Reengineering a non-centralized project structure into a centralized project structure

Joan Knutson

Staff members being asked to use project management may need initial support in establishing the project processes and procedures and may need ongoing support in maintaining the project management discipline in the organization.

Many project organizations are organized and managed in a decentralized fashion. The project manager comes from the department that has requested the project be done. There are no standard policies and procedures and certainly no centralized consulting expertise in the form of a Project Office and a project director to aid in meeting the project management expectations that we discussed in the January issue. If you are in a decentralized project organization and can see benefit to reengineering your project community into a centralized environment, this article is specifically for you. Even if you are working in a centralized project environment with a Project Office and a project director, read on. There may be some minor reengineering that you can do to enhance your current organization.

In order to address this subject, let's first look at what the Project Office is and what it is not, and then look at the role the project director plays in that environment. Once you have generated a list of expectations, then we'll provide you—management—with a series of guidelines to support the project director in meeting this reengineering effort.

Rationale for the Project Office and the Project Director

A product/project management initiative is undertaken with the belief that it will potentially reduce a project's duration (improving time to market), cost, and resource utilization. You, as management, believe that the long-term benefits of professionally applying the discipline of project management will prove to be a prudent investment. However, in spite of this expectation, staff members being asked to use project management may need initial support in establishing the project processes and procedures, and may need ongoing support in maintaining the project management discipline in the organization. In recognition of these requirements, management may decide to reengineer the organization to provide that support in the form of a Project Office managed by a project director. Let's first talk about the role of the Project Office.

The Project Office

The Project Office refers to an autonomous group (or individual) who provides project management support services. This group or individual should be viewed as an internal consultative service specifically focused on the discipline of project management. In addition to specific services that will be delineated in the project management policies and procedures, the Project Office will also perform several general services such as:

  • Maintaining the central historical archives for all types of projects
  • Functioning as internal consultant(s) specialized in project management
  • Helping with multi–project and interdepartmental reporting to top management
  • Providing supplemental (one-on-one) mentoring on the techniques of project management and project management software
  • Facilitating the continuous improvement process related to the project process.

What the Project Office is Not

The Project Office is not a data collection and administrative function, nor is it an agent of management looking over the shoulders of project teams and reporting variances from plan to management. The philosophy of project management calls for problem reporting by the appropriate team members, not by this staff unit. The Project Office will, at the project manager's and the project team's request, help prepare reports and briefings used to inform management of status and problems. However, these reports and briefings will be presented by the project team, not the Project Office. If that is the role of the Project Office, then what is the responsibility of the project director who manages the Project Office?

The Project Director

The project director has the responsibility for providing project direction throughout the organization. The position requires the project director to monitor the progress of crucial projects being performed. The project director will coordinate the project selection and prioritization process, and the presentation to management in a professional manner. All active projects will be reviewed by the project director from the planning phase through the closeout phase. The project director will provide training, mentoring, and tools to the project team. He or she will establish a standard project life cycle (and possibly a standard product life cycle), making sure that these life cycles are revised and reissued as necessary. These life cycles will be the basis of standard processes and procedures for planning and controlling projects. The project director's responsibility is to provide project management consultation and support to all staff members. This support may consist of some or all of the following:

  • Building and maintaining product life cycle models (optional)
  • Building and maintaining project life cycle models
  • Building and maintaining a multi-project resource management system in order to service all project and non-project objectives
  • Ensuring that quality is planned for and achieved
  • Providing appropriate training to all project players relative to the above product/project life cycles
  • Coordinating the project selection and project prioritization process
  • Assuring that the project team is formed in a timely manner with appropriate representation from all areas of the organization and with the necessary commitment of functional managers
  • Working with the project teams to generate the initial project plan, including the schedule, resource allocation, and budget
  • Interacting with project teams to assure that activities are being completed on time, within budget, and of the quality required; and that corrective action is taken if any unacceptable variance occurs
  • Managing a change control process that identifies and analyzes the impact of changes of scope and presents them to a decision making body for approval or disapproval
  • Managing a risk management process to identify and prepare preventive and response plans; and to monitor these risks, activating contingency plans when necessary
  • Arranging formal milestone reviews that include:
    • Maintaining a calendar of scheduled milestone review meetings
    • Supporting project teams in preparation of the reviews and facilitating these meetings when appropriate
    • Producing executive summaries that reflect the official status of each formal milestone review
  • Facilitating resolution of issues
  • Facilitating cross-departmental/functional communications
  • Identifying and arranging for review of projects at the team level
  • Escalating project-related concerns to appropriate management attention as needed
  • Archiving historical project management files to be used in planning of future projects
  • Supporting the training and application of an automated scheduling tool and making available other automated tools that might support the project management discipline.

The project director should report as high in the organization as possible— preferably to the president—and should take his or her direction from the top management committee. The project director has direct line responsibility only for the staff in the Project Office. All other relationships with project team members are dotted, matrixed relationships. However, the project director will be expected to provide performance appraisal review input for all participants on all projects over which he or she monitors.

As these are the roles of the Project Office and the responsibilities of the project director, take a few minutes and determine which of these correctly express your expectations of the Project Office and of the project director. Then review the list of guidelines below and decide what you, as management, can do to support this new organization and its manager.

Five Guidelines to Aiding the Project Director in Meeting Your Expectations

  • Understand as much as you can about the project management discipline so that your expectations are realistic.
  • Be willing to actively aid the project director to meet your expectations.
  • Act as facilitator to provide the resources and tools that the project director needs in order to meet your expectations.
  • Be a resource to the project director to share your knowledge of the organization and of the political interactions.
  • Be an ally to the project director and develop a collaborative relationship.

As management, we in the project community are looking to you for direction. We are anxious to meet your expectations. Take some time to consider the role of the Project Office and the responsibilities of the project director; and if you are willing to consider reengineering in this fashion, let us know how we can best meet your expectations. We, in return, are looking for your support and guidance.

Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm.

PM Network • February 1995



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