Author: Marc Stamas
As ad hoc and informal approaches to managing projects continue to be less than
effective in meeting time-to-market goals, the need for a Project Office becomes
more compelling. This article provides an approach that addresses the immediate
needs of an organization yet, at the same time, considers longer-term solutions to
improve project management. You will see how to achieve immediate value while
positioning yourself for the long run. The approach is based on the results of
successfully implemented Project Offices within organizations and has been refined
through consulting experiences and industry research.
Your staff is working hard-harder than ever before-yet projects seldom complete on
time. The most frustrating part is no one knows why this occurs or what causes the
unexpected delays and cost overruns. To make matters worse, each division has a
different way of discussing progress; lack of consistency makes communications
downright confusing. Obviously, a reasonably structured method for managing
projects is needed, so you decide to implement a Project Office with consistent
project management practices. This decision poses a different problem-with little
time and limited resources, you need improvement now. Competitive pressure is
strong, and you want to focus on product development, not another process change.
How can you implement a Project Office and improve project management practices
yet, at the same time, continue with product development and business operations?
The Solution - A Top-Level Overview
The answer: Make a conscious effort and deliberately plan to focus on immediate
value and business necessities. The key is to keep the implementation simple,
focused on value, and structured with a plan. To jumpstart the Project Office
implementation, begin with a tactical focus and consider immediate concerns,
business necessities, and minimal needs.
Although the focus is short-term in the beginning, longer-term solutions should be
considered and preliminary steps undertaken to lay the groundwork on broader,
more complex issues. Long-term solutions address permanent maturity efforts that
will result in long-term value to the organization and ensure that you achieve your
time-to-market timeframe not just once but again and again, thanks to repeatable
processes. To accomplish this, we recommend a four-phase approach:
• Phase I-Establish the Foundation
• Phase II-Startup with Short-Term Initiatives
• Phase III-Rollout with Long-Term Solutions
• Phase IV-Support and Improve
The Solution-A More Detailed Discussion
Phase I- Establish the Foundation: In this phase you define the Project Office and
determine your immediate concerns and long-term objectives. As appropriate, you
start with an assessment of your current capabilities, goals and objectives.
Baselining against a Project Management Maturity Model identifies the baseline
positioning of project management within the organization and aids in planning
future tasks and activities. A series of meetings is held with key stakeholders and
subject matter experts to understand current capabilities, challenges, issues, and
goals. Based upon the discussions, an assessment report is developed which
captures the current state and future vision along with an improvement plan
recommending short-term initiatives and long-term solutions. After developing the
top-level improvement plan, you determine the Project Office functions and staffing,
identify stakeholders (to include key management, mentor programs, and pilot
projects), and prepare a communications strategy. This phase ends with the Project
Office having the go-ahead to proceed with funding and with immediate staffing
Phase II - Startup with Short-Term Initiatives:
In this phase you startup the Project Office, put in place short-term initiatives, and initiate the project mentoring
effort. Project Office startup includes staffing the office for near-term needs,
initiating communication activities, and making the organization aware of the Project
Office and its responsibilities.
Two efforts are initiated to demonstrate the immediate value of the Project Office
within your company: short-term initiatives and project mentoring. The short-term
initiatives are solutions to immediate concerns and take care of issues surfaced by
key stakeholders. These are items that can be implemented quickly while at the
same time they take care of organizational top-priority concerns. Examples include:
• An inventory of your projects (new product development, information technology,
business enhancements, etc.)
• Deployment of a project management methodology
• Summary reports and metrics
• Project reviews Brown bag training lunches
• Support for new projects and projects in need
• Project planning or project control workshops
• Identification and deployment of one or more pilot project initiatives
In conjunction with the short-term initiatives, the second effort undertaken is project
mentoring. Project mentoring is an excellent way to provide immediate project
management value to projects that are in the initial startup phase or are in need of
support, without waiting for the implementation of formal training programs, or
process rollouts. Phase I ends when the short-term initiatives are in place and the
team is ready to exclusively focus on longer-term solutions started in Phase I.
Phase lll- Rollout with Long-Term Solutions:
There are increasing benefits to
organizations as they mature their project management capabilities. Phase III
focuses on improving/streamlining the processes, developing people, and putting in
place a more permanent support structure necessary for project management to
succeed. In this phase we develop the long-term solutions, continue the project
mentoring effort, conduct additional pilot tests (as appropriate), and gradually rollout
the fully functioning Project Office. Examples of critical success factors include:
• Process/methodology tailoring and continuing development
• Development of a training curriculum
• Detailed reports/metrics development
• Resource management
• Tool deployment
• Project manager career progression and certification
• Project portfolio management
• Organizational change and transition planning. All of these items take time to
develop and the deployment should be done incrementally starting with pilot tests on
select projects. The assessment and improvement plan done during Phase I provides
the overall long-term goals and objectives for the Project Office, and this phase
develops, pilot tests, and rolls out the methods, standards, training, and support
activities to achieve the overall goals.
