Tag Archives: Project Management Office

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

Cobb’s Paradox

Cobb’s Paradox states, ‘We know why projects fail; we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?’  PMI has recently published its latest Pulse of the Profession survey which shows some improvements on the 2008 and 2006 results but not much. Nearly half the projects surveyed in 2010 still failed to meet time and cost targets.

However, the PMI survey did highlight a stark difference between high performing organisations with a better than 80% success rate, and low performing organisations with a greater than 40% fail rate. And, the survey also clearly showed the processes typically used by the high performing organisations (and ignored by low performing organisations) are straightforward to implement and use; they include:

  • Using standardised project management processes.
  • Establishing a process to mature project, program and portfolio management practices.
  • Using a process to increase project management competency.
  • Employing qualified project managers.

Most of these elements coalesce around an effective project management office (PMO). Simply by standardising project management processes, the survey shows an organisation can expect a 25% increase in project success.

None of this new is new, KPMG demonstrated exactly the same point in its 2002 and 2003 surveys, supported by similar findings by PwC in 2004 (see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Resources_Papers.html#Proj_Off).

What’s worrying me is the large number of organisations whose middle and senior management are simply failing their stakeholders by not implementing these simple pragmatic steps. The question that should be asked is WHY?

The stakeholders whose rights are being ignored include the owners who have a right to expect efficient use of resources entrusted to the organisation and the people employed on the failed projects whose work life is made unnecessarily stressful.

As Deeming pointed out in the 1950s, quality is a management responsibility. Therefore, allowing poor quality project management processes to exist in an organisation is a management failure. To quote another mantra: quality is designed in not inspected in. Workers and project managers cannot be expected to retrofit quality into defective systems; systemic failures are a failure of management.

What makes the situation even more worrying is that the tools to develop a quality project management system are readily available. Models such as CMMI, P3M3 and PMI’s OPM3 maturity model has been around for years and are regularly updated.

PMI has recently moved to improve the availability and support for its OPM3 Self-Assessment Module (SAM). This basic assessment system is now sold and supported by organisations such as Mosaic that are qualified to deliver the full range of OPM3 services and help businesses achieve the best return on their investment (for more see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/OPM3.html). OGC have similar arrangements for P3M3 as does CMMI.

So, given the tools are available, the knowledge is available, and the value has been consistently demonstrated; why are organisations still prepared to squander $millions on failed projects rather than investing a fraction of that amount in simple systems that can significantly improve the value they deliver to their stakeholders?
I would be interested to know the answer.

A Project Manager’s Mangers

Projects are a very effective way of creating the new products, services or results required by organisations to effect change. The concept of a project is well understood, as are the roles and responsibilities of the project manager. A range of international standards exist defining project management processes, with the PMBOK® Guide being the most widely distributed. Despite the range of standards, there is general agreement and consistency across cultures and languages. But projects are only the building blocks of organisational change and improvement, other management structures determine what projects should be undertaken and how their outputs will be used to create beneficial outcomes and value.

The purpose of this post is to look at the three main management processes that govern the project processes; Portfolio management, Program management and the role of Project Directors as the managers of project managers.

Portfolio management
Portfolio management is, or should be, a collective process undertaken by the senior managers within an organisation to select the best mix of projects and programs to achieve the organisations short, medium and long term objectives. Every organisation is constrained by the available funding, the available resources and its inherent capabilities; so for every project selected or continued many others are rejected.

This process defines the organisation for the future; the correct mix keeps the organisation functioning in the present, builds on existing strengths for the mid-term and creates new opportunities for the future. Taking a too conservative and risk adverse stance guarantees others will seize the future and the organisation will fade into insignificance or failure. Taking on too many risks can destroy the business in the short term.

These decisions are too important to delegate to a ‘portfolio manager’; they have to be the responsibility of the chief executive and the senior management group. However, making this type of decision needs viable and reliable data, both on current projects and on the evolving environment the organisation operates within.

Effective strategic planning processes at the executive level should lay out the environment and opportunities. The role of an effective Portfolio Manager should be to provide these decision makers with recommendations and suggestions based on accurate and meaningful data on the status of current and proposed projects and programs. In this context, meaningful data refers firstly to the alignment of the projects and programs to the organisations strategic objectives and secondly the value contribution expected from the project’s outputs; on time and/or on budget are largely irrelevant other than to appreciate the impact of any variance on the value currently expected as a consequence of effectively deploying the project’s outputs.

Portfolio management requires an effective PMO structure to gather analyse and manage the information flows from current and proposed projects and programs. However, given the executive decision making role the Portfolio Manager supports, within an ethical governance framework, it is probably inappropriate for the same person to be directly involved in the management of the projects and programs.

From the perspective of a project or program manager, whilst the Portfolio Manager should have little or no input to the day-to-day running of the work, he or she is a key stakeholder and the critical aspect of managing the relationship is understanding the current value proposition for your project or program and making sure this is communicated effectively.
[for more on Portfolio Management see: White Paper1017 ]

Program management
Programs are created to create a business benefit. Whilst there are several different types of program they all initiate and run multiple projects to obtain benefits that would not be achievable if the projects were managed in isolation. Programs are quite different to large projects. Programs typically create multiple deliverables that achieve a range of benefits desired by the organisation. Whilst not as well defined a project, there is a strong consensus world-wide as to the role of the program manager and the purpose of programs.

If a project is part of a program, the Program Manager is the project managers direct line manager and will have significant involvement in the running of the project. Also, as the project is an integral part of the program, the project manager will be a key player in the program manager’s team. This stakeholder relationship is probably the most important for the project manager to maintain as is the corresponding relationships between the program manager and her project managers.
[for more on program types see: White Paper 1022 ]

Project Director
The role of the Project Director has been somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of portfolio and program management; this is unfortunate. Project directors are managers of project managers. This role should be focused in two areas, firstly providing oversight and governance to projects that are outside of programs (this is probably the majority), secondly providing management input to the organisation’s project managers to help them develop and grow.

PMI recognise the role as the ‘Manager of Project Managers’ in composite and strong matrix organisations. AIPM as a ‘Certified Practising Project Director’ in their competency standards and RegPM credential structure. The role of the Project Director can be subsumed into an appropriate PMO as long as the PMO is focused on driving value and creating excellence.

Unfortunately at the moment, there is very little focus on this aspect of developing project management capabilities within an organisation. Unless there is a renewed focus on developing project managers and project management capabilities within an organisation it will rapidly lose any competitive advantage. Buying in ‘talent’ from elsewhere will become increasingly expensive and is largely counter-productive to the development of an effective corporate culture and enhanced organisational project management maturity.

Where Project Directors exist, they are another important stakeholder for the project manager to work with.

Advising upwards
Each of the managers defined above are important stakeholders and the project manager needs to effectively manage the relationships if their project is to be successful and the PM’s career enhanced. My new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders is focused on the skills needed to build and maintain robust relationships, focused on engaging the support of senior executives, understanding their expectations and managing them through targeted communication. For more on the book and the expected publication date, see: Book Outline.

The three distinct roles defined above are critically important to the development of effective project management practices within an organisation. However, it is important to note each role is distinctly different and should be separated in a mature organisation, even if they are incorporated into an overall PMO structure.

PMI’s OPM3 assessment processes can help develop an organisations Project, Program and Portfolio management maturity see: more on OPM3

The roles and functions of various types of PMO are discussed in White Paper 1034

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

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?