From PMO no to oh yes

Introduction

Picture this, you are the Information Technology (IT) manager responsible for providing services and support to a multi-national corporation. Recently a global enterprise application project has gone awry. The internal customers are extremely dissatisfied, the targeted schedule was missed and to make up for the extended completion date and scope creep, the approved budget and contingency have been used up. Does this sound vaguely familiar to you as a project management challenge or opportunity?

Although this particular troubled project was already completed and unable to benefit from applying sound project management process and methodology; it was the catalyst to begin putting a structure in place to prevent this from occurring again. Thus was born the need to develop a Program Management Office (PGMO). Typically how IT projects were managed is through an outsourcing model utilizing project staff from an established partner and then supplementing that with contracted project managers as required. One of the major challenges with this posed is that whoever was assigned the role of project manager brought what they felt was their set of personal “Best Practices” that had successfully worked for them in the past and they were going to reuse them. There were a few project management Full Time Equivalents scattered about the department that were anointed with titles, but lacked any substantial career and professional development guidance. Unfortunately the IT department's project resources from DBAs, programmers, engineers, analysts and architects each had their own way of managing and contributing to projects as well.

To rally the team around a single agreed to project methodology the least risky approach was to engage the services of an experienced management consulting firm that had developed a very established and proven project management practice. The sound logic was that if they were using it successfully themselves and have helped other clients apply these same techniques and templates; theoretically, it should work here. They eagerly sent their project management team of subject matter expert consultants on site to conduct an assessment of the current situation and interviews of the project stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the environment and expectations. The outputs of this study were the discussions, findings and presenting the recommended approach in the project management methodology and processes. This included a complete set of supporting templates and tools based on tried and true techniques. In addition consulting hours were also packaged to help train staff and implement the PGMO.

Project Management Challenge or Opportunity

There were high hopes for the newly founded PGMO group and what they could do to help ensure that future projects would be properly managed and executed upon. They were looked at as the forward way to go to put structure into gaining efficient management of constrained financial and staffing resources, delivering projects with greater consistency and ultimately resulting in higher customer satisfaction. The PGMO was to move the department from a tactical problem solving entity to a strategic business partnering one as quickly as possible. Then where did the PGMO go wrong and what prevented it from being embraced and adopted as a standard operating procedure?

The key areas that were identified for improvement were:

  • Assessment didn't benefit from following the OPM3® model;
  • Organizational reporting structure and alignment was too Applications centric;
  • PGMO was established as a virtual support group;
  • Members PGMO had limited project management experience and not PMP certified;
  • Adhering to the prescribed process was laborious, inflexible and rigid;
  • Focus was limited to the Implementation phase in the project life cycle.

Even though the management consulting firm had extensive experience in project management they didn't have the benefit of being able to follow the formalized Project Management Institute (PMI) OPM3® methodology and process. This would have taken them through the steps of utilizing the three basic foundation elements of Knowledge, Assessment and Improvement. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is the overarching recognized standard that forms the basis for determining an organization's maturity assessment. From there it would have been evident that the project management maturity of the organization was still in a very ad-hoc and nurturing state. The IT department was expected to move too quickly in applying it to projects and working with project managers who were seeing it and experiencing a high level of structure and rigor for the first time. A better approach would have been to introduce and align the level of exposure gradually over time and on key projects rather than imposing it clear across the board.

The IT department was organized into functional groups primarily segmented between Applications and Network Operations. The PGMO organizational reporting structure was to the Applications group so more emphasis was placed in building the project templates and tools took for the perspective of software related projects following a standard Systems Development Life Cycle. By doing so unknowingly alienated the Network Operations group because they could not relate to many of the unique project activities and deliverables used in application development projects. The result was that the methodology and process was misunderstood and not consistently followed. The predominant culture and environment was more entrepreneurial where managers and staff wore many hats and did whatever it took to just keep the lights on.

The name of the Program Management Office (PGMO) in itself was a misnomer. There were no actual project managers that were managed or controlled by the PGMO. The PGMO's primary responsibility was to be a project support organization, not to manage projects or provide direct project resources. To be able to reach and assist the IT project managers in training, governance adherence, implementation, and providing job aids, the PGMO was set up to be a virtual support group. Individual consulting and project specific support was limited and not within scope. The PGMO was perceived as a project policing body. It was renamed more appropriately as the Project Management Office (PMO) in early 2005.

The manager of the PGMO had limited direct project and program management experience, education, and certification. The PGMO team members themselves brought varying degrees of project management experience to bear in their diverse support roles. This put them at a disadvantage when the IT project managers asked for more specific details and understanding of how, when and why the process and methodology should be applied, and what tools and templates should be used. Credibility of the PGMO became an issue.

