Staffing your strategic project office
seven keys to success
A Strategic Project Office (SPO) is receiving increased attention throughout best-practice companies for its ability to improve project delivery results across the enterprise. As industry analysts tout SPO value, best practices companies are investing dollars and effort into project management culture change. Yet, establishing and maintaining an effective SPO staff remains a challenge in most organizations. I plan to address that challenge in this paper.
Who's in Charge?
If your organization is prepared to make the SPO the central driving force behind the management of projects, you will want to consider establishing a director of project management who will sit at the director or vice-president level with other senior executives in the organization. This position, which we will call the SPO director, provides project oversight in virtually all areas of the organization, managing corporate level projects and overseeing corpo-ratewide resource distribution and allocation on all projects. Any project that crosses divisional boundaries, as well as some large projects performed within a department, would be under the auspices of this SPO director.
The SPO director position is more than a glorified project manager. As the expert on project management, the SPO director also serves as an ad-hoc consultant and advisor to project leaders and teams. The existence of a SPO director guarantees a focus on the consistent use of the project management process throughout the organization. The SPO director must possess enough stature and respect throughout the organization to champion projects from start to finish—and to recommend canceling projects whose objectives either can't be met or are no longer valid. He or she must have the demonstrable backing of senior management, especially critical early in the transition to the SPO structure.
The SPO director is, among other things, a relationship manager, a communicator, a liaison to executive and functional management, an integrator of process, a manager of staff, a coordinator of project resources (including project managers), the coordinator of standards and methods, a mentor, training coordinator, and point of interface between projects, programs, and the executive staff. This is a tall order—and one that must be filled with the same care that companies take in placing a CIO or a CFO.
Role of HR Department
Any time you build a professional development plan or design an employee appraisal or reward system, Human Resources professionals are involved. They are invaluable when setting up PO staffing, providing input on titles, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, and on how to measure performance against those roles and responsibilities. Especially in a matrix organization, the facilitation of communication among functional areas is an important role for the SPO's allies in HR.
One of the most important issues on which you can enlist the assistance of HR is how to measure the performance of project personnel. There is a significant disconnect between functional area measurements of performance and appropriate performance measurement for project tasks. Since the role is unique, middle managers and supervisors often don't know what to measure. HR expertise is crucial in overcoming this stumbling block.
Note: I don't believe that Project Office (PO) staff should act as internal trainers. Instead the PO director should coordinate with HR for training needs, in most cases contracting for it from sources external to the organization. This saves time, assures training is accredited (for example, through a university or professional association), and integrates into your organization through your corporate university. In addition, the skill set of a professional trainer is quite different from what is required from PO staff.
Keys to Success
There are seven keys to Success in staffing your SPO.
1. Keep it Simple. It is important to staff your PO in a manner appropriate with its size and focus. POs are broken down into three major roles: project control, project facilitation and support, and enterprise integration. Each of these roles changes the focus and complexity of your PO and must be carefully considered in specific staffing determinations.
Project Control Staff/Responsibilities: If you will only have one SPO staff member, the first person to hire is a project manager/mentor who can be a champion for the SPO across the organization. This will typically be an individual who has significant project management experience, past successes, and the ability to mentor/coach other project managers while possibly managing a project his/herself.
The second important hire is the project controller; an experienced project controller can add significant value to a fledgling PO. The project controller can schedule/plan projects, build initial time/cost estimates, establish resource libraries, and build the project controls database. Initially, a project controller most likely will serve multiple roles of scheduler, planner, estimator, project controls database designer, as well as provide organizational project controls and reporting.
Project Facilitation and Support Staff/Responsibilities: To facilitate better management of multiple projects will require, at minimum, a project planner to support the controller—possibly to provide assistance to multiple project managers. Growth of capability can be accomplished by the addition of up to a dozen SPO staff, primarily additional project managers, planners, mentors, and an administrative support coordinator.
