What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

By Alan Ferguson   |   Approved Trainer for PRINCE2®, MSP®, M_o_R®, MoP®, P3O®, Change Management™, Managing Benefits™, AgilePM™, APM IC & APMP

In a portfolio, programme or project office we do much more than provide administrative support.

But how can we describe our work in a compelling and accurate way?

When I first came across an “office” (See? I’m already having problems describing who we are and what we do) it was called a Project Support Office – PSO. A colleague of mine had been drafted in to set it up at the same time as I arrived in the organization and frankly, neither of us knew very much about project management. Mind you, that was the 1980s and I don’t think anybody really knew much about project management then. He ended up with a couple of admin assistants working for him.

If I recall correctly one was, frankly, not very helpful. The other was best described as a velvet hammer. Her job was to make sure us project managers did a weekly progress report. Of course, we were all far too busy and important to do that. But she would arrive in my office at the same time every week and it didn’t matter what else I was doing, by the time she left she had the information to type up a progress report.

Things have moved on enormously since then and the range of names of offices has grown exponentially: PPSO, PMO, EPMO, even Change Delivery Office. I’ve seen them all.

I’ve been heavily involved with a publication called P3O – portfolio, programme and project offices. I’ll use the title of this guidance manual to help us think about naming and describing what we do.

What does “P” stand for?

When I meet someone from a PMO, I ask them what the “P” stands for. That often tell me that it stands for, say, project and programme. My response is: “Well isn’t that two ‘P’s?” There is our first hurdle. We have to understand the difference between a portfolio, programme and project, as defined in the organization, and take a view on which if any of those change delivery practices we are supporting.

“M”. Really?

OK, we do a lot more than support – that’s agreed. But are we really managing? Surely if the project manager manages the project, what does the project management office manage? In some circumstances, the PMO is genuinely a decision-making body. That’s a very centralized model. In other circumstances, there is a balance of power between the PMO and project managers. However, at times the PMO is suffering from “grade inflation”. It’s really a support office but it calls itself a management office.

I don’t mind if the organization is using a centralized or a decentralized model; there are pros and cons to both. Although I do think there needs to be clarity about who does what.

What do I do? I Office!

Most job titles link to a verb. Going back to my old friend the project manager, he or she manages. A portfolio director…well, directs. Someone who works in an office….offices? Oh, we don’t have a verb for what we do in our office.

Here’s my elevator pitch.

It would be wrong of me to share these problems with you if I didn’t have a solution. The elevator pitch I’ve come up with is:

 “My team and I enable and restrain change.”


How do you describe your work?

Visit our website to learn more about IIL’s P3O certification courses.

Alan Ferguson is a consultant and trainer in Agile Project Management, PRINCE2, MSP, P30, M_o_R, MoP and Project, Programme and Portfolio Management with hands on knowledge of managing in governmental, IT and engineering fields as well as extensive experience in training, consulting and coaching.