Refocusing your Project Management Office (PMO) or Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) to ensure it continues to meet the strategic imperatives of your organization is critical for its survival in today’s economic climate. This action will help protect it from budget cuts because management will view it as a source of opportunity for the organization.

Project Management Offices (PMOs) can provide significant cost savings and other benefits when they align with the delivery of the organization’s strategic plan and are well-managed. Those that fail to do so do not survive. As organizations continue their search for non-revenue generating departments to eliminate, the PMO is starting to see their continued survival at risk and are under pressure to prove their worth.

Here are the three most important things you can do to ensure your PMO’s survival:

1. Conduct Project Health Checks or Audits to make sure that projects are progressing optimally.

The recession has increased the need for project audits and project health checks more than ever. As organizations continue to look for immediate ways in which to save money and time, a project audit becomes a significant strategy for a PMO to quickly get to the source of project delays and other problems. Project audits always create future opportunities and savings by helping to identify the root cause of problems and getting badly managed projects back on track. They have a demonstrable and direct, bottom-line impact for both public and private organizations.

As well, organizations that are considering employee lay-offs need to make sure that the projects in their pipeline are implemented on time and on budget despite staff reductions. A Project Health Check or Project Audit ensures that these projects are kept on track because any potential problems are quickly identified. Organizations that are scrambling to get new products to market want to accelerate their new product development life cycle and here too, project audits can be their saviour because they can quickly identify ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of projects.

If your organization is facing any of these challenges below you probably require a Project Health Check or Audit:

  • Projects are not aligned with the strategic imperatives and are therefore wasting resources, time and budget.
  • You are not seeing a positive impact on the organization’s bottom-line and/or customers from projects.
  • Projects are over-time, over-schedule and/or under-resourced.
  • Innovations are failing owing to the poor management of projects.
  • There are many projects of various sizes within the organization and each department but it is unclear how each one aligns with overall corporate strategy. This leads to resource over-allocation on non-priority projects.
  • Resources are stretched and not sure where to spend their time.
  • The organization is clear on the expected outcomes from Strategic Initiatives but aren’t sure which ones will help them reach these.
  • There is no strategic vision for the management of projects, though the organization may have an overall corporate strategic vision.
  • There is no culture which supports the consistent management of all projects.
  • Projects are in crisis and there is lots of fire-fighting.
  • There is blame and excuses for poor project management.

2. Ensure that your PMO/EPMO is prioritizing projects according to strategic imperatives for the organization and dropping projects that do not align.

Developing a systematic approach to prioritizing all projects in the organization makes sense but how many PMOs don’t do it or do it consistently? Too often, projects will get initiated without much consideration other than, “it seems like a great idea.” This lack of strategic alignment is a major reason for project failure. Project prioritization includes identifying how each project within each department is aligned with corporate strategy.

One way to establish a systematic approach to prioritizing projects is to first develop an inventory of all projects currently being implemented by all departments and within the whole organization, regardless of their size or scope.

In my experience this research phase is interesting because it tends to uncover surprises. More often than not projects are being executed under the radar of management. Many a time when I have worked with organizations in a consulting capacity we have found that the 50 projects management was aware of usually represented only half the real picture. There were often many more projects in the works that were running ‘below the radar.’ It’s no wonder that resources are over-allocated and people are feeling stressed! The next step in the prioritization process is to identify the overall goal, strategic alignment and key deliverables for each project and then list these projects on a spreadsheet, referred to as a Project Prioritization Worksheet.

Once listed in this way, it is possible to then prioritize projects according to organizational imperatives. It is important to complete this on an on-going basis, preferably monthly, to account for new projects that are introduced, completion or cancellation of some projects, and/or due to changes in strategic imperatives.

3. Manage the resourcing across all projects

The resourcing of projects continues to be a top priority of management and a significant barrier for PMOs in achieving their mandate. Management are usually not “on board” because they may be uncertain about what the resources are doing and why. They often perceive that work on projects is an intrusion to their employee’s daily work requirements.

An important role of the PMO is to ensure that all project managers know how to develop a detailed project plan which clearly identifies all of the tasks to be done with necessary resource allocation. These project plans should be input into project management software and regularly reported on to keep management up to date on progress.

If this is completed consistently across all projects the PMO can then work with management to analyze the consolidated resource reports and help management to deal with over-allocation issues. In this way, PMOs provide valuable guidance to management. Guidance may include: assigning a different resource to complete a specific series of project tasks, identifying that some tasks may be delayed, or that the resource assigned is not actually completing the task and rather, they are responsible to oversee its completion and therefore are not as time constrained as the report indicates.

It is beneficial to discuss resource over-allocation issues with the functional managers of the project resources. Discussing the issue with functional managers will help to identify opportunities for alternative resources or changing functional work priorities. As well, calling this issue to the attention of senior management will identify if projects can be re-prioritized.

It is possible to change a project’s priority owing to a lack of resources. Senior management may provide larger budgets to some of the projects so it becomes possible to hire external resources.

Overall, the PMO needs to develop a plan to oversee the management of all resources across all projects on a continuous (at least monthly) basis. The resource plan will link all projects to organizational commitments for resources on a continuous basis and will anticipate potential resource issues.

Conclusion

In our research of Project Management Offices we have found that most PMOs tend to focus on the technical and tactical side of their responsibility; such as development of project management process, tools and templates. They usually ignore their more important contribution to the organization, which is to oversee the prioritization of projects, help management to align projects with the organization’s strategic imperatives and provide guidance on project resourcing concerns. These PMOs are doomed if they don’t refocus their efforts, park all of this job responsibility and think more strategically. The imperative today is to quickly demonstrate how the PMO can have an immediate impact on the continued success of their organization.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca