The Centre of Excellence PMO

It’s one of those PMOs that no-one ever seems to see these days – think, when was the last time you saw a Centre of Excellence type PMO in an organisation, or met anyone who said they worked in one?

Back in the day they were a prominent feature of the PMO landscape – but where are they now?

The quick answer is, they’re still there.

The functions and services the Centre of Excellence provided are still being provided – it’s just that the name “Centre of Excellence” isn’t used anymore to denote a PMO.

Let’s remind ourselves, what is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) anyway?

What is a Centre of Excellence PMO?

We can look at the P3O® definition:

A coordinating function for all or part of PPM ensuring change is delivered consistently and well through standard processes and competent staff. It may provide standards, consistency of methods and processes, knowledge management, assurance and training. It may also provide strategic oversight, scrutiny and challenge across an organisation’s portfolio of programmes and projects. It may be a function within a wider scope of P3O or may be the only function of a P3O. This function provides a focal point for driving the implementation of improvements to increase the organisation’s capability and capacity in programme and project delivery.

Quite a wide-ranging definition there and at first glance you may think that is just describing a PMO – not necessarily something like a CoE.

The key part of the definition – and one which is seen throughout PMOs in organisations is “it may be a function within a wider scope of P3O”. In other words, the role a traditional CoE provided as been swallowed up by the other types of PMO within the organisation.

Today you’re likely to see the Programme Office – supporting a large programme of work over several years – providing support around the standards and processes; providing that scrutiny; making training available and so on. They’ll be providing this role alongside the services like reporting; benefits management and financial tracking.

Within this Programme Office they won’t refer to the work they’re doing that was once CoE work as CoE. It’s more likely that the work they’re doing in this area will be under a resource management umbrella – supporting the capability and capacity of the people on the programme.

What Services Existed in a CoE?

If we take a look at the infamous Appendix F in P3O® there were four service areas highlighted for the CoE. These are:

  • Standards and Methods (Processes and Tools)
  • Internal Consultancy
  • Organisational Learning and Knowledge Management
  • People and Skills (PPM Competencies)

The CoE in most people’s minds has always been related to ‘the department or function that creates and sets the standards that programmes and projects will use; and the function that will ensure people are fully competent and trained to carry out the role they are accountable for’.

In many PMOs today, the processes and tools service is the most prominent one, with the other three slipping down the list of services the PMO carries out. Because the PMO has plenty of other services to provide based on the organisation’s requirements, services like training, advising and knowledge brokering have become less important – yet they’re still services that when carried out well make an enormous difference to the programme and project outcomes.

Take the training service area as an example – is your PMO devising and delivering training and workshops in areas that present a challenge to the delivery teams? How about creating a bit of learning to educate sponsors in their roles? Or about the introduction of new delivery approaches such as Agile led delivery? This kind of service is in danger of withering away and dying, leaving many PMOs without the skillset to teach, advise or even coach others.

Andy Jordan makes a good point in his article ‘Is the Center of Excellence PMO Dead?‘ about the Centre of Excellence never seeming to hit the heights of excellence, instead they were ‘centres of standardisation’. He makes the argument that Centres of Excellence are not dead and they should ‘instead focus on ensuring every business area delivers as close to project delivery perfection as possible, we are truly driving excellence across the organization.’

The PMO’s remit and objective has always been to support the organisation in delivering programmes and projects successfully and the Centre of Excellence function has always been about more than just standards, it is also about focusing on the parts that really make a difference in a project organisation – the people.

Does your PMO provide a function and services that focuses on this part?


Contact PMO LearningDid you know that PMO Learning also provide support to PMOs that are delivering training and workshops to their delivery teams and wider organisation? Talk to us if you’re interested in developing training in any of the core project and programme management areas – we also have an excellent workshop for getting sponsors onboard. We’ll be happy to share some past examples of created courses.


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The P3O® courses on this page are offered by PMO Learning. P3O® is a [registered] trade mark of AXELOS Limited. P3O® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. The Swirl logo™ is a trade mark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

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