Tag Archives: PMOs

Key roles within Project, Program and Portfolio Management

Project, Program and Portfolio management is frequently seen as a seamless part of a business. However, distinctly different skill sets, personal attributes and capabilities are needed in the different roles. This post suggests a framework that can be used to understand the differences.

Role 1 – Technical

Most people start on a project management career as a team member focused on technical work. Aspects of the role include:

  • Developing the skills to do the work
  • Solving technical problems
  • Supporting and engaging with fellow team members
  • Planning the work to be accomplished in the next day or two

The team leader is a skilled and experienced technician with additional responsibilities to ensure the others in the team can be successful. The team leader’s additional roles include:

  • Leading the team, leads by doing
  • Skills transfer to new team members
  • Resolving technical problems that are beyond individual team member’s skill sets
  • Planning the work for the team for the next week or two
  • Clearing road blocks and keeping project management informed.

Role 2 – Project Management

The step from team leader to project manager role is a career change. The project manager manages technicians by providing appropriate direction and leadership. Whilst technical understanding is important, the PM does not need to be a technician. For example, in many countries it is illegal for a construction project manager to install electrical wiring; this is a job for qualified electricians. Success for the PM lays in planning and managing the overall project he or she is responsible for and negotiating it through to a successful conclusion. Aspects of the role include:

  • Designing the project to efficiently deliver stakeholder requirements within acceptable time, cost, quality and risk parameters
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project teams through the team leaders
  • Helping team leaders develop their skills and their team members skills
  • Resolving stakeholder issues and problems across the spectrum of the project, usually through negotiation and communication
  • Planning the project work through to completion and then transitioning the plan into action
  • Acting as a buffer to protect the project team from undesirable external influence

Role 3 – Program Management / Project Director

Moving up the career ladder, the next career change is to the role of program manager or project director. The difference between these roles is the program manager will typically manage a range of projects across functions to achieve an organisational objective aligned with the organisations strategy. Whereas the Project Director has responsibility for the performance of project managers within a functional area; eg, the IT Department.

These are junior executive roles focused on achieving organisational objectives and creating value through the work of other managers. These managers, manage project managers. Success for a program manager is delivering organisational change and benefits. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining strategies to achieve the organisation’s objectives
  • Initiating projects to deliver the required outputs
  • Providing clear achievable and effective direction, leadership and motivation to the project managers
  • Helping project managers develop their skills
  • Negotiating stakeholder issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work through to the achievement of the objective (minimum 1 to 2 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the program and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Role 4 – Organisational Governance

Slightly to one side of the ‘doing’ of projects and programs the organisational governance structures are supported by portfolio management and PMOs. These management roles are focused on providing strategic advice to the executive. The portfolio manager assesses current and planned projects and programs on a routine basis to recommend the optimum mix for future resourcing. The PMO manager should be operating at the strategic level, providing input to the portfolio management process based on the performance of current projects and additionally providing input to the organisations overall governance structure. Whilst the PMO staff are frequently technical, the PMO manager needs to operate effectively at the executive levels of the organisation.

Success in these roles is being a ‘trusted advisor’ to the organisations executives. Aspects of the role include:

  • Defining appropriate governance processes to support the achievement of the organisation’s strategy
  • Selecting projects and programs to deliver the required outcomes
  • Negotiating resource and capacity issues and resolving problems at the organisational level
  • Planning the organisation’s work on an on-going basis (minimum 2 to 5 years)
  • Helping other organisation executives appreciate the value of the project and program portfolio and ensuring the work is aligned with the evolving organisational objectives

Whilst these four very different roles are frequently lumped under the one umbrella of project management, as this post has demonstrated, very different skill sets are required for each and transitioning from one role to another, needs to be treated as a career change.

For more information see:

Valuing Project Procedures

I am frequently asked to quantify the value of improving an organisations project management capabilities or how to establish the ROI for a new PMO.

Whilst these questions are sensible they are nearly impossible to answer. Certainly there are strong indicators of the value generated by an effective PMO, this has been demonstrated repeatedly in studies by KPMG, PWC and others (Download the PMO studies).

OPM3 is more difficult. The most useful option is a comparison with CMMI.  The larger user base for CMMI makes statistical analysis possible and demonstrates a consistent value proposition for improving organisational maturity and capability (see more on OPM3).

The question is can the generic data generated by these studies be translated to a specific proposal in a single organisation. Unfortunately the answer is no.  On average an organisation can expect a significant return on monies invested in PMOs and improving project, program and portfolio management maturity but as risk practitioners know only to well, on average, nothing is average.  Some situations will fail, other will generate stellar returns.

This is not a new problem.  In June of 1962 the USA Dept. of Defense promulgated PERT/COST as a new general purpose management system for use on major military system acquisition programs. In 1964 a major study was undertaken by The Mitre Corporation to investigate the question of how to evaluate the design of the PERT/COST management system. This study still makes interesting reading today.

The overarching conclusions in the report were:

  • That there is no single, simple straightforward way of deriving value judgments as to the PERT/COST system design, or probably any other general purpose management system.
  • The interrelationships between a management system and the quality of its implementation operation (including the capability of the managers who use it), presents serious difficulties in the assessment of the value of the management system alone.
  • The value of the system is intimately related to both the quality of its implementation and the capability and willingness of the appropriate managers to use it.
  • An evolutionary approach is a good way to evolve the development of the system capability in an orderly fashion over period of time. It is ideal in cases where the ultimate capability to be required of the system cannot be precisely defined, but where the direction toward which increasing system capabilities should be oriented are predictable.

My post on Cobb’s Paradox asked the question why do executive managers allow poor quality systems to exist in their organisations. Possibly one answer is the difficulty of generating a simple investment proposition discussed in this post.

Better informed executives are capable of bypassing set minimum ROI values or payback periods, focusing instead on the demonstrated competitive advantage to be gained by selecting the right projects and programs to do, then doing them right!  The challenge for project management professionals in other organisations is making the necessary information available in ways that can be received and understood by the executives.

In conclusion, Harry S Truman said The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”  To help you avoid this problem, the 1964 Mitre Report, authored by R. L. Hamilton, can be downloaded from the link (Handle) on  http://oai.dtic.milAD0603425

The value of Practical Wisdom in organisational governance

Wisdom is a state of the human mind characterised by profound understanding and deep insight. It is the consciousness of wholeness and integrity that transcends rules, often referred to as common sense in an uncommon degree.

2400 years ago, Aristotle identified two types of wisdom – the esoteric/metaphysical and practical wisdom – more recently psychologist and author, Barry Schwartz has been discussing the importance of Practical Wisdom (see the book) and the ‘right way to do the right thing’.

Aristotle believed that to do the right thing, and ultimately to be happy, required you to be a person with the right character – courage, honesty, perseverance, etc; but that having these virtues wasn’t enough, because, you need to decide how courageous should you be and when to be courageous? You need to use your judgment. And the virtue of good judgment is what Aristotle called practical wisdom. Practical wisdom is knowing when and how to display the other virtues and how to choose when two virtues or requirements conflict.

Whilst rules are important in the governance of organisations they are not enough. Practical wisdom requires the use of wise improvisation! In the service of the right aims, the wise person will ‘bend the rules’ in the service of good. As the proverb suggests: Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools. Or more usefully, Rules are for the obedience of the inexperienced and the guidance of wise men. (WW2 British RAF Ace, Sir Douglas Bader).

What this means is standard conduct is justified in most situations. However, the rules should not be followed blindly particularly where following the rules will cause disadvantage or be detrimental to a key objective. In these circumstances, there may be a more effective procedure. Effective leaders need the moral skill and the moral will to improvise effectively at the appropriate times. Virtue and wisdom are almost inseparable.

