PMO in South Africa

In September this year I had the opportunity to meet Ninéll Robinson at the PMSA (Project Management South Africa) conference in Johannesburg. Ninéll established a PMO Forum on behalf of PwC.  It was a great opportunity to talk about the APM PMOSIG* and what we do in the UK, and also got a chance to hear stories from the PSO Forum group members about their experiences and what they do.

The PMO Forum has been around for about a year, born out of the need to understand what organisations were doing in the PMO space in SA. Early adopters into the group were large organisations such as Coca-Cola, ESKOM and Investec. Their interest stemmed from both management of programmes and the need to improve project management maturity. The PMO Forum believes that the PMO is the enterprise within the organisation that has the mandate to make changes that can transform PPM capability.

The PMO Forum is primarily driven by PwC, which is where Ninéll Robinson, leader of the group, performs her day job as one of the core managers of the Project Management and Engineering Competency, with specific responsibility for PwC’s PMO Advisory Services to clients. Interestingly, the PME Competency is led by Andrew Metcalfe, who is actually an APM Member, a member of APM ProgSIG who learned his PPPM skills working for Dr Martin Barnes. This thriving PM practice provides consulting services to clients across industries on Project and Programme Assurance, Portfolio Optimisation and Management, Project, Programme and Portfolio Management Improvement, Benefits Realisation and Project, Programme and Portfolio Management Office Design and Set-up.

I was expecting there to be differences between PMOs in SA and the UK but there are a lot of similarities between the two. But as you would expect there are difficulties with the definition of PMO, which meant our conversation had to be aided by a quick diagram of Project Offices, Programme Offices, Centre of Excellence and Portfolio Offices to understand what is meant when talking about the different cultures.

It seems that in SA, the PMO is very much focused at a Programme level plus a Centre of Excellence. In SA these PMOs are sometimes known as the Project Enablement Office or Projects Support Office. It’s also apparent that organisations are slowly adopting the concept of the Portfolio Office, although they still struggle to make it work as envisaged. It is still early days but the focus is still very much on improving maturity in PPM.

The hot topic at the moment for SA-based PMOs is resource and capacity planning; for heads of PMOs it is improving the project management maturity of the organisation and getting executive support for this journey. One classic conundrum that we also experience in the UK is the difficulties the heads of PMO face when transitioning to a more senior level as the PMO moves to portfolio or strategy execution offices remit. Programme Office or CoE experienced PMO Managers are not necessarily equipped for the job when their PMO moves to a strategy level in the organisation.

Right – Lindsay Scott (Arras, PMOSIG) & Ninéll Robinson (PMO Forum)


In terms of methodologies, larger organisations like banking favour PMI PMBoK or PRINCE2. For many other organisations, they grow their own – concentrating on the basics of budget, scope and schedule. Often there is an oversight in areas such as risk management or quality assurance. SA also has the same issues as the UK when it comes to automation of project management reporting through the use of enterprise software tools – it’s not the magic solution to common reporting problems.

Government organisations that have PMOs were also a point of discussion – they are often very immature in project management with many municipal organisations not having any common approach or methodology. Within SA the Employment Equity laws and Black Economic Empowerment programme have a big bearing on recruitment practices. Having been introduced post-Apartheid, affirmative action or positive discrimination when hiring has often led to significant skills and experience gaps in the PMO.


The PMO Forum itself has 200+ members with 50-60 people regularly attending sessions. Recent topics discussed during 2012 have included; benefits realisation, portfolio management, social media & the PMO, case studies from member organisations and developing your PMO team. They’re already planning for 2013 and you can check out the PMO Forum on LinkedIn with a newly formed group.




*This post was originally written for the APM PMOSIG monthly newsletter. If you’re interested in PMOs and are not aware of the group, you can sign up for free to receive the newsletter through the website. Register on the APM website (it’s free and you don’t need to be an APM member) | Check the box about receiving information from the APM | Go to the PMOSIG page and click to become a member of the group. You’ll now receive all future news about the PMOSIG

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