Project Management Institute

The world's largest disaster recovery effort

the role of the PMO


On August 29th, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina struck south-east Louisiana as a Category 4 storm and on September 24th, 2005- Hurricane Rita struck South-West Louisiana as a Category 5 storm. The impact of these storms was enormous and unprecedented in US history. The rebuilding effort would also be unprecedented and require a creative solution implemented on an unparalleled scale and a PMO would be required to facilitate the programmatic success of the Road Home.


The impact of the storms were enormous; 780,000 Louisianians displaced, 123,000 homes and 82,000 rental homes suffered major or severe damage, 18,000 businesses destroyed and 25 billion in insured losses with 32 billion in estimated housing repair costs. On December 10th, 2005 Governor Blanco requested $12.13 billion in Community Develoopment Block Grant (CDBG) Funds. CDBG funds are administered by Housing and Urban Development to rebuild Presidentially declared disaster areas, especially in low and moderate income areas. Funding was finalized on June 15th through bill H.R-4939 which appropriated the final $4.2 billion in CDBG funds to Louisiana for a total of $10.4 billion. Of that amount, $6.35B was allocated for rebuilding by homeowners. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) was established to support and guide the rebuilding efforts of the Office of Community Development (OCD); the Disaster Recovery Unit which was the primary agency charged with managing the effort. Together with the Governors Office, the LRA and OCD designed the program to rebuild Louisiana to compensate the citizens for their losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita without duplication of benefits and with no fraud, waste, and abuse. In June of 2006, a multiple phase contract was awarded to ICF to administer the Road Home Program. Phase 1 (Design and Pilot Program) was signed on June 30, and the contract for Phases 2 and 3 on October 18th. It had been over a year since the hurricanes had struck and the citizens, media, special interest groups, industry, and government were all anxious for the program to start. This created a challenging environment for the program. Mission: Create the worlds largest disaster rebuilding recovery in what had become a pressure cooker of Louisiana politics and by the way - “No one had attempted this before and you will be audited, questioned, criticized, and challenged every single day”. It is a common rule of thumb that the most personnel should spend in a disaster response or recovery is six months. Disaster recovery efforts are too physically/psychologically challenging otherwise. This paper will focus on the role of the PMO in such an environment; its functions, its challenges and the lessons learned.

The Start and PMO Design

The first phase of the program was the Design and Pilot Phase which began in early July. During this Phase the PMO was a two person organization that focused on reporting daily activities and performing the function of data management for early program documentation deliverables. In late August, a tiger team was established to evaluate the role of the PMO and should it play a different role in the program as it moved from Phase 1/Design Stage to Phase 2/Operations. This need was identified from a growing sense of the Program ’s complexity and a need to improve governance, service delivery models, collaboration, change management and decision support metrics in order to achieve an operational steady state and meet the contractual objectives. Exhibit 1 shows the design of the Road Home Program PMO.

Road Home Program PMO

Exhibit 1: Road Home Program PMO


As can be seen, the PMO scope and role grew significantly from Phase 1 to Phase 2. The staffing also grew significantly. Performing the “Special Projects” function required well over 100 FTEs at times. In order for this PMO implementation to succeed it required the PMO staff to be skilled in multidisciplinary business functions. A very senior leadership team was established that could not only coach, but manage, deliver, and problem solve on many fronts. The Phase 2 PMO was focused on 3 fronts; 1) Program Governance, 2) Program Support (the basics) and 3) Special Projects (“the easy button”).

