Best of Both

A Step-by-Step Guide To Introducing Project Management without Stifling Innovation and Agility



A step-by-step guide to introducing project management without stifling innovation and agility.

By Ulrike Maria Graetsch, PMP

When leaders at rapidly growing organizations establish a project management office (PMO), they're often seeking better control over which projects are started, more oversight of projects in progress and practical project management help to support the business. The challenge is to provide the structure of project management without stifling innovation and agility. In my experience, a practical, three-step approach can help:


My first step was talking with the organization's project managers and other employees. It soon became clear that most of the project managers had the role in name only. They lacked clear responsibilities and had not been trained in project processes. Apart from myself, there was nobody with a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Projects were poorly defined—most had no clear scope, no defined budget and arbitrary timelines. Project delivery was managed as a set of ever-growing task lists.

During the assessment period alone, several projects were started, delivered in part and then abandoned as business priorities changed. Overall, the business was experiencing an exhausting pace of stop, start and change.


I decided to implement the PMO and project methodology as a project. To demonstrate good practices, I set the project up formally with a project charter and steering committee. The key priorities for project management and PMO implementation were:

■  Educate key team members in basic project management

■  Develop a project methodology based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) project life cycle processes, and progressively introduce this methodology into projects

■  Develop metrics for measuring PMO performance

■  Introduce portfolio management

■  Set up a community of practice for project managers

The leadership team and I decided that from an organizational perspective, the PMO would consist of a small, focused team of the project portfolio manager and specialist project managers. Generally, projects would be business-led, with project managers embedded in the business functional units, supported by the PMO.

We hired an external training organization to deliver basic project management training. Key team members then helped develop the organization's project management framework and templates. By working closely with other team members and holding focused discussions about key challenge areas, they were able to use their new project management skills and become champions of the customized project management framework. Strong engagement ensured that the processes were highly practical and lean and could operate in the business environments.

For governance, we settled on a tiered model that provided different levels of documentation and governance for small, medium and large projects. These size categories were essentially a reflection of projects’ budget size, business change impact, risk and estimated time to complete. Large projects would need to report to a steering committee; small and medium projects would only need a sponsor. Medium projects had stronger financial reporting and monitoring requirements than small projects.

To ensure the PMO would be focused on improvements after implementation, we set up metrics and key performance indicators to measure adherence to the project methodology, quality of delivery, and training and engagement of project managers in PMO-led activities.

We also automatically made all project managers who were responsible for project delivery part of the new Project Managers Community, which met quarterly to discuss project challenges and provided opportunities to grow project leadership skills.


The project management processes and PMO took 14 months to implement. This time was used to develop and roll out the methodology, assess existing projects, select those that should be included into the formal portfolio, retrofit governance structures, and begin status reporting and portfolio management.

A key learning emerged during the implementation: Not everybody wanted to be a project manager. Even though the methodology and processes were very light-touch, some team members who attended project management training realized they were not the best fit for the role. Being a project manager required more administration and stakeholder engagement than they enjoyed and was not in line with their subject-matter-focused career aspirations.

Another surprise during the project was the amount of effort we spent to decide what types of projects should be managed and delivered under the new methodology. We finally settled on a financial metric: projects with a capital expenditure above US$50,000 and other projects as needed from a strategic perspective.

The implementation of a first-time PMO into a subject-matter-expert enterprise—although conceptually simple—required a lot of patience and much time explaining concepts and principles. In today's lean and entrepreneurial organizations, which are focused on streamlining, agility and cutting red tape, any new process needs to be justified—merely referencing “best practice standards” will not gain traction.

Instead, leaders must be very clear on the principles that underpin each process and the benefits that can be obtained by following the process. Focus needs to be on implementing core project management processes, so that the business can get on with being creative and nimble in addressing the uncertainties of the economic environment. PM

img Ulrike Maria Graetsch, PMP, is a project services manager at Maddocks, Melbourne, Australia.

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