Should Your Organization Have a Project Management Office?

Do you have the time and resources to sit down and look at the big picture regarding how your portfolio of projects is managed? Not every organization needs a project management office. But those that do are missing out on some tangible benefits if they fail to put a PMO in place.

PMO vs. PMO

First, it’s important to note that the acronym PMO is often used to refer to a program management office. To find out the difference between project and program management, go here. If you’ve got program management established in your organization, you’ve already reached the level of complexity where a PMO is essential. So, in this post, we’ll just use the term PMO to refer to a project rather than a program management office.

IT Leads the Way In PMOs

Information technology is one of the most common areas where a PMO is implemented. The term “office” in this context refers to a function rather than a physical place (although a location may be set aside as a headquarters for this purpose if needed). The responsibilities of a PMO include:

  • Developing and administering project management policies, processes, and principles
  • Providing a centralized view of the full portfolio of projects (past, present, and proposed)
  • Planning strategically to ensure the highest rate of success for all projects
  • Determining how to handle resources to serve the needs of multiple, concurrent projects
  • Assisting, facilitating, and mentoring individual project managers/teams as needed
  • Collecting and reviewing knowledge gained from each project (managing lessons learned knowledge base)
  • Analyzing all data to discover areas for improvement in project processes

Who Needs It?

For an organization that only handles one project at a time, having a separate individual or team fulfill the role of the PMO may not be necessary. A project manager could work in concert with upper management (or a consultant) to ensure all the functions listed above are taken care of.

However, organizations that juggle multiple projects should consider creating a PMO. Otherwise, there is a risk that PMs who are better at negotiating for the resources they need will have success while those with less skill/experience will fail. A PMO plays the role of a neutral third party with the final say in determining how projects are administered.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Research from the Gartner Group indicates that businesses that establish organization-wide project management standards and a PMO might cut project cost overruns by 50%. According to a survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, it’s hard to pin an exact dollar amount on how much money is saved by having better control and more in-depth information. However, of those companies surveyed, the ones that had their PMO in place the longest tended to report much better rates of success for their projects (a 65% improvement for organizations with a PMO that had been in place for 4 years of more). Since an enormous percentage of projects in the IT industry experience cost and schedule overruns, instituting a long term solution such as a PMO can make good business sense.

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History and Current Development of Project Management

Ever since there have been work endeavors that could be defined as “projects”, people have been using management tools and techniques. After all, without some form of planning, organization and communication strategy, nothing can be effectively accomplished. However, the discipline that we now think of as project management was first formalized in the 1950s.

The original planning concepts were developed for large engineering, construction, and military projects. They included mathematical tools for calculating and managing costs, visual tools such as charts for prioritizing schedule activities, and evaluation tools for determining project scope. By the late 1960s, several project management organizations including IPMA and PMI had been formed. Over the next couple of decades a substantial body of knowledge was developed and published. Several institutes also began offering certification in project management.

How It Has Evolved

Today, project managers have carved out a niche in many public and private industries. Financial institutions, non-profit organizations, and software development firms are just a few of the industries that have joined engineering, architecture, and other traditional fields in using PM principles. Because of the wider application of project management, techniques have changed dramatically. Some tools from the past (especially diagrams) are still in use, but other simplistic tools have been replaced with complex software applications. Concepts like risk management and communications planning have been added to the repertoire of project managers at larger organizations.

Other factors that have impacted the development of PM methodology include:

Ambitious Scope: Today, many projects are larger in scope than ever before – and global in scale. Managing a virtual team that is distributed in far flung locations requires a different approach than overseeing small, local projects. So does dealing with the risks inherent in relying on suppliers and project partners in countries that vary widely in terms of economic and political stability, workplace culture, and business practices.

Better Technology: Software that is specifically designed to evaluate, plan, administer, communicate about, and track projects has been a boon to PMs in every industry. Beyond this, collaborative tools such as video conferencing have enabled faster and more effective communication for multi-location projects.

Speed to Market: Innovations in lean manufacturing and supply chain management along with expectations for a quick turnaround on product development have significantly affected how projects are managed. The software industry is the most obvious example, but other fields are following suit. Agile project management is a methodology that has been created as a result of these market pressures. The PMI has just rolled out an Agile Certification course in response to the growing interest in this fast, highly flexible way of managing projects.

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Tips for Career Transitions in Project Management

As a project manager, there’s little doubt that your skills will be in high demand somewhere at any given time. So, whether you are suddenly out of work or proactively planning your next big career move, the odds are good that recruiters are looking for someone with your skill set.

That doesn’t mean there’s no competition! If you want to be the candidate of choice for the best project management positions, you need to give some serious thought to how you come across on paper and in person. There are plenty of great articles already available all over the web on getting your resume in shape and impress a hiring manager in an interview. Let’s assume you’ve already discovered those general tips that apply to all job seekers. Here’s some advice specifically designed for project managers:

Document Your Successes

During the wrap up phase of each project, you should be thinking “How will the outcome of this project look on my resume?” You should begin building a portfolio of projects that showcase your skills. Any numbers and statistics you can collect are very helpful. For example, perhaps you brought a recent project to successful completion 17% under the estimated cost saving your organization $35,000 in the process. That’s definitely a good item to put on a resume. Generate reports from your recent projects (within the last 3 years) to collect the information you need.

Learn from Your Setbacks

It’s not just the projects that went well that can be beneficial to your career. Problem solving skills are essential – and you only gain those skills when there are problems to solve. When you are interviewed for a project management position, a recruiter is likely to ask you about various obstacles you have faced and how you overcame them. This is where you can tell your war stories about a time when everything went wrong and you still managed to find a solution. Comb through your recent entries in your “lessons learned knowledge base” to start creating a narrative about how you operate as a PM.

