Just What is the Difference Between Project Support and PMO?

There are people who are interested in getting into a project management role and believe that PMO or project support is one of the easier ways to do so.

Often I have these conversations in project management careers clinics – and one of the first things I ask is – tell me the difference between them.

People often use the words “project support “and “PMO” interchangeably as if it’s the same thing.

It’s not. They mean two very different things and here’s how I recently explained it on a train journey – in the simplest way I could:

Meet Bob and Mary

Mary works in project support.

She works for a Project Manager and a project team.

She’s supporting one project and doing stuff like status reporting; maintaining logs; maintaining the project plan; tracking stuff like the budget; ensuring the project is doing what it says it’s going to do (quality assurance) and generally removing any blockers that help the project team get on and deliver the project. (BTW if that means she sometimes books a meeting room, she does it, because she is the “blocker remover”)

Mary, the Project Manager and the project team will deliver something – whatever that project is.

Bob on the other hand has a different view of the world from where he sits in the PMO.

Bob supports the organisation – he supports senior management as well as the people in the project organisation.

Bob is more interested in making sure the organisation can deliver projects better.

He does this by being interested in making sure the organisation picks the right projects to deliver and they can deliver them successfully.

He does stuff like portfolio prioritisation; creating good practice like the methods and processes (which Mary and her team use); resource management; analytics and what-if scenario planning; assessing capability and supporting people to get better at their jobs.

The bottom line is – Bob has a lot of experience under his belt to get to the point where he can advise how to do things better. The PMO work he does is the accumulation of 15 years’ experience as a Project Office guy, PM and now an Enterprise PMO Manager.

Mary on the other hand has only been doing the job for 12 months. Before that she was a Team PA.

She had already gained experience working in an office environment, supporting a team of people. How different would it be supporting a PM and a project team?

With the right opportunity – a entry level project support or project administrator position – and a good foundation understanding of project management, Mary could start making inroads into a new career.

So with the Project Support role in mind

Often with project support positions – it is the person who has the right attitude and work ethic who gets the job.

Project Managers just want someone who is a safe pair of hands; who can organise themselves and others around them; someone who gets process, spreadsheets, deadlines.

As long as you can demonstrate what makes a good project support person – that you clearly understand what the roles and responsibilities are for a project support person – that you can hold a conversation about what an issue log is and what goes in them.

If you can do this and have the self-belief that you could excel in this role, given the chance and the support, you’re in with a shot.

The only thing that is stopping you is you – just go for it.

Here’s how:

Tell them why you want the job – tell them what you could achieve in that job for them, and for yourself.

Demonstrate you understand that job and what transferable skills you have.

Tell them why you’re excited to be part of a project team.

Write the best cover note you’ve ever written.

Make sure that profile on your CV knocks everyone else out of the park.

Do all of this.

And keep doing it until someone listens or the door cracks open just a little.

If you’re really wanting to get into project management by an entry-level role like this – knowing that you already face competition from people with previous experience in a project support role – you’ve got to be prepared to give it your best shot.

And it starts by demonstrating that you understand the differences between project support and PMO.


Project Management Careers ClinicsDo you need help with your project management career? Sometimes the only thing you can do is talk to someone else about it – and that’s what the project management careers clinics are all about. Take a look, try it out.



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