Project Management Institute

Battle Plan

EPMOs Must Establish the Proper Structure for War Rooms to Ensure Their Value

By Abid Mustafa

At a time of increasingly complex business problems, it's natural for project teams to turn to war rooms to solve those challenges. The war room concept gathers all key stakeholders and critical data in one location to conduct an urgent brainstorm or decision-making session. Your organization might call them situation rooms or control rooms, but having a centralized project meeting domain where all essential players participate can help extract business value and build an all-hands mindset across the team from the start of any prominent initiative.

To realize the most benefits from this approach—and to recognize when war rooms might be overkill—the enterprise project management office (EPMO) must take charge. War rooms require a significant investment, so having EPMOs to set proper thresholds and policies for using war rooms will maximize productivity and effectiveness.


At the outset, the EPMO might define the limits of which project teams use war rooms—and when. Only strategic projects with mission-critical outcomes have exclusive use. Beyond that, the EPMO must ensure that war rooms are off-limits for normal project meetings such as kickoffs, planning sessions, status updates and so forth. The main idea is to prevent unnecessary projects clogging a limited supply of war rooms.

War rooms should be used only when the delivery of the key project outcomes has to be monitored, analyzed and studied to undertake real-time decisions. For instance, a war room session could monitor the performance of a new recommendation engine post-launch, but wouldn't be necessary in the earlier project stages.



The EPMO also needs to develop a war room framework that ensures the sessions include the right data feeds and stakeholders to capture all the relevant information to facilitate decision making for the project director.

It's critical for project managers to identify the correct sources of data, prepare the data feeds for presentation and then ensure that all of this is available in real time.

This EPMO framework also needs to make it clear that all stakeholders must be present to answer questions, brainstorm problems and escalate issues when required. For example, if the recommendation engine offers incorrect suggestions, the appropriate teams must be on hand to understand why it failed. Such actions help build open lines of communication, fast escalation paths and a direct line to executive management. Remember, the intention is to solve complex problems or a crisis in the shortest possible time without disrupting business as usual.

By carefully managing war rooms, the EPMO can not only ensure that such rooms remain relevant, but that they also enrich the problem-solving culture of the organization. PM

img Abid Mustafa has worked with project management offices for 12 years. His book In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful is available in paperback and on Kindle.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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