As SPO staff grows to 15–20 people, add at least one issue resolution/change control coordinator.
As the SPO expands from 30–50 staff members, add these positions: library documentation specialist; risk management coordinator; communications coordinator.
Enterprise Integration Staff/Responsibilities: As the SPO expands to take on responsibility for enterprisewide coordination, methodology experts should be added.
2. Communicate. Not everyone in the organization fully understands the roles and value of your SPO. At the outset of SPO organization, the person responsible for deploying the SPO must determine the role of the SPO, how it relates to your organization, and responsibilities of the PO deployment team. These roles and responsibilities must be communicated across the organization to inform and to set expectations. Executives and senior management need to understand the functions and expectations of SPO staff in order to build buy-in and management support. Middle management will find the facilitative nature of the SPO staff a supportive rather than a competitive role. Project managers and teams gain information on the tools, techniques, and methods available to support them in their delivery responsibilities. It will be important for the SPO staff to be effective communicators to effectively carry out this role.
Communications—best-practice example. A large insurance company, during their PO deployment, had a wall outside the cafeteria where anyone with any concerns or issues or questions about the Enterprise PO deployment could stick a Post-it Note up on the wall. Responses to questions and issues were also posted. As people were walking to and from the cafeteria, they would stop and see what the latest issues were, the latest concerns, and the latest feedback. Many of those questions found their way into the company newsletter, where those in charge of the PO responded and addressed the issues. In many cases, the CIO or one of the executive VPs would respond and in responding, show their support and encouragement, show insight into why the PO project was valuable, and why everyone should support it.
3. Set Expectations and Goals. Staffing the SPO will most likely require a phased approach. Take time to understand the roles and responsibilities of the various functions of the SPO to establish in your own mind how a fully mature SPO will be organized. Then, build a strategic approach to staffing the SPO and plan to integrate the appropriate roles as they are needed.
4. Focus on Value. Too many SPOs are established with a bent toward “adminstrivia.” SPO staff must have requisite skills to be of immediate support and assistance where they are needed the most— on projects. Those staffing these roles should come to the organization with previous experience in the areas of support they will be providing.
Examples of Short-term Value-adding Initiatives:
• Deployment of a project management methodology.
• Building an inventory of your projects (new product development, information technology, business enhancements, etc.).
• Preparing an executive report, showing the status of all active projects.
• Establishment of summary project report structures and project success metrics.
• Establishing support for new projects and projects in need.
• Providing templates for recurring project activities.
5. Support Professionalism. Your SPO will be the leader in changing the organization's culture to project management. As such, the staff of our SPO should also be leaders in project management professionalism. The staff should be well trained and cre-dentialed in all facets of project management.
6. Understand Your Company's Business. Find individuals for your SPO who have the ability to understand the organization from various points of view. The SPO is far-reaching. Your SPO staff will interact and support a wide mix of project teams—many times influencing multiple divisions and working with representatives throughout the organizational hierarchy. Look for individuals who have a business mindset and organizational savvy.
7. Develop and Maintain Executive Sponsorship. Effective planning for staffing and deploying a SPO requires the involvement of an executive sponsor. The executive sponsor will chair a project review board to oversee the staffing and deployment of your PO. In the operational phase of the SPO, an effectively organized project review board will be a major source of support and conflict resolution for cross-organizational issues.
Who should be on the project review board? The director of the SPO, the executive sponsor, the heads of key functional organizations (members of business units affected by the project or projects being dealt with at any one time), and a senior corporate official, such as the CEO or COO: three to seven individuals total.
“People do projects” and nowhere is this truism more important than in the SPO. As the keystone of project success throughout an organization, the SPO requires careful staffing with people who can demonstrate competence and leadership on projects. The old paradigm of lumping together whoever is available and calling it a project team simply does not suffice in today's competitive project scene. Nor can the selection of SPO personnel be safely left up to an HR department that may not be familiar with project management challenges and credentialing.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA