Every company has strategically important projects whose implementation has a profound impact on the future success of the company. Often such large-scale projects or programs take many years and are comprised of tens of thousands of man-days and a corresponding budget in the millions. In order to speed up implementation, different topics are worked on in parallel within these programs. These programs are, of course, entrusted to highly experienced project managers, who may rely on a corresponding Program Management Office (PMO) for support. However, even if this initial situation is comparable for different companies, the degree of project success varies from company to company, and even between separate projects of the same company. What is the reason for this, and what are the characteristics of an effective PMO?
According to our experiences managing and reviewing numerous large-scale projects, my colleagues at Eurogroup Consulting and I have found the following aspects to be particularly relevant to the characterization of sustainable and effective PMO work:
1. The PMO must not only manage the project plan, but must also be able to independently develop it.
This assumes that PMO employees understand what the project consists of and not just complete the tasks for the current work packages. Only when there is an understanding of the content will it be possible to coordinate and control all necessary project activities and determine the correct response in the event of a change in information. This is particularly important when programs are characterized by a large number of dependencies that require networking and quality assurance between sub-projects.
2. The PMO must not only document the progress of the project, but must also take into account potential obstacles at an early stage.
PMOs rely on many processes for gathering information, e.g., sub-project status reports and work package coordination between managers and the project team. Special PPM tools are used to efficiently collect and refine this information. These tools not only make it easier to plan work packages, milestones and result types, but can also be used to schedule resources and to identify and simulate possible solutions for resource allocation conflicts.
3. The PMO must be able to provide a comprehensive overall assessment of the situation, despite the focus on individual work packages.
PPM tools help to systematically collect relevant data. However, the PMO must be able to draw the right conclusions from this wealth of information. To be successful, the PMO employees must to be able to filter and aggregate the relevant information so they can give a concise but well-founded assessment of the project situation to the program manager or to the client at any time.
4. The PMO must not only document problems, but also make decisions to solve them.
Project work is not a routine activity. The need to adapt to new findings will almost inevitably occur in any major project. Projects often establish risk and problem management. This then flows into a change procedure to allow the changes in the project plan to be formally confirmed. This process is by no means trivial. An effective PMO, therefore, acts as a seismograph for possible risks and upcoming problems. If this is successful, the discussion to find solutions can start at an early stage and valuable project time can be saved.
5. The PMO must not only document the lack of resources, but also create ambitions to achieve the project objectives with the available resources.
The information requirements of a PMO often compete with the operational tasks that the various sub-projects are supposed to accomplish. An effective PMO will therefore keep administrative activities to a minimum and ensure that they are used effectively. This often manifests itself in the handling of status reports. Creating status reports during a project is increasingly becoming a ritual. Submission and discussion of the status reports takes place mechanically and gradually loses the intended effect. A good PMO will therefore continually and critically question the points mentioned in the status reports, and together with the project leaders, decide on the correct action to take.
6. The PMO should not only support the project leaders, but together, they are the basis for the project’s success.
Large projects are complex and are characterized by many parameters. A good PMO is therefore characterized by the fact that project management problems and possible solutions are openly discussed. This culture of open discussion must also be reflected in the way the PMO employees perceive themselves, as the “fire department” ready to eliminate smoldering problems and thus support the sub-projects.
When a PMO fulfills these aspects, it becomes the extended arm of project management and can support and complement it with the greatest possible impact. The significantly higher probability of successful project implementation through an effective PMO makes it worth thinking about the adaptations that can be used to increase the impact of your PMO.