Basically, there are two types of animals: animals and animals that have no brains; they are called plants. They don’t need a nervous system because they don’t move actively; they don’t pull up their roots and run in a forest fire! Anything that moves actively requires a nervous system; otherwise it would come to a quick death ~ Rodolfo Llinas, a neuroscientist from New York University School of Medicine.
An established Project Management Office (PMO) within an organization is the Central Nervous System of the organization. The PMO helps to optimize resource utilization across projects and initiatives, improve program execution which rises above organization barriers, enhance visibility and accountability and be better prepared from an information and knowledge perspective to anticipate and react to change. The Project Management Institute (PMI) Program Management Office Community of Practice (CoP) views the PMO as a strategic driver for organizational excellence and seeks to enhance the practices of execution management, organizational governance, and strategic change leadership.
Is establishing such a central nervous system within an organization a challenge? Yes, it is. In absence of crisply defined PMO goals, the risk is that the PMO can just end up increasing the workload for project managers without delivering on any of its stated objectives. As a result, PMO acceptability can get reduced and it can become just a reactive function within the organization, an incomplete nervous system with degraded reflexes and inability to anticipate external events.
So if you are lucky enough to have a senior / executive sponsorship mandating the requirement of a PMO, here are the five key factors to be considered to establish a PMO that truly rocks and becomes a strategic tool in keeping implementers and decision makers moving toward consistent and predictable business focused goals and objectives:
Key Factor #1 Clear Scope and Purpose of PMO – Lack of clear boundaries and objectives associated with the PMO, may result in overloaded PMO team and the disappointed customers. There are almost as many varieties of PMO as there are companies. There are strong PMOs and weak PMOs. Some companies rely on the PMO to be responsible for all areas of project management and project execution. Other companies only want the PMO to provide a consolidated reporting view of all the projects in the organization. Before you can jump in and start up a PMO, you must first gain clarity and agreement on what you are doing and why. Communicate this information to clients, stakeholders and your own staff so that everyone starts off with a common set of expectations. Second, provide a framework for the PMO to guide decision-making in the future. Along with the clear definition of which projects you will support, make sure that there are clear definitions of which services are and are NOT provided for all your customers.
Key Factor #2: Do not use the “One size fits all” approach – Implementing a PMO by exactly what books say without considering the organization in which it operates is not a very wise thing to do. Having a centralized source of information, templates and project management methodologies certainly brings value to the organization. However, forcing these to all types of projects (large, medium, complex, small) in organization may result in poor Project Manager willingness for their usage. A proper framework in place, with respect to project management models which allow tailoring of these templates and methodologies according to specific project/customer’s need, is the key for success here.
Key Factor #3: Define Data Requirements based on “need” and not “want” – Be careful of the data load that you put on the project managers, focus on being an enabler function and not an overhead. In most of the companies with a PMO, the perceptions of employees are more biased to it being an overhead rather than a useful service. One of the reasons for that is too complex requirement for the project managers to produce data which is very rarely used or even useful. The main focus of any project delivery is around Scope, Schedule, Budget & Resources, Quality and Customer satisfaction. A well defined metrics/dashboards for these important parameters can encourage PM to report the project status in correct and timely manner. This also aligns with PM’s usual activities for project tracking in day to day life and does not create additional bandwidth stretch for PMs. Project reporting can be around: Status (red, yellow, green)—overall, as well as for risks, budget, scope, status trend, planned v s. actual budget, planned vs. actual time, business case forecasts vs. actual results, customer satisfaction survey results. How you further present reports depends on your audience, their needs, and the resulting actions your audience should take. Knowing your audience is very important here because the breadth and level of detail differs by audience. At higher levels, such as an executive board, reports should be broader in nature with less depth and frequency than at the business unit levels, for example. Business unit audiences desire more detailed information specifically focused to that business unit. However, the supporting detail should be available at all levels, especially for projects that may be in trouble, such as those with high budget or time overruns.
Key Factor #4 Metrics reporting – Data accuracy and completeness – If Reporting is a key dimension of the PMO, data accuracy and completeness is in turn a key dimension of reporting. According to Bryan Maizlish and Robert Handler (2005), “Research indicates that 90% of all business decisions are sub-optimal because of data quality. Ironically the biggest data quality complaint does not pertain to the accuracy of the data but the completeness of the data”. Accuracy and completeness is required for both simple and complex reports. For example, one of the most standard, simpler reports in PMO relates to the “health” of the programs in terms of project status (red, yellow, green). If the status of a project has not been updated in a timely manner, then the resulting program health report will be inaccurate leading to dated decisions. A suggestion here is to offer a service only if you have the proper tools to support it. Microsoft Excel is an excellent tool, still, there is only so much that you can offer in terms of analysis and forecasts if your project’s data are collected in an Excel file. Manual reports with embedded macros are good workarounds, but they are very time consuming and subject to mistakes. In addition, budgets and resources are really tough to manage manually in a consolidated and consistent manner, especially when your PMO is working on a global level. Have appropriate Project Management tools established based on your organization needs.
Key Factor # 5 Build a Strong marketing and communication strategy to drive PMO acceptance – Communicate, communicate, and communicate! There is no such thing as over-selling. Selling and re-selling the strategic project management office is necessary to gaining and sustaining the buy-in across all organizational levels. When you are setting up the PMO and do not have accomplishments to talk about yet, focus on building awareness about the PMO – its purpose, impact and benefits. The communication plan should include as audience, not only the executive and steering committee members and the stakeholders, but also the internal and external communities. Create a central repository for PMO documents, inform stakeholders the information is there and make sure that the information is easily accessible. Poor or non-existing marketing and communications revolving around the goal of the office and the services it provides, is one of the reasons for unsuccessful PMO setups.
So, to summarize, setup your PMO with well thought out strategies so that like a central nervous system, it can improve your organizational reflexes and performance. Such PMOs can enable your organization to get better/faster/cheaper and achieve more predictable results for their chosen projects.
What are your experiences with PMO setup in your organizations? What challenges have you faced in PMO establishment? Please share so that we can learn from your experiences.
Today’s guest post is from Kavita Verma, PMP who is the Director – Global Program Office at a leading IT services company. She is a dynamic and outcome-oriented Program Manager with a fulfilling career spanning over 10 years of extensive industry experience in full software life cycle of requirements definition, architecture, design, prototyping, product implementation, integration and testing of Embedded Mobile Application and Platform Middleware.