is adopted by default. This thinking aligns with the Japanese concept of ShuHaRi, a model used to illustrate the path an apprentice takes to learn about something until that person becomes a master.
  2. A community of interest, practice or a masterclass is often established and offered as part of any effective PMO. This should be led by senior management to embed any improvements, held regularly and targeted towards particular topics of interests and aligned with P3M3 or other maturity development areas. The forum should be structured for effective time management and flexible enough to provide programme and project managers an opportunity to share experiences and insights as part of an integrated lessons learned and knowledge management process across the organisation.
  3. Seconding resources including those within business support offices from the broader organisation into the PMO to train, coach and provide practical experience. The greatest value will come from seconding experienced programme and project managers and PPM specialists into the PMO, where they adopt a champion-challenger role. The Management of Portfolios guidance states ‘adopting a champion-challenger model where [PPM frameworks, guidelines and] processes are open to challenge and improvement – but until successfully challenged, all agree to adhere [and promote the adoption of existing] processes. This helps to ensure that stakeholders are actively involved in the portfolio, programme and project practices rather than perceiving them as something that is done to them.This approach alleviates demand for PMO services and improves PPM maturity, competency and capabilities. Where this is achieved, PMOs should publish its successes and achievements to highlight and promote its value to the broader organisation and its customers.
  4. Formal training that is contextualised to the organisational environment should be used to quickly establish a common level of understanding and practice. Taking a holistic approach to professional development takes into consideration that people learn by doing, by observing, by listening, by reading, and by teaching others. People also learn through both informal and formal means. The main benefits of formal training is that:
  5.  Large numbers of people have the opportunity to absorb the same information and/or processes at the same time.
    • If properly designed, the course content should be easily digestible and able to be applied consistently and appropriately with the context of the P3 environment.
    • Employees learning through formal training programs are generally on-boarded faster once they start their jobs.

In summary, efficient and effective achievement of strategic intent and the realisation of financial and quantifiable benefits depend on the capabilities and competencies of the people within the various portfolio, programme and project direction, management and delivery roles.

PPM capability and competency building, which is central to organisational performance, requires a systematic management approach to learning and development to be established and embedded within any PMO. It also requires identification and placement of the right people at the direction, management and delivery levels through effective demand management.

The value proposition, therefore, for any PMO is to develop a culture of continuous improvement where everyone agrees to adopt and promote existing project portfolio frameworks, guidelines and templates in place until successfully challenged and improved. As enablers of PPM capabilities, the objective for a PMO is to have centrally controlled portfolio, programme and project processes in place that can be tailored to suit the particular programme and project characteristics and to establish a baseline for capability and competency maturity improvements.


  • Office of Government Commerce Global Best Practice Management of Portfolios, 31 Jan 2011 (now Axelos)
  • Axelos Global Best Practice Portfolio, programme and project offices, 01 Oct 2013

The PMO principles are covered in depth in the APM Accredited PMO Practitioner 2-day Course.