The challenge facing organisations and society at large is that developing wise people requires a degree of freedom to make mistakes and learn. This freedom is progressively eroded as the reaction to each unvirtuous action is almost universally the creation of new rules and the removal of the freedom to make judgements. Unfortunately, rules will never constrain the actions of the unvirtuous.

The challenge is to move away from a hide bound ‘rules based’ approach to governance to a place where there are sufficient rules to provide effective guidance linked to sufficient freedom to allow people to apply practical wisdom to achieve the strategic objectives of the organisation. More on this next time……

Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects

Wiley and the Chartered Institute of Building have just published a new book, the Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects. The primary purpose of this Guide is to set down the standards necessary to facilitate the effective and competent management of time in complex projects. It defines the standards by which project schedules will be prepared, quality controlled, updated, reviewed and revised in practice and describes the standards of performance which should reasonably be required of a project scheduler.

Delayed completion affects IT, process plant, oil and gas, civil engineering, shipbuilding and marine work contracts. In fact it affects all industries in all countries and the bigger the project, the more damage delayed completion causes to costs, to reputation and sometimes, even to the survival of the contracting parties themselves.

In simple projects, time can be managed intuitively by any reasonably competent person, but complex projects cannot and a more analytical approach is necessary if the project is to succeed. Although much has been written about how to apportion liability for delay after a project has gone wrong there was, until recently, no guidance on how to manage time pro-actively and effectively on complex projects.

The Guide has been developed as a scheduling reference document capable of wide application. It is a practical treatise on the processes to be followed and standards to be achieved in effective management of time. It can be used in any jurisdiction, under any form of contract, with any type of project and should be identified as the required standard for the preparation and updating of contract programmes, progress reporting and time management.

I may be biased, my partner was part of the team that developed The Guide and it recognises the importance of involving stakeholders in the development of the schedule, but I feel it has a lot to offer project planners and schedulers on any type of project.

For more information;
in Australia see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Books.html#CIOB_Guide elsewhere, http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-144433493X.html

PMO Survival

Research by Dr. Brian Hobbs, University of Quebec at Montreal, Quebec, Canada published in a White Paper prepared for the Project Management Institute (PMI) highlights the precarious existence of the majority of Project Management Offices (PMOs). Approximately half of the PMO’s in existence are seeing their relevance or very existence questioned.

Whilst PMOs have been popular since the middle to late 1990’s and new PMOs are being created at a relatively high rate; PMOs are also being shut down or radically reconfigured at a similar rate. As shown in the figure below most PMOs in existence today are rather recent creations. The sample suggests more than half the PMOs in existence today (54%) were created in the last two years and only 17% have been in existence for more than five years.

This data suggests a PMO often has only a short time to demonstrate its ability to fit into the organisations culture and create value before it is restructured or closed down. We have looked at some of the issues and challenges associated with PMOs in a Mosaic White Paper ‘PMOs’.

Based on years of observation, the key to achieving an effective start up for a PMO has more to do with the PMO’s management being able to effectively manage their key stakeholders, particularly in the executive suites than any methodology or reporting processes the PMO may import or develop. For more on this see the numerous papers we have published [paper listing]. The key message is technical competence is never going to be enough to justify the existence of a PMO.

The Real Job of a PMO?

Three things occurred in the last couple of days that set me thinking about the real value of a PMO.

The first was a short article in our local paper praising a much delayed decision by our local council to erect warning signs on some local beaches. The signs would ‘save lives’. Interestingly, I have never seen a sign rescuing anyone! The ocean is inherently dangerous – it’s full of deep water that’s frequently rough. The only way a sign could possible contribute to beach safety is if;
i. A person going onto the beach is unaware of the inherent danger,
ii. Sees and reads the sign,
iii. Believes the information and changes their intended actions to avoid the danger.

