The Project Management Office

07 August, 2014

Management can be a lonely place. For project team members thrust into Project Manager positions, the most telling difference is the sudden lack of a peer group to exchange war stories with. From a corporate perspective, this isolation among Project Managers leads to inconsistencies in the way projects are managed. Often, project success is more a function of the Project Manager’s personality than of any particular methodology.

There is a tendency for senior management to point to the definition of a project - “a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result” – and resign themselves to inevitable inconsistencies, because that is just the way it is.

However, the Project Management Institute and indeed anyone who has obtained Project Management Professional (PMP)® status would disagree. Look closely again at the definition. It does not say that all projects are unique, just that they produce unique deliverables. The management of projects can be standardized. For instance, every project involves doing some work. We need to define clearly what that work is – or carry out Project Scope Management. Similarly, all projects are temporary, so they have to end sometime. This end date is often critical to the project’s success, so all the work must be organized to happen before that date arrives. This involves scheduling, or Project Time Management. We will need people to do the work and we will use equipment and materials to realize our deliverables. All this costs money.

Over the years, a body of knowledge has been acquired to support Project Managers. We know how to collect requirements; we know how to build schedules; we know about budgeting and we have learned the importance of stakeholders and risks. So the tools and techniques described in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) are there for use by any Project Manager and Project Management Professionals should have no difficulties applying them.

So at the corporate-level, a wise decision would be to ensure that projects are managed properly throughout the organization. One approach to addressing this issue is to establish a Project Management Office (PMO). Unfortunately, the PMO is not a standard concept. For some, it is a new functional area where all the Project Managers in the organization report to some senior Project Manager and can be regarded as a pool of Project Management resources.

An alternative viewpoint is that the PMO is a consultancy and will provide advice on tools and techniques to non-specialist Project Managers, such as technical team leaders. There are even PMOs that are tasked with project governance and oversight.

The Project Management Institute describes three types of PMO:

  1. Supportive: Here the PMO provides a consultative role to projects by supplying templates, best practices, training, access to information and lessons learned from other projects. The degree of control provided by the PMO is low in this configuration.
  2. Controlling: This flavour of PMO offers support and guidance on how to manage the projects, trains others in project management and project management software, assists with project management tools and ensures compliance with organizational practices. Compliance may involve adopting project management frameworks or methodologies using specific templates, forms and tools. The degree of control is moderate.
  3. Directive: Here, the PMO takes direct control of the projects by managing the projects and providing the project managers for the different projects. This configuration offers the PMO high control.

Many Project Managers complain that doing project management work does not allow time for research into improving the project management processes. There is also a tendency for companies to schedule their Project Managers so that they move from one project to another, without a break. Indeed, many companies want Project Managers to manage multiple projects simultaneously! Having a PMO would allow Project Managers alternate between doing and reflecting on what they are doing – applying the lessons they are learning at the front line to the organization’s suite of tools and techniques. By alternating between a practitioner and a researcher role, Project Managers will have the opportunity to improve their own skills but also to learn from others in the PMO.

If you are considering setting up a PMO in your organization, take note of an interesting finding from a survey jointly conducted by CIO magazine and the Project Management Institute: the longer the PMO is in operation, the better the project success rates. While there might be an improvement in the first year, you will need to wait four or five years before the influence of the PMO will really be felt. In other words, a Project Management Office is a strategic decision.

Velopi’s project management training courses cover all aspects of project management, including the Project Management Office concept. If this is an area of interest to you, our project management certification courses are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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