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Project Management Office Types

Dick Billows, PMP

Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Many organizations get themselves into an expensive mess with their projects. The problems start to build as the number of projects launched increases due to company growth or external pressures. Many people remember when they first started doing projects. That was a pleasant time when people wanted to be on a project because it was exciting and unique. But as the volume of projects grew, people found themselves on two or three projects and all of them were eating into the time they had for their “real” jobs. So a new project assignment was no longer welcome. Enterprise Project Management Main Page

Why Do So Many Projects Fail?

In the old days, projects were rare. But now days you can’t turn around in the organization without running into some project team meeting in the cafeteria. The organization is launching so many projects that no one is keeping track of them. Team members learn to wait a few weeks after a new number one priority project appears on the horizon. They know to wait because it’s very likely they will never hear about it again. It will be canceled or replaced by another number one priority project and fade off into the mist.

This situation spells serious problems in the organization. Often there is no prioritization of projects beyond a lot of yelling about how some project has to be priority number one. Unfortunately there are already 50 of those in the pipeline. And five new priority one projects will come along next week. So people don’t know what to work on first or what project is most important. That creates a mess in the resource pool as project managers are vying for team members. Work on one project after another is interrupted by the appearance of a new top priority project. Lack of prioritization means the organization wastes valuable resources. It makes no sense to expend precious resource hours on a project that’s never going to be completed.Project Management Office

No one is managing the portfolio of projects and carefully allocating resources to those projects based on their priority. What happens is that the organization cannot successfully complete larger strategic projects because there are dozens or hundreds of  small “puppy projects” that get launched every week. In many organizations, these litters of projects consume 40% of the total project resources. Yet they are “off the organization’s radar” and the people who sponsor these puppies don’t mind that at all.

Project Management Office

The organization frequently throws a project management office (PMO) into this mess. Very often it is staffed by people who think they’re the organization’s “best” project managers. After many meetings, these project managers decide that everybody has to do things “the right way.” So they begin promulgating project rules and regulations. They issue a mind-numbing number of new forms that project managers have to complete. They feel they need all his paperwork to exercise control. Busy project managers usually ignore all these bureaucratic and paperwork requirements. And they usually get away with it. When a busy project manager is “called out” for ignoring the project management office, they respond with, “Do you want me to work on my projects or complete all this paperwork?”

The net result in most cases is that the project management office makes the problem worse and the issues of prioritization and resource allocation never get solved. So many project management office efforts fail.  Some create so much paperwork and so many forms that compliance is low and scorn is high. Others provide no useful data to decision-makers and waste a lot of project managers’ time trying to enforce cumbersome academic methodologies.  A minority do work well, however. Let’s look at some of the project management office options.

The Weather Station Project Management Office

Just like your friendly TV weather person, the Weather Station project management office reports on what is going on but does not try to influence it. This PMO doesn’t bother any of the PMs who are leading projects. These Weather Station people accumulate data about projects and summarize it for executives without making any decisions or enforcing any standards. They just pass on the information to anyone who is interested. It often turns out that no one uses their data.  The Weather Station can be implemented painlessly and if the information is focused, they can serve decision–makers’ needs.

The Control Tower Project Management Office

In the Control Tower PMO, the project office gives project managers direction on methodology. This includes project initiation, acquiring resources and correcting variances. While each PM manages his or her own projects, the Control Tower PMO will alert them to impending problems. It will also identify situations where the PM is not adhering to the methodology, particularly during scheduling and verification of deliverables.

Command Central Project Management Office

The Command Central PMO  may be the home department for all or most of the organization’s project managers . They report to the Command Central management, not to the project sponsors in the operating units. The Command Central’s enforcement of a consistent methodology is strict.  This PMO is actively involved in the evaluation of new projects and recommends approval or rejection to executives. They usually play a configuration management role. This means they analyze changes to projects and changes to the specifications of project deliverables.

Which is the Best Project Management Office? 

So what’s the best type of project management office? The answer depends on the state of project management in the organization.

Weather Stations PMOs are a good solution for organizations at the chaos stage in managing their projects.  The Weather Station’s data distribution can help with resource allocation and priority issues. The Weather Station also sounds innocent and does not trigger a lot of turf battles like the other two types. But it does not have the clout to resolve issues about lending resources across functional lines, project prioritization, or the problems of initiating too many projects.

Organizations need to take the next step up and handle the turf wars that usually arise when the Control Tower PMO is implemented. Their role in controlling project initiation and enforcing standards for new projects steps on the toes (and the fragile egos) of sensitive functional managers. But organizations emerging from project chaos require more centralized control and enforcement to instill a disciplined approach and a consistent methodology.

The Command Central PMO pays off when larger organizations have a significant number of cross-functional projects. Then centralization of the project managers (at least for cross-functional projects) can improve training and utilization of the project managers. It also ensures use of a consistent methodology. This type of PMO is useful if management is:

  • Unable to control the initiation of new projects
  • Unable to exercise control over the organization’s portfolio of existing projects and
  • Unwilling to enforce an organization-wide protocol for planning, approving and tracking projects.

Effective PMOs are rare. We only see them in organizations that have solved the authority problems of cross-functional projects and developed a key group of skilled project managers. These PMs apply a consistent protocol for planning, budgeting and tracking their projects. This PMO allows the line managers and PMs sufficient “elbow room” for creativity while still allocating resources properly and coordinating the organization’s initiation of projects.

You can learn how to build an effective project management office and enterprise project management protocol in our course #201 – Program & Portfolio Management

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