Use Discretion When Bragging

It’s perfectly fine to mine the data from your previous projects to help you “sell” your skills and experience to a prospective employer. Just remember to avoid disclosing any identifying information (such as the name of a project client) when you are putting together your resume or talking in an interview. Otherwise, you may be in conflict with business ethics and your current employer’s confidentiality policy.

Boost Your Credentials

In a field like project management that is constantly changing, it never hurts to have some recently acquired certifications on your resume. Pursuing continuing education does two things. First, it indicates to employers that you are serious about continuous improvement. Second, it opens up opportunities in new fields and broadens your job prospects. For example, if you want to be seriously considered for a high level position at a company where multiple, complex projects must be managed simultaneously, it might be time to consider getting your PgMP certification to augment your PMP credentials.

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Agile Techniques That Mesh With Traditional Project Management

Agile project management is an iterative approach that focuses on achieving project objectives in distinct stages. It is typically used in the software development industry but has some applications in other fields as well. When the overall scope and specific deliverables are likely to change throughout the lifecycle of a project, an agile approach can make it easier to keep moving forward. This methodology is often best suited for use with small to mid-sized projects. For large scale projects with well-defined deliverables and a high degree of complexity, the agile approach tends to be less useful. However, this doesn’t mean certain features from the agile “toolbox” can’t still be used.

Learn as You Go

You might consider a blended approach that involves traditional waterfall and agile methods. For example, regular meetings that include a review of all lessons learned in the previous week are a core feature of agile project management that can be incorporated into many projects. Since stakeholder feedback is a key factor in compiling lessons learned, the project’s communication management plan must include a way to collect this feedback on an ongoing basis. So, this is an ideal option for projects that involve a client who likes a very “hands on” role.

Quality Takes Center Stage

The agile method also relies heavily on quality control at each stage (since software must be tested and debugged). This is another area where PMs in traditional industries would do well to pay attention. Project quality management should be designed to monitor project deliverables at crucial junctures. Let’s say component B’s performance is predicated on the quality of component A. To avoid delays and increased costs, a quality check should be performed during or immediately after the schedule activity that results in the completion of component A. This type of quality assurance plan can be developed based on an activity sequencing diagram.

Adaptation Requires Flexibility

No matter how thoroughly you plan, there will always be issues that require change requests. With an agile attitude, your team doesn’t have to view these as setbacks. Instead, each modification to the project plan can be seen as an opportunity for brainstorming and problem solving. A project management team that learns to collaborate is more likely to increase the value of a project through creative solutions rather than simply suggesting stop-gap measure to keep the whole thing from falling apart. To make this work, a leadership style that focuses on developing team members rather than simply issuing instructions is essential. In the long run, companies that feature a collaborative environment are almost certain to outperform their competition. So, this is one aspect of the agile method that should be adopted by all businesses that want to remain viable in today’s marketplace.

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Project Management Using A Logframe

The Logical Framework Approach (LFA) to project management has been around for about 4 decades. It is a method used for designing a project and aiding in planning – typically for non-profit organizations. A “logframe” document is the output of the LFA process. It clearly displays the overall design of a project using a visual matrix and text. This can be a valuable tool for PMs to use during initial stakeholder communication because it boils down even complex projects to a basic summary. The types of items covered in a logframe are:

  1. Project objectives (ultimate purpose/goals and tangible outputs)
  2. Activities that must be completed to achieve these objectives
  3. Resources required to carry out schedule activities
  4. Assumptions regarding external and internal factors (risks, challenges, and opportunities) that may impact the project
  5. Metrics that will be used to verify that the project’s objectives have been achieved

This document is not intended to show a full work breakdown structure or all aspects of project scope and schedule. Instead, its purpose is to cut through the noise and clarify the essentials. Jumping straight into detailed planning without putting this framework in place can cause a project to drift off course without anyone fully realizing it. For example, the scope might increase to include goals that cannot be objectively measured. “Fuzzy” goals that are inserted by well meaning project management team members and stakeholders rarely add value to a project and usually drain resources that could be better applied elsewhere. If high value objectives are identified later in the project, these can be added to the logframe as needed – as long as the other aspects of the matrix are also updated to take this new factor into account.

Matrix Format

The framework is set up as a table with rows and columns covering each basic aspect of the project and showing the logical relationship between these components. Some project management experts who use a logframe recommend starting with a list of problems. For example: “Mobile clinics in the XYZ region of Africa cannot adequately sterilize multiple use instruments leading to high rates of patient infection after surgical procedures”. This would then be restated as a series of positive actions or solutions such as the ultimate goal of reducing post-operative infections in patients served by these mobile clinics.  The immediate purpose of the project would be to provide a means for the clinics to efficiently and thoroughly sterilize all instruments. The output might be the delivery and installation of a portable autoclave unit for each clinic. The activities might be sourcing a reliable medical equipment vendor, arranging the logistics of delivery, and determining how the autoclaves would be tested and serviced regularly once in place to ensure optimal operation. The resources or inputs required can be listed on the matrix at the intersection of activities and measurable indicators.

Objectives Measurable Indicators Means of Verification Assumptions
Goal
Purpose
Outputs
Activities

The diagram shown here is a very simple version of a logframe. These matrices can be more complex and include different column and row headers if desired. Here’s a good example from the DFID that includes milestones and other project management planning features.

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