Successfully introducing a Project Management Office (PMO) in the Public Sector
Cork County Council is the second largest Local Authority in the Republic of Ireland and the largest based on geographic area size. The Council has an annual revenue budget of approximately €300m and services a population of 400,000 people, or 141,000 households. Current staff numbers total 2,000 approximately. The Council delivers a broad and diverse range of services, including: Roads, Motor Taxation, Housing, Planning, Environmental Services, Economic Development, Tourism, Community Development, Arts & Heritage, Fire Services, Library Services.
I am the Manager of the Enterprise Technology Services section which includes the Service Delivery, Service Management, Service Development and Service Security & Control teams. We're an internal service to our customers, the Business Units, and we are responsible for a large project portfolio with over 22 priority projects this year as well as Network/Communications for 163 offices/sites and an IT Service Desk that responds to over 16,000 support tickets per annum. Our work involves a wide range of activities including PMO, security, cybersecurity, procurement, contract management, financial management etc. PMO is a small portion of our work but it feeds across the whole directorate.
Find out how Cork County Council streamlined its project management process to improve delivery time and reduce costs by introducing an Information Technology Project Management Office (PMO).
Five years ago, there was no formal project management process in place and the big problem statement was in Communication – both in how projects were initiated and the lack of communication throughout the project. There was no clear point of contact, no portfolio management and no formal project management procedures with visibility for stakeholders of the process, policies or documentation around project management.
For example, at that time, a big failure was how project requests were coming in ad hoc. If our planning Department wanted a new IT project, where would they go to? It used to be just a phone call "Martin, we have this idea on a project". Requests were coming into different people. No one within the Information Technology (IT) Department had a centralised view of what projects were being worked on, the incoming business requirements and project requests. Even more challenging was how a project request would come in and IT would start working on it. But three months later the Business Unit might decide that the project wasn’t required anymore.
I wanted to put a streamlined process in place where there would be one specific channel which everyone would know, a common understanding of the expectations from the business point of view and which would enable the Business Units to think through their requirements. Ideally, a corporate PMO would have been the approach but our need was for a stepping stone approach towards that. So, we started with the IT Departments as a lot of the big projects come through IT and are deployed across the whole organization.
We started the process of establishing the PMO five or six years ago. The critical need was to bring credibility into how IT Department operated in accordance with industry best practice with defined processes and documentation. For industry best practice, the approach that stood out for us was the Project Management Institute (PMI). To enable us to implement this, we needed the support of experts in project management and we engaged Velopi to help us from the outset.
The Project Management Office (PMO) Team at the start was only three or four people and I was the Project Manager for setting up the PMO. There was a lot of planning at the start to establish the baseline. We presented on the challenges involved in setting up the PMO and we did a workshop on designing the PMO. An initial gap analysis was performed to identify steps what we needed to do to achieve the level of PMO that we had set as our objective. We carried out stakeholder analysis to decide who needs to know. The first big challenge was to get the buy in from the divisional managers as stakeholders and from the Business Units as customers by becoming more credible in our new approach.
From this start, we got approval from the Divisional Managers to establish the PMO within the IT Directorate. The associated budget approval enabled us to start designing and implementing our PMO plan with associated training.
We had concluded that for us to be credible with our customers and stakeholders, we had to achieve the Project Management Professional (PMP)® accreditation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) to be seen by them as qualified project managers operating according to industry best practice. It was very important in helping us ensure that we were all singing off the same hymn sheet. So even if we're contacted separately by the different Business Units, we had one unified procedure being adhered to. So, the pressure was on us to get accredited and we did the five-day course with Velopi and then the PMP® exam a couple of months later. All four of us got the exams and we have driven the PMO on ever since.
Our next step was to formalise and document our processes. This involved setting up websites and mapping out a whole project workflow from the initial initiation through to the closure stage. To support this, we put a lot of work into designing 50 different types of templates.
Once we had all this in place, we went out to meet our customers, the Business Unit Directors. We could now communicate the formal procedure on the way we wanted to manage projects going forward. The Directors bought into our approach immediately and their response was very positive as we were enabling them to now know and understand what was required in order to achieve their objective in getting a project running and successfully completed.
It took over a year and a lot of work before we could get the process formalized, signed off and approved at director level. Our process is quite substantial as IT does a lot of projects and there's a lot of procurement and contract management involved in projects as well. Moreover, we are tied to certain deadlines because we are subject to e-tendering for software development. But our new PMO process has transformed us into an effective service for our customers and it's been in place ever since.
Today, the initial phases of our process involve Pre-Approval Meetings with the Business Units to learn what they want to achieve and whether we have something already in place with which we could help them. If not, we move to understanding and gathering the customer requirements and budgeting. Sometimes it works out that there is no project required and we can go different route with them. People learn the budgetary requirements and senior management approval requirements through the Pre-Approval Meetings.
Before a project commences, certain criteria must be met. There must be budget approval and a code assigned for the IT Department to drive forward on the project with the Business Unit. The Business Unit must have a liaison team in place to work with IT. Everything must be signed off by the Business Unit and if there are any stumbling blocks, the project is referred back to the Business Unit before it will be continued. If there are delays from the Business Unit within a three-week period, the reasons are investigated, or IT will shut that project down and it won't go any further to ensure that there is no more time being wasted on it.
