Building a cathedral

project architecture and the PMO



The historic cathedrals of the past centuries are intriguing in their architecture, complex in design, and elaborate in detail—but how about building a modern, state-of-the-art information technology–enabled hospital? The idea of this paper is inspired by a megaproject, a green-field development of an all-digital healthcare facility, outfitted with the latest wireless technology, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking systems, telemetry, and robotics technology.

Building a hospital, like building a cathedral, is a major undertaking requiring elaborate coordination, various specializations, sophisticated communication, mass dissemination of information, detailed planning, complex decision making, and an innate ability to stay focused. It requires the best of project management skills and talent.


This paper focus on mega/complex projects and the role the PMO plays in managing them. Megaprojects differ from regular projects in terms of complexity and time horizon, and therefore simply applying the Project Management Institute (PMI) project management methodology by itself is not enough. There are many other elements to incorporate to be successful in managing megaprojects—elements from program management and other elements from portfolio management need to be weaved in to form a comprehensive framework to support managing complex, multiphase, multientity, multiyear high-tech projects.

Consequently, this discussion leads us to consider enterprise architecture (EA). EA is a term that means many things to different people, but at its core it encompasses vision, people, process, and technology. It captures stakeholders and their values, leadership and organizational dynamics, operating models, styles and modes of interaction between different entities, and organizational competencies.

With this in mind, the discussion progresses to the pivotal role of the PMO in managing and successfully delivering mega / complex projects.

Elements of Complexity

There are number of elements that impact the level of complexity in a project environment. The size, cost, location, people, and innovation play a signification role in the complexity of the project. The enormity of the challenge, the distance between entities, and the interaction among people in the organizations involved; their responsiveness, participation, and unpredictability of outcomes over time impact complexity (Cicmil, Cooke-Davies, Crawford, & Richardson, 2009). The key complexity elements in megaprojects are summarized below:

1. Time-horizon—When the project extends over a long period of time. The length of time until you see the final deliverable usually works against the project and the project manager. People lose sight of the final product; they lose the sense of urgency, and they become relatively complacent. Teams are also at risk, and there is an increased risk of miscommunication and higher turnover.

2. Multilayered chain of command and the inherent politics—The need for political savvy (the know-how); the need to know how to navigate the system, negotiate, and build consensus; the need for deep understanding of the emotional and social intelligence aspects of human interactions and organizational dynamics to successfully run a complex multientity project.

3. High degree of specialization—The need for highly skilled professionals, from many different types of professions, with deep knowledge in their areas of specialization; in addition, the need to outsource some of these resource requirements and coordinate between various vendors, contractors, and consultants, who in many cases have conflicting interests, adds an element of complexity to the project environment.

4. Geographically dispersed teams—When the project team members are spread out across different locations, especially if these span multiple time zones, this creates challenges to regularly and consistently communicating and exchanging ideas. Team bonding is taxed by the distance and heavy reliance on virtual interactions; travel expenses tend to rise exponentially, adding a strain on the budget, especially in the current economic environment.

There are other elements that could impact the level of complexity on a project, such as the degree and pace of change, the overall cost, and the number of people working on the project (this is discussed in more detail in Managing Complex Projects – A New Model by Kathleen Hass) (Hass, 2009).

The Project Management Office (PMO)

The project management office (PMO) is the hub of activities. It is led by the chief project manager or chief projects officer, and it houses all of the project managers—senior, junior, and associates. It coordinates contractors and vendors; it facilitates the development of proposals, contracts, plans, and schedules: also, it gathers project requirements, documents findings, hires team members, produces workflow maps, and coordinates all of these activities synergistically to produce a manageable detailed work plan.

Foundational Concepts for the PMO

Vision and Strategy—Articulating the vision and strategy is a function of the C-Suite; however, the PMO is responsible for understanding the organization's vision and alignment of projects to business strategy. In the current global environment, this alignment needs to be revisited and readjusted regularly for the PMO to stay relevant.

Governance, Leadership, and Oversight—Planning and Steering Committee (PSC) and Executive Steering Committee review progress, approve next steps, resolve conflict that was resolved at earlier levels or conflict impacting the project but caused by other nonproject-related issues. Managing stakeholders’ expectations and tracking decisions over time, and ensuring alignment with organizational strategy and goals, are key functions of the PMO. Stakeholders’ expectations management, prioritization, and decision making include recording and tracking of decisions, progress monitoring and control, budget and financial controls, and change management.

Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration—Building a common understanding, collecting and sharing information, integrating different components, resolving misunderstandings; planning out who talks to whom, what is the intended message, what is the frequency, what are the details? Also, what outcomes need to be accomplished? These are all elements that need to be built into the project communication plan.

