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Evaluating a program management office

PM Oracles
August 16, 2012

Many organisations have contemplated or implemented program management as a means of managing interrelated projects within their organisation, with varying degrees of success. For the purposes of this article we refer to a program management office (PgMO) as a vehicle that can be used to manage the lifecycle of a specific program or, if a permanent body, has the purpose of achieving strategic benefits that are not available by managing projects as separate efforts. Some organisations may refer to PgMOs (or other types of program/project management office) as Centres of Excellence.

Critical to the success of setting up a program management ‘practice’ is gaining agreement from stakeholders on what constitutes that success. Think of it as the ‘why it will exist’ factor. This step sounds obvious, but it is very easy to give it inadequate focus early on, and like many things, it can devolve bit by bit into providing interesting but ultimately low-value advice or guidance.

It should always be remembered that people make projects and experienced project campaigners know how to get their projects across the line. A PgMO should provide experienced practitioners with an appropriate service, just as they should focus on slightly different needs of inexperienced practitioners.

Industry standards offer a good source from which to define success. Use them to specify what you will do to justify your existence. As or even more critical to having measures of success is ensuring you can measure them without adding needless bureaucracy. Capturing the wrong set of measures wastes time and could lead to the failure of the program office.

PgMOs have different purposes based on their longevity, the characteristics of the organisation and the industry, the maturity of organisational processes and the scope of power with which they are endowed. Regardless of these dynamics, one of the primary goals of any PgMO should be to ensure benefits realisation on behalf of the organisation. One thing they need to be seen by key stakeholders is a value-adding function, rather than as bureaucratic overhead.

The specific actions undertaken will depend on the scope of the PgMO but may include:

  • Integration of deliverables plans to ensure a ‘just in time’ availability of needed resources.
  • Planning, taking and measuring actions to increase expected benefits.
  • Establishing processes and procedures for the effective management of projects (and project resources) and where necessary, standardising routines and processes.

The level of success organisations ultimately attain through PgMOs will vary. Organisations that have efficient and mature project management processes, for example, will usually incur less risk in implementing a PgMO structure and returning benefits to the organisation.

Organisations new to project management or lacking mature project processes will often struggle with program management and implementing a PgMO. Having insufficient project management processes should serve as a warning sign of underlying issues, and it may therefore be inadvisable to attempt to implement a PgMO until the root cause of project management process issues are uncovered and addressed.

Given the complexities and variations in PgMOs, measuring the value of a PgMO is not always simple, but you should aim to make it so. The value measurement could be as unique as the projects/programs the organisation manages, but several key measurement topics should be considered in all PgMO measurement strategies. These include:

Planning for measurement
Just as with a new project, a PgMO should not be undertaken without a plan, so one of the first steps should be to create a strategy that identifies the mission, role and structure, and the measurements for evaluating success. The measurement strategy must consider stakeholder priorities. That is, the measurement plan should be able to tell the story not only from the perspective of the PgMO, but also provide key metrics of interest to its primary stakeholders. Establishing the right measurement plan early is critical as it will serve as the basis by which success will be determined.

The measurement plan should allow for change. This doesn’t mean modifying the metrics (what is measured) because they are not being met or are otherwise not providing a positive light, but could include changes to the targets (e.g. what constitutes ‘acceptable’) or the frequency for collecting and reviewing metrics.

For example, the percentage of troubled projects (those not considered ‘green’ in the standard amber, red, green reporting process) may initially be set at 95% for the green metric. If, after a few reporting periods, it is found the average is found to be 90% percent, consideration may be given to changing the green metric to 90%, as long as one continues to measure and will increase the threshold as processes and resources mature. Naming 95% could have been too aggressive of a metric for a specific organisation at the start.

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PM Oracles
PM Oracles is Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, Jeff Hodgkinson and Duke Okes, all experienced PMO, program, and project managers who share a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management.
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