Both the Program governance and Program design would be a constantly moving targets as the Program would be constantly shifting focus through seemingly endless policy changes. The process of moving the grantee through the program was likened to “the moving of a pig through a python”. As the initial grantees filed for award and moved though the system they would be the first to exercise the newly developed processes and procedures and the inevitable problems and issues. Hence, there would be a corresponding focus and shift of leadership talent and often a corresponding new program design and governance structure. But to simplify the story, the PMO served the purpose of implementing a governance structure and supporting it with artifacts and meeting facilitation in order to create a more closed loop process in that there was a disposition and audit trail of all program changes. The backbone of the Program’s governance structure, however, was ICF’s PEO Mike Byrne’s All-Hands meeting at 8:00 every morning. It was clear from the beginning that this program required this communication venue and it served the following three purposes; 1) it was real time collaboration that everyone could count on everyday no matter how chaotic the previous 24 hours had been, 2) it was a touch point for the Program Manager with every function of the Program in order to prioritize his day and the program leadership’s day, and 3) it was a rallying point for the troops to be with the leadership. Many days the program was distracted by Washington, the Legislature and the media . The All-Hands meetings reset our mental focus.

The PMO also identified the need to separate out from the executive meetings a certain type of discussion and bring some structure to the dialogue around risks, problems, issues and especially change. Change was threatening the success of the program.

The Change Control Board (CCB)

On average the Road Home Program was receiving over one policy change to the program every day from the LRA and/or OCD through the first six months of the program. This was required as multiple constituents had to be served and there was constant jockeying amongst them as to the shape of the program. These were not simple suggestions or edits to brochures; these were major policy or system changes that would by definition impact hundreds to thousands of workers, the status of thousands of grantees, funding requirements of the program itself and not to mention IT systems, Road Home staff training materials, process and procedures. Suffice to say the “Changes” we faced everyday were significant and consequential. We developed a two pronged strategy 1) educate the OCD/LRA on the impacts of Change and 2) incorporate Change as efficiently as possible. Mike Byrne took the job of educating the State and making them aware of the need to establish the CCB. The sales job to establish the CCB was an easy one. Every one was eager to get a handle on change and to this day the All-Hands and the CCB remain the only surviving governance constructs in an ever-changing program. Troy Barker and Pam Dorland utilized A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). The CCB consisted of a weekly meeting by the CCB Governance Board comprised of the PEO, SVP of OPS, PMO Director, VP-MIS, PM- Homeowner Program, Communications, (less than 10 people) and consisted of a 2 hr discussion (time varies) on 3-5 proposed Changes. We found more than 5 were not supportable. Approved changes were communicated across the Program via the Road Home Portal. The Portal was a SharePoint based on line collaboration tool that had become the system of record for program-wide communication of critical information.

The Road Home Portal (the Centerstone)

The original program Web portal was designed in 4 hrs as a simple place for document storage. After a few months and a dramatic portal expansion it was to become clear that it had become the “Centerstone” of the Road Home Program. This occurred for a few reasons; 1) The rapid pace of change and need for current information drove adoption, 2) PEO supported it 3) The Auditors were coming!

As Change was ever present, we had to disseminate information to a dispersed workforce comprising 10 Housing Assistance Centers (including out of state and mobile teams) with +800 FTE’s, a call center with +200 FTE’s, Program-HQ, a Data Center, Corporate-HQ in Fairfax , VA, and over 30 sub-contractors. Coordination and communication was complex to say the least.

In addition, there was an identified need to foster collaboration among the workgroups—often dispersed and working in crisis mode. As policies, processes, and procedures were developed and expanded daily, there was an immediate need to manage and disseminate this information across the program. The PMO began in earnest to work with the Policy, Homeowners, Rental and other workgroups to allow them to share updated information across the program in the portal, create team work spaces for group collaboration, and “portalize” new business processes to support tracking, process flow, and reporting. To support training for the over 2,000 new program staff, a training center was created in the portal, evolving into a full Web-based training curriculum for each staff role, enabling rapid deployment of program changes. Since its August 2006 launch, the portal has grown to encompass almost 100 sub areas, 39 team rooms, and over 8,500 indexed documents.