Conflict Management / Politics Management and Relationship Building—Organizational politics are natural and expected; the challenge is in dealing with it and channeling it to a positive energy to help the project move forward.


  • The project portal is a cornerstone for the success of the PMO; its set-up, configuration, features, and ease of use are essential for the success of the PMO
  • Project management methodology (PMM), best practices, and standards
  • Project documentation and documents management strategy are essential
  • Team building includes tools to enable ease and speed of communication, exchange of ideas, knowledge transfer, and networking among team members
  • Reports production and executive dashboard capabilities

Business Plan Development—The business plan needs to go hand-in-hand with the project road map and the megaproject plan to synchronize and integrate milestones and deliverables. The business plan covers staffing, cost, marketing, vendors, and supply chain, and other elements of particular interest to stakeholders, such as an integrated high-level milestone tracking of key project deliverables and timelines.

Budget and Cost Control—A 5-year project budget estimate is a helpful tool to forecast cost and other financial indicators such as ROI. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is another financial measure to help stakeholders make decisions and prioritize investments; 1- to 5-year projections for capital and operating budget; staffing needs, applications support, technology maintenance and upgrades, licenses, and servicelevel agreements (Hichman & Smaltz, 2008).

Defining the Modus Operandi—i.e., the operating model. As they come on board, different players, vendors, team members, and executives need to have a shared model for business operations, business processes defined and agreed upon, commitment sought from participants to abide by the new processes and to support them. Discussion focuses on the “how”; how are we going to operate on Day 1, Year 1, and after 5 years?

Managing Risk—Risk management is an ongoing PMO responsibility (Cook, 2005); especially in megaprojects with high visibility, managing risk becomes a paramount role for the PMO to avoid failure and public embarrassment. Projects that extend over a long period of time run the risk of change—change to scope and requirements due to changes in the global economy, changes in leadership, and changes in organizational vision or strategy. The PMO must be agile and prompt in analyzing new risks as they present and in developing an appropriate mitigation strategy and course of action. Classic sources of risk on megaprojects are:

Partners Relationships: In many cases, megaprojects are jointly funded and managed by several partners. Relationships among partners need a delicate balance of transparency and consensus-building on myriad of issues. The PMO and its leader have a central role in building and maintaining these relationships. A politically savvy PMO leader needs to work hard on fostering and strengthening the relationships to ensure a positive work environment conducive to productive, efficient, and meaningful communication and collaboration between different entities.

Technology Risks: Technology risk in megaprojects are enormous. There are many moving components, the data center and infrastructure, cabling, platform, network, servers, hardware, software, applications, databases, and integration are variables introduced by various vendors, creating multiple dependencies and consequently higher risk. The IT component of the PMO is responsible for identifying these risks and developing plans to adequately identify, control, and mitigate risk.

Public Relations Risks: Media management and targeted press releases are used in megaprojects with impact on the public at large, such as roadwork and bridge repairs. Likewise, hospitals and healthcare facilities that serve the public and meet specific needs will be subject to public and media scrutiny.

The 5-Years Road Map

The PMO has a major responsibility in creating and integrating the sub-project plans and milestones; this activity needs coordination and synergy among project managers to synchronize endless tasks and steps to orchestrate the timing of significant events and avoid undue delays. In developing the project plan, many other activities come into play, the mega-project scope, resource/competency availability, budgetary constraints, phasing-in of tasks, quality control, and planning for opening day all create a web of dependencies that could challenge the most experienced project manager.

The organizational PMO will not be successful in accomplishing its mission in delivery of mega / complex projects without a strong understanding of the enterprise. It is my professional opinion and recommendation that organizational PMO leadership develops or acquires this competency.

Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architects work with stakeholders, both leadership and subject matter experts (SMEs), to build a holistic view of the organization's strategy, processes, information, and information technology assets. The role of the enterprise architect is to take this knowledge and ensure that the business and IT are in alignment. The enterprise architect links the business vision, strategy, and processes of an organization to its IT strategy, and documents this using multiple architectural models or views that show how the current and future needs of an organization will be met in an efficient, sustainable, agile, and adaptable manner.

Enterprise architects operate across organizational and computing “silos” to drive common approaches and expose information assets and processes across the enterprise. Their goal is to deliver an architecture that supports the most efficient and secure IT environment to meet a company's business needs.

Enterprise architects are like city planners, providing the roadmaps and regulations that a city uses to manage its growth and provide services to its citizens. In this analogy, it is possible to differentiate the role of the system architect, who plans one or more buildings: software.