The comprehensive set of projects tools and templates that were made available to the project managers proved to be too much horsepower for many that were not accustomed to following a structured methodology and process. As the project managers started to apply these tools they found them to be very rigid, inflexible and took a lot of time to fill out forms and manage, direct time that they would rather spend managing the project and dealing with issues. The Network Operations group continued to successfully deliver projects despite not following the new PGMO model and there were no repercussions or consequences imposed to motivate them to change their behavior.

The last element of improvement that was identified was to broaden the focus of the PGMO beyond just the Implementation phase. There were many aspects of involvement much earlier in the project life cycle that the project manager should have a direct input on as well as through the latter transition of closing out a project and handing it over to the production and operational groups. By doing so provides a holistic perspective rather than just isolating the project to an individual piece of the project puzzle.

A Revitalized and Improved Project Management Office (PMO)

To reengineer the PMO in 2005 some house cleaning needed to occur and shoring up of the infrastructure foundation was conducted. Instead of making a wholesale complete change out to what might be interpreted as introducing yet another “project management process of the season.” It was time to check back with the project managers and stakeholders on what they felt worked, what didn't, and what they required from the PMO. A Web based survey tool was distributed consisting of a series of 20-questions. It didn't stop there either. Personal interviews were also made with the senior managers and key project team members. The responses were then further distilled and categorized into a Solutions Roadmap with four key areas: Methodology, Tools & Templates, Support, and Adoption Management. Then measurable objectives from these four areas were scheduled for completions according to short term 3-6 months, mid term 6-12 months and long term 12 month and beyond targets. It was vital to demonstrate the value add by the PMO “quick wins” that had to be generated to the project managers and their managers in a reasonable time frame to show a significant impact.

Methodology

The existing methodology wasn't clearly articulated and understood by the IT project management customer base. Each project manager had their own way of interpreting how and when to use it. A common understanding of the methodology required a revisit on traditionally how projects were initiated, approved, implemented and completed. The gaps were identified and the fixes were incorporated into a more integrated improved methodology that connected the dots in a linear and orderly manner. Key projects were identified to be used as the pilot control group to incorporate and apply these changes and upgrades to the methodology. Real time feedback from the project managers made sure that what worked and what didn't was heard and acted upon quickly by the PMO. The most notable “Best Practices” were highlighted and openly shared with others. To further promote an encourage collaboration within the department an IT Project Methodology (ITPM) team was formulated to include participant members from other IT groups. This assisted in instituting a direct communication channel between groups with a voice and accelerated the departmental buy-in and support. In addition the PMO now was able to clarify itself as a true shared project support group in the department organizational chart establishing itself as a separate entity no longer directly reporting to the Applications group. Once the methodology was firmly in place and understood within the IT department it would then be shared with our Business Unit customers and then externally to our vendors and partners.

+Tools and Templates

There are over fifty forms and templates that make up the project managers toolkit. They come in different shapes and formats as Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. Each one has been reviewed and tuned up to simplify and adapt as needed according to the requirements of the project. As new ideas and gaps are identified to enhance the toolkit they are prioritized and put into a developmental queue. Access and storage of these files became a logistical challenge through a myriad of different shared department and group network drives that grew over the years. The problem with that is not everyone had access and knew how to navigate and map to these drives especially if they were off site on a remote project. A central repository was created through a PMO Web site that became the single source to go to for the latest and most current version of the tools. The project managers could then easily find them, download the template and then save it into their own specific project directory. Hard copy versions proved to be impractical to maintain as the binders became obsolete almost as quickly as they could be printed. This PMO Web site has developed into a project resource gold mine containing nuggets to useful process, educational, events, quick links and references. It can be easily accessed by any employee with intranet browsing capabilities. The next level of automation for project document control on the immediate horizon includes an electronic file sharing tool that provides for version control, archiving and collaboration capabilities.

Support

The previous “virtual PGMO” image had to change to make it easier to do business for the project management community. Information and consulting resources needed to be readily available on demand. There was an initial concern that the demand would exceed capacity of what the PMO team could deliver. That would have been a nice problem to have. The contingency plan was to cross train each other on skills and have contracted resources come in to supplement if needed for specific projects. The various consulting support services provided included areas such as: auditing, change control, coaching and mentoring, professional development, quality assurance, training, and validation expertise. It wasn't efficient as learned from the first go around of the PGMO to just post and distribute job aids and expect the project managers to understand and embrace the methodology. This time training sessions in groups and to individuals are held on a regular basis. Brown Bag Lunch and Learn topics are also suggested by the project managers for monthly forums. The presenters can be the project managers themselves, guest lecturers brought in or it can be an open round table format. The topic and the project managers help to set the tone for how, when and what is discussed. Those presentations deemed to have the most benefit to others are then posted onto the PMO Web site under a “Best Practices” section to publicly recognize a higher level of project success and achievement. This was especially evident in the IT Governance process as projects were going through the approval cycle. The quality level and consistency of the presentations increased as subsequent project managers leveraged from the works of their predecessors in polishing their own presentations to a brilliant shine. This cut down the amount of time required presenting and projects were being approved in the first cycle of review instead of reworking them. The project managers were coming in confident and better prepared. Reinforcement at every opportunity to doing things right at the right time is always encouraged as much as possible. The IT Project Methodology is highly dynamic in nature and continues to evolve.

Adoption Management

Adoption Management which consists of the marketing, promotion, communications, training, documentation and presentations is the most vital key to determining whether or not the PMO is accepted and will continue to flourish. Many aspects of Adoption Management have been already addressed in the other three Solution Roadmap areas of focus. The following is a quick review and also an introduction to a few additional new points.

  • Customer Survey: Gain requirements, identify gaps and align expectations.
  • Pilot Changes: Use key projects to introduce and test the refined methodology
  • Solution Roadmap: Demonstrate a plan of action with measurable objectives.
  • PMO name change: Reestablishes a new group structure, identity and branding.
  • PMO Web Site: Repository of the most current and common project information.
  • Job Aids: Easy to understand desktop reference tools.
  • Training and Brown Bags: Be available and take the learning to the customer.
  • Career Development: Integrate professional path to performance objectives.

What will continue in the Adoption Management plans is to expand the PMO sphere of influence beyond the IT department domestically to include the international project teams, Business Unit customers, and ultimately external partners and vendors. There has been an impressive show of interest by our Business Unit customers to jointly forming an enterprise PMO Council using the groundwork that has been put into place by the IT department. Instead of setting up individual PMOs from scratch, development can be accelerated and benefits realized more quickly in the sharing of common threads from PMI and the industry.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what has been discovered is that although a proven and experienced project methodology is utilized it has to be appropriately mapped to the maturity of the organization. Without proper alignment of the right tools for the tasks the reverse affect occurs. Rather than acceptance, a rejection and passive aggressive scenario develops between the PMO and project managers. Attempts to skip steps or move too quickly in introducing the rigors and structure of project management without the buy-in, common understanding and proper training is fatal. Careful consideration must be taken into account for the existing business culture, diversity, practices, terminology, and willingness to change. One size does not fit all, the PMO must be custom tailored and that is where the OPM3® model and Self-Assessment Tool can help organizations proceed with a systematic approach and set of guidelines for change and adaptation. The results are starting to show as the harmonization of Project, Program and Portfolio Management initiatives are moving towards strategic alignment within the organization, department and corporation.

Recommendations

1. Have a PMO executive champion not just a sponsor.

A champion has the passion and leadership that will publicly carry the torch, crack the whip and recognize the achievements to set the tone from the tops down throughout the organization. There can be no misunderstanding of the message.

2. Listen to your customer and be available to them.

Reach out beyond just conducting surveys. Follow up with face-to-face interviews, sit in on project meetings and establish relationships for the long term. Ask how you can help them be successful.

3. Spoon feed rather than force feed.

Many incumbent staff and project managers have their own ingrained way of doing things. Change is scary and to some and is seen as a threat to their jobs and personal worth. Take it slow and demonstrate and lead by example.

4. Accountability to adhere to PMO sanctioned methodology and process.

It is much more difficult to reach the destination together unless all oars are in the water and paddling in the same cadence and direction. There needs to be total departmental agreement and repercussions of not following with the rest of the team as well as rewards for those that do.

5. Invest in the professional development and training of project managers.

Being given the title of project manager must be backed up with a clearly defined and mutually established developmental roadmap. This is to be integrated into yearly individual objective and a training plan that is reviewed on a quarterly basis.

6. Above all have fun and enjoy what you do.

Enthusiasm, energy and leadership are highly contagious. Brainstorm with others to get the creative and innovative juices flowing in the approach and delivery of the PMO using themes, metaphors and tie-ins to departmental and corporate strategic initiatives.

References

Project Management Institute. (2003) Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) Knowledge Foundation, (2003 ed.). Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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 or any listed author.

© 2005, Ray Ju
Originally published as part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Toronto Canada

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