PMO Watch #19 – The P3O Practitioner Level Accreditation

The P3O (Portfolio, Programme and Project Office) Practitioner level qualification was launched in January 2010 and in this PMO Watch I wanted to share an overview of what the Practitioner level qualification actually consists of. I’ve not had the opportunity to take the accreditation myself yet but I’ve been very intrigued to see how the subject of PMOs can be converted into a training course and subsequent examination. I’m intrigued because anyone who works in and around PMOs will know that there seems to be endless variations of PMOs – some are admin in their focus, some strategic, some which house the project managers and others which are a PMOO (PMO of One!)

So, briefly, the P3O guidance covers; why have a P3O, what is a P3O, how to implement a P3O (or refresh one) and how to operate one. So how does the guidance convert to a training course?

First of all there is a Foundation level course which “measures whether you could act as as an infomed member of a P3O”. You are also expected to understand the principles and terminology of the guidance. In terms of learning, delegates are really being assessed at two levels (out of a possible four) which are knowledge (recalling facts, figures etc) and comprehension (understanding the concepts). The other two levels of learning are application (by appropriate use) and evaluation (by appraisal of situation). In the Practitioner level training, all four levels of learning are assessed. I think we can safely say the P3O Foundation level training and accreditation will be very similar in nature to PRINCE2 Foundation and if you can read and study the manual, the exam will be quite easy to pass

So onto the Practitioner level, the one which most PMO professionals have been really waiting for. The standards for the practitioner level include;

  • Measure whether a candidate should manage or work in a component of a P3O
  • Show understanding of how to justify, build and manage a P3O. Specifically they need to demonstrate their ability to;
    • Define their business case to get senior management approval for a P3O
    • Build the right P3O model to adapt to the organisation’s needs, taking account of the organisation’s size and PPM maturity
    • Plan the implementation of a P3O
    • Use tools and techniques in running the P3O and shaping the portfolio of programmes and projects

This is really interesting stuff, mainly because many PMO professionals I have contact with would never have had the experience of putting together a business case or creating a plan for an implementation (of any kind – project or PMO) This Practitioner course sounds like its aimed at PMO Managers, but I suspect alot of course delegates will probably include a lot of people who work in the PMO but don’t have responsibility for implementing or managing a PMO. I’m not sure what those delegates stand to gain from taking this course.

The examination itself consists of a paper describing a scenario within an organisation, and there are seven questions. Each question carried 10 points, so 70 in total. There is a word count of 13000, and answers are either right or wrong. The exam itself lasts for 2 hours 15 minutes. The pass mark (surprisely!) is only 50% or 35 marks.

Another surprising thing about the paper in the exam is that it is focused on Portfolio Offices rather than Programme or Project Offices. This surprises me because most people who work within the world of PMO either have experience working within a Programme Office or Project Office structure, Portfolio Offices are still considered to be relatively new in the marketplace and not many organisations even have this set up.

The scenario within the paper describes a situation of; “a portfolio of change, a business transformation programme and a large project”. It also touches on governance, departure from good P3O practice, P3M3 assessment extract, organisational statements, the organisational structure, a proposed P3O model and the timeline.

So the scenario is presented and then there are seven questions; OTE questions which means Objective Test Examination.  There are different classes of questions; Classic, which is choose from a possible list of questions; Classic Assertion Reason, which is similar to the first except that the format of each distracter is “assertion BECAUSE reason”; multiple response, choosing from a list;  matching, linking items from two lists  and assertion reason, an item consists of two statements, an assertion and a reason that are linked by the word “because”.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who are either planning on taking the Practitioner level accreditation and also people who have already taken it. Those who are planning to have seen the syllabus and exam overview and feel that they’re going to really need the training because the accompanying book is not going to be good enough for them to pass, i.e., it looks tough! Those that have done the course did find it tough!

I’ve said before in previous PMO Watch’s that I’m glad the P3O guidance became available in 2008, it’s been a long time coming to have something that covers this area of project management. For many people it didn’t really tell them anything new but at least it made it easier to discuss PMOs within their organisations, at least there is something tangible that could shared with senior management. We  have foundation and practitioner level accreditations in P3O for people that need/want them but I can’t help but feel that there is still something missing from the PMO collective. We still have people who work within a PMO who may be new or just a few years into their career that need the basics; the how to of PMO operations. Areas such as robust reporting, governance, planning, controls and the details like running workshops, mentoring project managers and creating new processes. Some of the hands on practical knowledge may come from pre-existing project management courses but the PMO has a different focus and must provide different services to that of a project manager. I can’t help feeling we still have a development gap for PMO professionals and I hope those new to PMO or just learning the ropes are not coerced into taking the P3O practitioner just because it’s the only thing available.

Thanks to Graham Shreeve of Target Practice for providing the P3O Practitioner level information – presentation given at the PPSOSIG local branch event in February 2010. Download the presentation here (includes a few sample of questions)

Image © thejonoakley and used with permission.


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  1. thanks for this Lindsay. This sums up my feelings on the subject. I am organising a P3O Practioner course for PMO Managers around my organisation. However I have emphasised that this is only relevant for those setting up or running a PMO, not the analysts within that. Thanks also to Graham for providing that insight & knowledge at the last London PMO Forum.

    What doesn’t surprise me at all is that the exam is orientated at the portfolio end of the P3O spectrum, as it is only reflecting what the book says, and that focuses heavily on Portfolio offices, minorly on programme offices, and project offices get a few odd mentions.

    For the analyst level within our PMOs I am searching for precisely the course you mention, a practical hands on course for the do-ers within our community. Until I have been on the P3O foundation I won’t know whether the course is suitable. However I think there maybe a market for a practical course based around Appendix D, available here

  2. A few thoughts on the subject having completed the P3O practioner exam (I waited until I got the result that I had passed before posting this!). I agree with the comments that the book, the training and the exams at both foundation & practitioner level are aimed at the set up and development of P3O – I would summarise this as the what to do, it does not provide the “practical” detail of how to do it within the different levels of offices.
    The thing I found most positive about doing the course was that it was not just another Prince2 learn the book like a parrot course or exam process. Yes it was hard work but it did make me very much think about the applciation of it and this was reinforced in the scenario based practioner exam. If you are in the position where you are setting up, re-developing or just want to make sure that what you have is fit for purpose this will provide some very good and stimulating input – something you can take away and very much use in real life.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Stuart, and congratulations on passing it! I’m glad to hear you got more out of it than just a cramming exam experience. I think it also highlights that if you’re new to PMO in a support capacity, this is not for you just yet.

  3. I’m currently studying for the P3O foundation exam and i haven’t been able to find any study guides or past exam/ mock exam questions.

    Does anyone have any advice or material they can point me to apart from the official text book?

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