An enterprise architecture framework describes the enterprise components and how these components interact together, drawing on open systems theory and using process modeling tools. By working closely with the business owners and stakeholders a feedback loop is created to continue to refine and adapt the models. To be successful, this effort requires collaboration between many entities and individuals, including SMEs, business leaders, project managers, PMO leader, and the chief information officer (CIO). Therefore, having this function residing in the PMO adds significant value to the management of mega-projects. The enterprise components usually include:

  1. People
    1. Stakeholders – business / administrative / clinical
    2. Steering committee members / executive steering
    3. Advisory council members
    4. Board members
    5. Chairs and head of departments or divisions
    6. Other organization leaders
    7. Organization structure, culture, and decision-making style
  2. Process
    1. Operating Model – strategy maps, goals, and corporate policies
    2. Functional decompositions capabilities and organizational models
    3. Business / clinical processes mapping
    4. Organization / information life cycles, periods, and timing e. Suppliers (supply chain) and services
  3. Information
    1. Sources of data / data storage / warehousing
    2. Business Intelligence (BI) tools
    3. Meta data – data that describe your enterprise data elements
    4. Data models – conceptual, logical, and physical
  4. Applications
    1. Application software solutions, and application inventories and diagrams
    2. Interfaces / interoperability between systems—i.e., data flow, events and messages –mission-critical functionality
    3. Intranet and portal features and other links with parties within and outside of the organization
  5. Technology
    1. Hardware, platforms, and servers, and where they are kept
    2. Local and wide-area networks, Internet connectivity diagrams
    3. Wireless/Wi Fi services and bandwidth capability
    4. Operating systems / infrastructure software, application servers, database management, programming languages
    5. Telecom services, VOIP, messaging, Blackberry services
    6. Mobile technology

Delivered successfully, enterprise architecture has the potential to allow both the business/clinical and IT strategies to learn and impact each other. Therefore, effective enterprise architecture may be a leading factor in resolving issues and achieving success on mega / complex projects.


Managing megaprojects is a challenging endeavor. Many elements come into play and bear upon the execution of big, complex projects; the political environment, the stakeholders’ interests, complex requirements, time horizon, high specialization, and the sheer enormity of the task. The PMO can help reduce the complexity and bring structure and methodology to the process. By focusing on alignment with the organizational goals, synchronizing with enterprise architecture, managing stakeholders’ expectations, and continuously monitoring and managing risks, the PMO is the anchor and cornerstone for the success of mega / complex projects.


Cicmil, S., Cooke-Davies, T., Crawford, L., & Richardson, K. (2009). Exploring the complexity of projects: Implications of complexity theory for project management practice. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Cooke, Helen. (2005). Organizational Project Management. Presentation at PMI Asia Congress, India, 2005.

Englund, R., & Graham, R., & Dinsmore, PC.. (2003). Creating the project office – A manager's guide to leading organizational change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hass, K. B. (2009). Managing complex projects – A new model. Management Concepts.

Hichman, G., & Smaltz, D. (2008). The healthcare information technology planning fieldbook – Tactics, tools, and templates for building your IT plan. Chicago: HIMSS.

Project Management Institute. (2006). The standard for program management. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute.(2006). The standard for portfolio management. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Wikipedia. (n.d.) Enterprise architecture. Retrieved September 1, 2009, from

Wikipedia. (n.d.) Enterprise architecture framework. Retrieved Septebmer 1, 2009, from architecture framework

©2009 Laura Aziz, PhD, PMP
PMI Global Congress North America 2009, Orlando



Related Content

  • PMI Case Study

    AstraZeneca member content open

    As COVID-19 spread in the spring of 2020, AstraZeneca recognized the need for an effective COVID-19 vaccine to defeat the virus.

  • PMI Case Study

    Vodafone member content open

    At the request of a strategic customer, Vodafone replace its existing network with a highly capable Global Local Area Network (GLAN).

  • PM Network

    Cognitive Care member content open

    Artificial intelligence (AI) might be just what the doctor ordered. Healthcare organizations are collaborating with scientists and tech companies to launch R&D and pilot projects. The goal is to…

  • PM Network

    Embrace the Bots member content open

    By Mustafa, Abid The robots are coming—now. This big tech disruption is set to invade various aspects of corporate life, delivering efficiencies and better customer experiences at the expense of some jobs. In…

  • Project Management Journal

    Project Networks as Constellations for Value Creation member content locked

    By Laursen, Markus Through an empirical study of two interorganizational project networks in a cultural setting, this article explores how value is created in project networks. The article discusses recent theoretical…