There also was an identified need to organize the deliverables to the State. Now, in most programs this is not a big concern. In this case, however, we had over 750 deliverables, (Louisiana is a “sunshine state”), and needed forethought and discipline to maintain the deliverables process at high standards. The PMO developed the schedule, edited and closed out on average 2-3 deliverables a day! The backbone of this undertaking was the portal, which was used to electronically deliver program deliverables to the State for viewing, edits and approvals.

By the end of October we were ready for the auditors, in part thanks to the portal and its ability to be deployed quickly without a lot of training or change management. In our first month of operation, approximately Oct 18th to Nov. 18th, we were audited by 7 different entities. Using the Road Home Portal as our paperless system of record for the audits, we passed all audits with almost no findings!

Business Analytics

Even with this major miracle, and the fact that we were performing with almost no incidents of fraud, waste or abuse, we were taking a beating in the press and we noticed a certain hostility and personalization of the attacks. Many times the media misquoted or misused the programs metrics. We saw it was possible for us to be very successful in program performance, but if the story was mis-told by the press, the repercussions would be severe for us and the citizens of Louisiana. In addition to initiating a more aggressive Strategic Communications Program that would deal with the daily inaccuracies of the press, we also decided to build a sophisticated business analytics environment to enable the dissemination of accurate information at least to the Program Management, LRA, OCD and the governors office, if not the press. The PMO and MIS decided to partner on this important endeavor.

In addition to the need for metrics to counter the inaccuracies of the press, it was also clear from early on, that after we were able to document the programmatic policy and the service delivery process and procedures, we would want/need performance metrics for us to effectively manage the program and to develop process improvements. Almost immediately after we had finished documenting our processes, we knew we would need metrics to perform a Lean Analysis. We tailored Lean methodology for just this occasion, which focused on rapid identification of performance issues. In order to accomplish this, we began breaking down our program process into 7 steps, which became 12 steps and then later became 4 phases with multiple steps (change!). Next we identified the key production indicators (kpi’s) in each step that we felt would most accurately reflect the performance of each step. While this was taking place the requirements for reporting metrics were growing daily. The Governor’s Office wanted a daily report on our key metrics. We reported to OCD weekly with our Situation Report (sitrep) which was approximately 40 pages of graphs, tables, and text. We had financial reporting requirements as well and also supported nearly daily data calls from a wide variety of stakeholders including visits by Don Powell (President Bush’s Recovery Czar), Congressional Hearings, audits, legal, enforcement, media requests, etc. To support this environment we developed a two pronged approach ; (1) Develop an agreed to approval process for data requests which would support multiple constituent needs and (2) develop a rather sophisticated business analytics environment, which would take advantage of the latest technologies in managing large volumes of data including data warehouses and sophisticated report writers. The result is a nimble, agile data metrics environment that provides real time data for management decision making of a complex and large scale program. With this structure in place the PMO, as we designed it, was complete with one caveat—that things would change and so would the role of the PMO. While we were busily engaged with the development of the functions of the PMO, we had also stepped up to the need for management of special projects. The demands of the program were such that there were many “unknowns”. Needs would arise that had not been completely anticipated or were not included in the original scope of work.

“The Easy Button”

It has already been well established that the pace of change was hectic and as the program grew the operational staff was committed to the management of their individual projects. However, as problems, issues, risks, and changes were identified by Road Home leadership the assistance of the PMO was often employed to find a solution. The Program also took significant mid-stream course corrections as requirements changed. In order to support these challenges it was imperative that the PMO had significant reach back to a multi-disciplinary pool of business talent capable of quickly deploying on-site to accomplish daily miracles. A few examples follow:

1. Build a fully functional call-center in 30 days. The PMO was given this task, developed the requirements, selected a vendor, staffed, trained and deployed the call center in 30 days. +200 FTE’s

2. Build a data entry center in 2 wks. The PMO staffed, equipped, programmed and trained the data entry center on time.

3. Build the Anti-Fraud Program and perform a SAS-70 audit before state and federal auditors discovered unfavorable findings. PMO was assigned this task and managed a sub-contractor to success.