The process today is very clear, and the Business Units understand that they need to keep on top of it as much as we do. Communication is vital from both sides in terms of the exact objectives and requirements and what's in scope or out of scope within the budget approval. We may have people contacting us that have no idea how to project manage a project to successful conclusion. Indeed, they may assume it's a kind of flick of a switch by IT and the project is done. Now the process helps them understand how a significant a project is as a work stream and the necessity of their input in terms of their role, input of their resources and their responsibility to clearly identifying what they want to achieve – all of which we help them with.
Even the project request form itself helps customers register that this is a serious business request that will be dealt with professionally and according to industry best practice. It makes them think much more of what they're requesting. We've actually had a reduction in projects, particularly the smaller less formal type projects, as they’ve been screened as not essential to the organization.
As part of the whole PMO and project management in general, we now have an IT Team Plan and our service delivery plans which are in line with the corporate objectives to be done by Q4 each year. Being IT, there are things that will come in from the side, maybe a national project that we weren't aware of. The IT team Plan is constantly updated, prioritised and approved by senior management. We brought in a tool called Asana that we use to project manage all our tasks and milestones.
We go to each Directorates annually now, dealing with them face to face, to get their point of view on how IT can improve things or what projects they have coming down the line. We are an internal service to the directorates so the more we know what's going on, the better for us planning for that.
To make it easier for them to engage, we chose to simplify from the Customer’s viewpoint (i.e. the Directorates). They don’t see the PMO or the whole process as it is our own internal process. All they see is a formal request form, our Project Management Advisory Service to help with any projects or the Pre-Approval Meetings with the project managers being the direct point of contact with any project related queries.
The big impact results for Cork County Council from the IT PMO introduction have been to the bottom line in terms of tangible and significant improvements in Timelines, Cost Reduction and increased Return On Investment.
The tender process and our Pre Approvals process makes it easy for us to define and control cost once we get the proposals back from the vendors. If the budget that we envisaged isn't in place, it could be back to the drawing board or it could be reducing the scope and we may have to change some of the requirements before the project is approved for commencement. By having our formal PMO process in place, the scheduling and costing of projects is much more in line with expectations for all today.
We now have credibility and the professional authority of experienced and accredited Project Managers running the projects. At the end of a project, each Project Manager shares any lessons learned from it back into the project management tools. By sharing their experiences this way, we all learn and can pick up each project with a good sense of realistic time and cost implications.
Our communication channels are clear and very open to everyone and evolving as we learn from our experiences. Everyone has a full overview of what the Department is doing in projects, what we're all learning through every project that comes in and all our change processes. We can see the resource capacity, who's working on what and where tests are, what the project status is. It's a one stop shop for us to get a high-level overview of every project that's going on and where it's at. That information can be relayed back to the Business Units through the communication plan and the project status updates throughout the project so that they have a feed into that as well.
The difference between today and 5 years ago is that there are no comments coming back which we see as a positive. The process seems to be working and people are happy with it. I think people appreciate the formal processes rather than the old ad hoc way of doing things and people not knowing exactly what is required. They don't like ringing a Department and there being too many different routes or options within that Department. They like to know exactly who they are to contact, what is the form of process, what are the requirements etc.
We’ve done a huge amount of work in order for us to get ourselves to this level of project management maturity as an organisation. However, we are continually improving the PMO and our approach. We continually review to simplify our processes. Our next steps are introducing a more formal change management process, looking at contract management, procurement management, and instant response management.
Velopi worked with us from the beginning – from the early analysis and design of the PMO to supporting us through its subsequent implementation with policies, templates and documentation. Working with the Velopi team helped open our organisation’s eyes in terms of the whole project management process and the value of the PMO and how to successfully implement it.
It was a very positive move on our part to involve Velopi early in the process to help us in getting that buy in. Without their expertise and professional authority, I don't know if we’d have been listened to or not. They brought lay man language, didn't make it overly complicated and were able to bring out the real-world benefits to the Project Managers and Stakeholders so that they were championing this new approach. Velopi’s clarity in explaining meant people left the workshops understanding what we were trying to achieve.
Since first training the original PMO Team, Velopi has helped train our Project Managers to quickly and effectively qualify with PMP® (Project Manager Professional) accreditation from the PMI – delivering the training in a relevant clear manner that is customised to us in their understanding of our organisation while giving our project managers the support they need to pass their exam.
In assisting the adoption of project management thinking, Velopi ran a series of internal two-day project management workshops for us with around 25 people. With their external viewpoint and by sharing their vast experience, Velopi really did get us that buy in from IT Department resources and Stakeholders. For some of our staff and colleagues that didn't really think much of project management or see the benefits of it, Velopi changed mindsets. Everyone has changed their way of thinking about Project Management since.
The results since we started working with Velopi is that we have a successful and mature PMO process in place which people have adopted and continue to use and improve the process five years on - from the initiation phase through the closure. Even the project management terminology is now commonplace within the Department - we're streamlined as an organisation and we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Martin Crummey, Senior Executive Officer, ICT enterprise Technology Services Manager, Cork county Council, 2019