The second was a post I made to a very long running Linked-In debate on measuring the effectiveness of Earned Value Management. 90% of the responses focused on accuracy. Accuracy is an important characteristic of the data. However, perfectly accurate data is as useless as complete rubbish if the information is not used. The effectiveness of EVM can only be assessed based on its contribution to effective decision making that leads to the creation of value. To paraphrase a quote from my paper Scheduling in the Age of Complexity  ‘Useful systems are useful because they are used!’ (existence is not enough).

The third was a discussion in the PMP class we are running this week on PMOs and in particular the short life of many PMOs in organisations.

On reflection, my feeling is the failure of many PMOs is directly linked to their inability to make project controls data into useful management information. If the PMO was perceived by senior management as the source of very useful information they (the senior managers) need to govern the organisation they would never consider closing it.

This has a number of connotations:

  1. The PMO needs to be ale to communicate effectively in terms that are relevant to senior management
  2. The PMO needs to be able to translate project data into management information.
  3. The PMO needs to make sure the information is available where and when needed by the senior management team.
  4. The PMO needs to be trusted by the senior management team to provide relevant, accurate and useful information.

In my experience, most PMO managers and staff are project controls experts and/or system administrators skilled in running the PMOs tools. Their skills are in the wrong direction. Certainly the PMO needs to some technically competent staff but its management need to be effective operators in the organisations executive management space.

Communicating and advising upwards is a different skill set and one we are working on defining and developing capabilities in. Our new workshop The Science and Art of Effective Communication focuses on ‘advising upwards’ as does Dr. Lynda Bourne’s new book: Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders due for publication in 2011.

What are your thoughts and where should the balance lie?

A thought on PMOs and Project Controls

The quality guru W. Edwards Deming said ‘In God we trust, all other bring data’. However, recent developments in the Victorian Government health system offer a salient reminder to any PMO manager on the value of data.

Victorian hospitals are rewarded for good performance and fined for poor performance. One measure being the length of waiting lists another is the time patients wait in casualty/emergency area before admittance. Rumours have been circulating for several months that some administrators were manipulating data to avoid fines and win bonuses – both adjusted against the hospital’s funding for the year (ie, no one personally benefitted from the manipulation). An audit report has confirmed many of the rumours and has found behaviours that in many cases are worse for the patients and worse of the hospital than if nothing had occurred.

One example is transferring patients from emergency care to the operating theatre waiting area to avoid a fine for failing to admit the patient within the prescribed maximum time. The consequences of this action include:

  • The patient being removed from an area focused on emergency care to an area with little monitoring capability – a reduction in care to the patient.
  • The reduction in throughput in the operating suites due to overcrowding and skilled theatre staff having to spend time on patient care rather than operations.
  • A net reduction in the overall delivery of service by the hospital; but improved statistical reports to Government.

This farce was in the interests of everyone except the people the Government and hospital are supposed to serve, the public needing hospital care. Some of the vested interests include:

  • The government’s desire to look good by reducing waiting time.
  • The hospitals desire to achieve the maximum budget income for the year.
  • The administrators’ desire , both in the hospital and the government, to avoid ‘rocking the boat’.
  • The built in bias in government spending to fully spend each year’s budget allocation.

Apart from the obvious issue around the intelligence of a system that removes funding from an institution that probably needs more funding to meet the demands on its services – the only practical way to treat more patients is to provide more beds and staff which cost money… there are a number of important lessons for all PMO managers to consider when setting up ‘project dash boards’ and the like:

  • What you measure will change behaviours. Focus on things that matter like value and benefits not easy to measure statistics like time.
  • Make sure the data you use is validated.
  • Identifying a problem is not enough! You should work with the project team and management to make sure an effective solution is crafted. It’s not the PMOs job to solve the problem but it can be a powerful facilitator of solutions by measuring the right statistics and asking the right questions.

This is a more challenging role but also one that can really contribute to the overall performance of you organisation.

For more on this topic see: