To PMO or EPMO, is that the question?
What kind of project management do you need?
Strategic alignment of business objectives with projects, project prioritization, value management, and benefit realisation are all outcomes any business would want to achieve from the projects they initiate.
Is there a need for a role or an office in your business with responsibility for achieving these outcomes, or can they be achieved without a function and staff dedicated to project management?
Different models for project management in an organisation
Forming a project team, bringing in external expertise needed during the project, integrating project-driven changes into the existing operations, then ending the project is a common approach. It fits with the Association for Project Management and the Project Management Institute's definition of a project as a unique and transient or temporary endeavour.
However, there is advocacy for a model where a permanent project management function is established in a business. Arguments for this model range from the size of an organisation, to its geographic dispersion, and whether there is a rapid pace of change driving more project work.
The PMO, a project or program management officer or office, and the EPMO, an enterprise program management officer or office, are the proposed means of embedding project management into an organisation. Views on what PMOs and EPMOs do vary. Voices from IT, engineering, project management, and other disciplines are all involved in the conversation. It appears that one-size does not fit all:
The PMO: - you will find that some think of a PMO as being responsible for a project. For others, it is an office that supports a project by doing the paperwork, keeping the records, and keeping track of things. Then there are those who use the term for a position or unit responsible for training and development, standardisation, resource management, communication and reporting for projects and programs in part of or across the entire organisation.
The EPMO: - is generally seen as a strategic role involved in decision-making about priorities, investment, and risk management, most often complementing the PMO(s) role. They communicate with the senior levels of the organisation, but some believe should sit in the senior levels of the organisation. Their other responsibilities might include co-ordinating business-wide project management, project governance, maintaining project portfolio management best practices, mentoring, and standardising tools and processes.
What is important, is that the way a business organises project management achieves the outcomes the business needs, effectively and efficiently.
Making the best decision for your business means considering some important factors before choosing between the options of putting project teams in place as needed or establishing permanent project management in the organisational structure.
The value of project management offices (PMOs) and enterprise project management offices (EPMOs) has been questioned for many years.
Honkanen, D. J. (2011). The EPMO: strategy to execution.
Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2011—North America, Dallas, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Three factors to consider in developing your model for project management
1. Technical and project management skills
The most important factor to consider is the skills needed to deliver a project successfully.
Boeing's 787 project illustrates the importance of people and expertise to a project. The project was fraught with problems, taking several attempts to recruit the right project manager to successfully complete it. The successful project manager, Scott Fancher, possessed skills and knowledge relevant to both the technical challenges and organising the project resources and work.
When the project was completed Fancher moved on to another role becoming the leader of the next major Boeing development project for the 777 aircraft. His colleague Larry Loftis, an expert in production operations, became the manager of the 787 program in its production phase.
Think about what is necessary for your business to successfully and efficiently manage its projects and whether project management is best approached; with your existing team, by adding new roles to your team, or bringing in expertise when needed:
In your business, are technical skills and knowledge needed to be able to manage projects effectively? Can the necessary skills and knowledge be embodied in one or a few people, or does the scope of the business's operations make this difficult?
Consider previous projects, do they demonstrate an existing internal strength in project management skills?
Do you have all the necessary project management expertise, technical skills and knowledge, and business acumen, or are there weaknesses you need to overcome?
What is the business going to face in the near-term and longer-term future – economic conditions, market changes, and other external forces – will these forces change the skills and knowledge needed or the frequency and amount of project work?
In his paper, A Project Manager's Lessons Learned, Jerry Madden an Associate Director at NASA writes
"The source of most problems is people but damned if they will admit it",
then immediately acknowledges
"Most managers succeed on the strength and skill of their staff."
Undoubtedly, having the right expertise in place at the right time is important and embedding project knowledge and skills in the organisation is advantageous. But, apart from skills and knowledge there is also organisational culture and practices to consider.
2. Taking responsibility
Running a project is a temporary activity involving implementation of any changes in work practice into the ongoing operation of a business. In the temporary project team model, responsibility is clearly handed over and the project manager isn't expected to be involved any further when the project concludes. With a permanent project management function in place, who is responsible for what and when may not be quite as clear.
When Scott Fancher handed over to Larry Loftis, the Boeing 787 program went from being a project developing how the aircraft would be built, to being a production process with Lean being used to refine it. Boeing had a culture which drew a line in the sand with responsibility clearly handed over and no-one doubting that continuous improvement was everybody's responsibility.
Culturally, in your organisation, is taking responsibility a strongly held value?
Would having a permanent function responsible for project management reduce the wider team's sense of responsibility and engagement with projects?
How well would a PMO or EPMO be accepted if they set project standards and protocols, supported, and encouraged, rather than doing?
3. Standardisation and controls
Large organisations use standardised financial and sales reporting to deliver information which can be used quickly and efficiently for monitoring the business. Intranets, workflow software, and meetings are standard ways to keep information flowing. Specific functions own the reporting, it's a part of their wider responsibilities. However, internal information flows are less function specific. IT looks after the infrastructure, HR has a policy and protocols role, marketing looks after the content, and the CEO and senior executives are key players.
Project management policy, protocols, and governance, could be managed as a cross-functional responsibility or among other project management responsibilities it might require staff. Weigh the pros and cons for your organisation:
Do you have multiple projects which need to supply better quality more comparable information to senior management?
Is there a culture of cross-functional collaboration in the business?
Do members of the senior executive support projects and contribute to an organisation-wide understanding of the connection between company strategy and individual projects?
Does your organisation value striving for best practice?
Does the size and geographic dispersion of the business create a need for leadership and co-ordination?
Will your organisation's culture support sharing a common set of project management protocols and practices without having a PMO or EPMO?
Project management in your business
The unique circumstances of each business will influence whether or not it is strategically advantageous to structurally formalise or take a more flexible approach to project management. Achieving the business's objectives with a project management approach which is the least costly and most beneficial to the business is what is needed.
Whether you bring in project managers with relevant expertise, have a staff or external project manager as an adviser to internal leaders, or permanent project management staff, it is critical to avoid overlapping responsibilities and establish who has the final say.