Companies today increasingly recognize that, with respect to project management, they must advance beyond the ability to create occasional success stories through the exertion of heroic effort. They know that a core element of their overall success is driven by the ability to consistently bring their entire portfolio of projects to successful completion: on-time, within budget, and per-specification. In addition, they know that if they can cost-effectively accelerate the delivery of their new products and services (without sacrificing quality in the process) they can create a strategic advantage over their competitors.
The role of the Project Office (Project Team) is to enable companies to be consistently successful with respect to project management and to create a foundation for achieving a competitive advantage. This is accomplished by filling two essential roles within the organization as: 1) A provider of enterprise-level project management services, and 2) A project management center of excellence. Both of these roles are discussed below.
Enterprise-Level Project Management Services
There are certain project management functions that can only occur at the enterprise level. Organizations require answers to key management questions such as: Are we adequately staffed to meet our current project workload? Are we on-track for meeting our current customer commitments? What will be the impact to our existing
projects if we take on a new endeavor? The answer to these questions cannot be provided by any individual project plan. Instead, resource, cost, and schedule information must be “rolled-up” across an organization’s entire portfolio of projects in order to produce the type of data necessary to address these issues. Unfortunately, because of the amount of effort and the specialized skills required, many companies have come to realize that they will not receive this type of information (on a regular basis, anyway) simply by asking for it. Rather, the work to collect and analyze this information must be made a formal function within the organization and assigned to individuals that are appropriately qualified to perform the work. Ideally, this function is performed by the Project Office.
Project Management Center of Excellence
With constantly changing personnel, organizations have an ongoing need to provide mentoring in the proper application of their project management methodologies to project team members. In addition, the tools that we utilize to assist us with project planning and control (such as Microsoft Project) are continuously being upgraded and enhanced and, as a result, team members must be regularly coached on their proper use. It is the role of the Project Office to provide this ongoing coaching and mentoring. However, in order for the Project Office staff to function successfully in this capacity they must themselves be experts in the methodologies and the use of the tools and they must have the training (and demeanor) to be successful coaches and mentors.
In many organizations the use of formalized project planning and control techniques is a result of internal sponsorship. That is, someone at a managerial-level within the organization recognized the benefits of project management and was willing to commit company resources to implement it. Unfortunately, when sponsors transfer (or get promoted to another organization) there is a tremendous tendency to backslide; especially with new sponsors that might not have the same level of commitment. A Project Office can help establish project management as a core competency and an essential function within an organization and impart enough momentum to survive the loss of a major sponsor.
Most companies have some form of Project Office organization already in place. However, a significant percentage of these still have not achieved the consistent level of project success that they envisioned when their Project Office investment was originally justified. According to the Standish Group Chaos Report, 90% of projects ultimately do not achieve their quality, cost, and/or time objectives. Perhaps the reason for this continued lack of success lies in how these existing Project Offices are utilized. We have observed a number of companies where, unfortunately, the function of the Project Office has devolved into performing relatively low-level administrative activities like project cost tracking, project documentation, and schedule score-keeping. Also in some cases, Project Offices become repositories for marginally-skilled resources that are not able to be used anywhere else in the organization.