The path to enlightenment



In the Trenches Many organizations are far from reaching project, program and portfolio management nirvana. But they still can help grow the profession.

By Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, PMI Fellow

Our profession has been in constant mutation since the dawn of modern project management in the 1950s. From its most simplistic form of dealing with a single project to running complex programs in ever-changing environments like high-tech space exploration, the profession of project management has broadened considerably. Project, program and portfolio managers require a rock-solid set of policies, structure, guidelines and procedures to herd the plethora of projects that often butt heads at stampede-like pace to meet desired goals.

What looms next on the horizon? Is there no end to the rampant scope creep assailing the profession? What will project management eventually encompass?

Where We Are Now

Here are some of the ways projects are currently handled in organizations:

1. Laissez Faire (“let them do as they choose”). Projects are carried out as required using intuitive approaches or methodologies that vary from one initiative to another. Nobody knows how many projects are underway in the organization or their statuses.

2. Departmental. Each department or group develops methodology and practices appropriate for it. No cross-fertilization exists with other departments.

3. Project Management Offices, or PMOs. Some organizations have one PMO, while others have multiple at different levels in different regions. They sometimes are connected, yet often operate independently.

4. Corporate-Level PMO (top-down oversight). Here, a chief project officer, corporate PMO or strategic PMO cares for the implementation of strategic projects and the overall project management practice in the organization, including portfolio management.

5. Enterprise Project Governance. This all-encompassing organizational approach involves key players, including board members, executives, portfolio managers, PMO managers and project managers. It aims to ensure the alignment of the corporate portfolio and its programs and projects with overall strategy. Actions are taken proactively to confirm that everything stays on track to ultimately create value for the organization.

This last approach is designed to meet a crying need: to deal intelligently and efficiently with the numerous projects and programs demanded by the marketplace, and with evolving technology, stakeholders, regulatory agencies and the quest to innovate. Organizations are under greater pressure to do all this with limited resources and at record-making speed.

Reaching Enlightenment

Assuming the trend continues toward broader views for managing projects across organizations, where might the quest for a comprehensive holistic view lead? Is there another level—some sort of project management nirvana, a glorious stage of organizational enlightenment?

Until such enlightenment, the five approaches listed above all could use an upgrade. Here's how to boost project management effectiveness in each:

Laissez faire may fare well—provided projects are few in number and “hero” project managers are at the helm. Other circumstances call for more structure and process, through a PMO perhaps, to increase the organization's project management maturity.

The departmental way of managing projects is effective within certain organizational microcosms, such as IT and engineering, where departmental PMOs are helpful in guaranteeing best practices. To be more effective, the departments must reach out to other areas in the organization to consolidate common practices and create a broad project management culture.

PMOs are the stanchions for project management methodology and support in organizations. In terms of authority and responsibility, however, their postures vary from the timid to the proud and powerful. But power wielded by a PMO is less important than its effectiveness in supporting and facilitating projects to meet organizational goals. Effective PMOs evolve constantly and strive to spread best practices across the organization.

The corporate-level PMO views projects strategically as they are selected, evolve and are brought to fruition. Because this type of PMO resides in the upper echelons of an organization, it has access to decision-makers and can greatly increase overall project management effectiveness through portfolio management, standardization of methodologies, acquisition of technologies and providing training on a corporate-wide basis.

Enterprise project governance, in theory, stands the best chance of coming close to project management enlightenment. The challenge involves overcoming the cultural hurdles and turf battles that stand in the way. But it will take persistence, top-level support and long-range strategies.



Imagine it: full-fledged project management nirvana, where all stakeholders experience a state of complete fulfillment and joy.

It might not be fully attainable, but it's an admirable dream to pursue. Project professionals can make giant steps in that direction no matter what approach they currently use. The destination isn't really as important as the professional journey toward the goal. That journey surely will spawn improved practices as the profession evolves to improve results at the portfolio level. PM


Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, PMI Fellow, is president and principal consultant at Dinsmore Associates, a project and change management consultancy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is the coauthor of Enterprise Project Governance.




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