4. Recruit the Insurance Industry to participate in the building of a datamart for claim information. PMO was employed and, with this team, captured 86% of the insurance market in three months working with MIS.

5. Acquisition and Subcontract Management: PMO employed tools (Decision Lens) and expertise to acquire and manage approx. 100 million dollars in products and services all of which passed audit.

6. PMO was asked to step into the Pre-closing process, takeover leadership and institute process improvements until suitable replacement could be found. At the time the pre-closing process posed the greatest risk to the throughput of homeowner applications.

While the role and import of the PMO in the classic sense is substantial, coupled with the “easy button”, the PMO’s value to an organization can increase exponentially.

Big Lessons

As this disaster relief work is unprecedented, it is important to document not only the lessons learned from a PMO level, but also from a Programmatic perspective. The lessons learned from the Road Home Program are important because never before has a recovery effort of this magnitude been tried, with this scale and complexity, while being challenged by such a difficult political and media environment, as in Louisiana and Washington. The following are suggested areas of improvement and/or investigation that need to be addressed in order to provide an improved foundation for success in the next recovery effort.

7. The Shape of Funds: The funding for the recovery effort was applied through grants from the CDBG funds of HUD. While this has been done before and CDBG has made accommodations for disasters it was not originally designed with recovery efforts in mind. In addition, the policy and reporting requirements of CDBG money are often in conflict with one of the most pressing issues in a recovery effort - “get the money to the people fast”. CDBG policy can conflict with other sources of funding such as Hazardous Mitigation Grant Programs funds from FEMA. The employment of the right type of recovery funds for specific purposes would simplify program design and speed resources to the people in need

8. Data Management and Integration: Similar data is collected from affected citizens or property owners up to four different times in a disparate attempt by several agencies to gather information and make decisions. These entities include FEMA, SBA, Insurance and the organization administering the recovery effort itself. This organization has the unpleasant task of reconciling many data anomalies, inaccuracies and sometimes fraudulent information from all data sources, as it tries to make appropriate grant award decisions. There is no “system of record” for disaster recovery efforts and by definition the data sources create their own issues. Policy and Design work should be undertaken in order to establish a single system of record and at a minimum agreed to meta-data formats.

9. Waste Fraud and Abuse and the role of Biometrics: Without question the Road Home’s success in the area of prevention of waste, fraud and abuse lies in large part to the use of bio-metrics. The Program was relentlessly questioned and challenged about the use of biometrics and its impact on individual privacy in the early days of deployment. However, Road Home leadership was stalwart. As “Response” efforts immediately after the hurricanes featured waste, fraud and abuse (such as FEMA credit cards) it is apparent that the combination of case management and biometrics would be beneficial speeding relief resources to those truly affected. Other benefits would include the tracking of an affected citizen’s location in order to inform them of relief efforts and to communicate with relatives, etc.

PMO Lessons Learned

As with any program, a PMO faces challenges that require both hard skills and soft skills. Follows is a discussion of some of the main lessons learned and best practices that can be categorized in each of these two important areas:

Hard Skills:

1. The role of the Portal as “Center-stone” in a Program’s PMO has arrived.

2. Documenting processes, performance metrics and a supporting data management environment should be considered early in a program in order to employ Lean Analysis as soon as possible.

3. CCB/PCB deployment early in a program is an imperative to provide for orderly change and to document the change decision rationale for auditing purposes.

4. “Easy Button” capability should be created for program success and building PMO value.

Soft Skills:

1. As usual, the support of the PEO is crucial to the success of a PMO.

2. As usual, not everyone will be a supporter, don’t sweat it and move on!

3. Show value with a focus on the success of the program, not just the PMO.

4. Availability of a pool of multi-disciplinary business talent to a PMO is critical to a Program the size of the Road Home.

© 2007, T. Andrew Robinson
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, Georgia



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