Sharper instruments

Sharper instruments

Successfully running a program of work requires deep understanding of the inputs, but must also focus on the business value it will deliver

Many program management offices (PMO) bludgeon their organisations into submission without necessarily delivering the business value that brought about their genesis. Formulaic approaches are often used with a focus on enforcing methodology and standardisation. The result is a PMO better suited as a policeman than a catalyst for achieving business outcomes.

Methodology and technology support tools are important, but getting traction from a PMO requires a complete understanding of many of the input factors that need to be accommodated when formulating strategy. As changes occur in the organisation and external environment, and as the PMO's competency matures, these input factors may be revisited and used to fine-tune its operation.

An IT-based PMO is defined here as a project delivery competency centre to whom all project managers and directors report, with the intention of concentrating all IT project management expertise in one area.

Every organisation has projects at different levels of program management maturity operating within various cultures. Although it is tempting for the PMO to develop and implement multi-faceted strategies, IBRS believes a narrower, more targeted approach, in which a few (two to five) strategies are focused on over a year is likely to provide the best results. The following year a different set of strategies may be emphasised, allowing PMO capability to mature incrementally.

Drawn from recent consultations, the seven input factors listed are in no ¬particular order. The list is not exhaustive but outlines the type of thinking that may be used when seeking to improve PMO performance.

1. Delivery record: Past project delivery has been problematic.

Suggested approach: Develop the PMO as a centre of excellence in project execution; strengthen managers' adherence to methodologies that work best in the organisaion, allowing the PMO to act in an interventionist capacity as well as coaching project managers while keeping a close watch on their work.

2. one project type dominates the portfolio: Many IT infrastructure projects need to be discharged as quickly as possible.

Suggested approach: Simplify project management methodology, emphasising ways to convert projects into a type of IT production line, focusing on speedy, efficient delivery.

3. Low PMO awareness: Understanding the PMO's role and its portfolio of project is poorly understood within the organisation.

Suggested approach: Improve communications, promoting the business benefits of the PMO. Provide simple, graphical reports monthly to all stakeholders and enlist key project stakeholders into decision-making bodies such as an IT investment council.

4. Mision-critical projects: Some projects must be delivered to ensure organisational imperatives are achieved.

Suggested approach: Introduce stage-gate review processes, perhaps using external specialists. Emphasise the soundness of the business case, execution of strategic assessment reviews and the readiness of the business to commit to the project prior to launch. (Considerations include availability of principal stakeholders, degree of process change, impact on staff, data mapping, integrity and quality.)

5. No benefits focus: There is little understanding and acceptance of what the project benefits are and how to achieve them.

Suggested approach: Begin with the identification of requirements. Have the PMO play an activist role in developing effective business case templates that stress qualitative and quantitative benefits and executive accountability. Get help from the CFO in introducing or improving the effectiveness of an IT investment council.

6. Project are not delivering outcomes.

Suggested approach: The PMO plays an important role in promoting best practice throughout the entire project lifecycle. Strengthen or introduce review processes, including post-implementation review disciplines. Through the IT investment council, be prepared to cancel projects unlikely to deliver expected benefits.

7. Prioritisation: There are too many candidate projects than there is available funding.

Suggested approach: Establish an IT investment council drawn from a cross-section of the senior executive team and help them by providing a set of parameters around which fact-based decisions about project priority, benefits and sequencing can be made.

Assess what may be inhibiting the PMO from achieving all its objectives as a key ¬service provider to the organisation. Try to identify with one or more of the above issues, taking remedial action on those likely to deliver effective results. Review input factors and PMO performance annually.

Rob Mackinnon is an adviser with IBRS. Email comments to

To comment on this article, please email the editor.

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