Project Management Institute

Ripple effect

Terence Upson, Cricket Communications Inc., Denver, Colorado, USA

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Terence Upson doesn't waste time. In his first 18 months at upstart wireless carrier Cricket Communications Inc., he helped launch an enterprise program management office (PMO). Aware of the skepticism, he made sure the PMO delivered—tracking projects from nascent concepts to bottom-line results.

“Project management isn't just, ‘Here's the project, now go deliver,'” says Mr. Upson, vice president of the company's PMO. “It begins when someone in a group says, ‘I have an idea,' and it's part of the whole life cycle of the project. That's how you add value to the organization.”

What is the PMO's role in managing projects?

We designed it to work with the business groups to facilitate and execute projects. We define the business value of the project before we talk about scope, budget and schedule. Because we have a seat at the table early on in the project decision-making process, we can make sure projects aren't chosen arbitrarily. That puts us in the unique position of being able to guide decision-making from the outset.

And we stay with the project throughout the entire life cycle. Once a project is complete, we come back around with the business owners to measure results and determine whether it met expectations—and if not, why not and how can we improve?

How did you build support for the PMO?

When we started, the organization knew it needed to improve its project delivery results, but not everyone had bought into the value of a PMO. So just as we expect everyone else to write a business case for their projects, we wrote a business case for the PMO that quantified the value it would bring to the organization. Then we brought it to our chief executive officers and executive leadership team. We got their buy-in on our scope, and then we drove the concept down through the organization. By the time we got to the business owners, we had the support of their bosses and their bosses' bosses.

The challenge for all PMOs is to show what value they add to the bottom line. To do that, you have to first understand the value you add to the organization.

What was the biggest challenge of getting the PMO off the ground?

It was the change management aspect of it. Cricket is a highly customer-focused organization that values innovation, and a process-centric PMO can be seen as not being nimble enough in that kind of environment. We achieved support from individual stakeholders gradually by establishing a series of small incremental wins. This effort must be ongoing for any PMO to be truly successful.

Has the PMO met its objectives?

Our PMO paid for itself in the first year, achieving positive ROI through millions of dollars in direct, traceable benefits. We've been able to deliver 20 percent more projects with the same resources, and our on-budget performance has improved for each project launched. Greater efficiency and consistency in the project delivery process has led to improved quality and significant reductions in launch defects through the end of 2009.

What advice would you offer other PMO leaders?

The challenge for all PMOs is to show what value they add to the bottom line. To do that, you have to first understand the value you add to the organization. You have to ask yourself, are you seen as a help or a hindrance?

You should also focus on establishing metrics early on and measuring those things that deliver meaningful results to the organization. Project managers get hyper-focused on budgets and timelines, but you have to remember that every project decision has to be made in the context of the business case. PM

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.

SEPTEMBER 2010 PM NETWORK

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