Phase IV- Support and Improve:
In this phase, the Project Office is operating and
supporting the organization. They conduct day-to-day activities, refine project
management activities, and expand the involvement of the Project Office where
appropriate. Training and other initiatives continue under the direction of the Project
Office. Key stakeholders provide feedback on the Project Office's efforts and activities
are continually refined.
We have found key activities that work and don't work in a Project Office
implementation. Typically, if you keep these in mind, your implementation will be
Works - The Top Five
• Keep it simple
• Focus on Value
• Secure Executive Sponsorship
Keep it Simple
First and foremost, be realistic and work the basics. If your staff can't explain why
they are doing a particular project and they can't identify their 60-day plan, focus on
helping those areas first. Don't worry about a sophisticated estimating process yetfocus
on simply understanding the project goals (a project charter) and developing
basic plans. Once you identify these basic needs, stay focused and don't do too much
too soon. Employ the minimum project management essentials (such as project
management plans, project schedules, project metrics, and project reporting) and
startup the office to help project teams. Don't try to optimize every aspect of project
Focus on Value
This point goes hand in hand with the first one. Determine the organization's most
pressing concern and fix it. Find what hurts the most and focus on it. Talk to key
stakeholders at all levels within the organization. Try to fix one key concern for each
level. Sometimes the immediate fix is an interim solution that is done inefficiently
(such as manual reports)-but at least the report provides information and insight
with some degree of confidence. Whatever you choose to do, link the goals of the
Project Office to the organization's goals and explain how the Office and project
management practices help meet the organization's goals.
Although it is painful and appears to be nonproductive, take the time to plan up
front. The plan will help set expectations and facilitate communications. Establish
incremental goals to show progress and results to the organization. Identify specific
short-term and long-term solutions and explain how, in some cases, an interim
solution will set the stage for a long-term objective (for example a report that is
done manually). Make sure you plan enough time to conduct pilot tests and train
individuals before setting in place the new process or tool.
Secure Executive Sponsorship
No matter what you do, without executive sponsorship, you will fail. Make sure you
understand who cares, who will be most affected, and who makes decisions. Get
them involved from the beginning. Find out their needs, expectations and goals.
Identify their concerns and work to address them. Remember to keep it simp le,
focus on value, and plan. Understand the problems at different levels. Identify an
executive "cheerleader" and encourage as much "cheering" as possible. Establish a
project board and plan regular status review meetings.
The best idea goes nowhere if you keep it to yourself, surprise everyone at the last
minute, and expect the new idea to be accepted and practiced. People don't like
surprises (not these kinds of surprises). Explain what you are doing and most
importantly why. Let everyone know how the Project Office and the new business
practices will help them. Package a "story" and spread it around. Say the same
message over and over, tailoring it for the different levels of the organization.
Communicate your goals and successes via different avenues a project board, status
review meetings, brown bag sessions, e- mail, or communiques. Just get the word
A Real Life Experience -"Executive Focus on Value"
A financial services company decided to deploy project management methodology in
their information technology organization. The deployment plan focused on three key
project office areas : 1) Deployment of a standard project management process and
methodology, 2) Project management tool development and deployment, and 3)
Training for the staff affected by the project management initiative. Regular
meetings were established to communicate developments and expectations with two
primary career groups: the project managers and the project planners. A standard
approach to managing projects was developed, deployed, and taught to all project
teams. Project brochures were distributed listing the "Top 10" projects; their
deliverables, milestones, and quality metrics. Entire project teams received
performance bonuses based on delivery against the "Top 10" goals. Directors and
Vice-Presidents routinely participated in project reviews and led meetings to discuss
the value of the divisional project management initiative. Actual Improvements:
Planning was sufficient for all stakeholders to understand expectations for the
project. Most of the "Top 10" projects were delivered on time and satisfied or
exceeded the quality metric goals. Experience was developed to further enhance
delivery quality for future projects. Lessons Learned: Mentoring support was critical
in the first phases of project office deployment due to severe lack of internal project
management competency. Methodology efforts were started and redirected on three
occasions, because it is critical to deploy an effective methodology and integrate that
tailored methodology into project management training initiatives.
A Real Life Experience:
"The Global Office & Time-to-Market Reductions"
A new product development organization wanted to decrease the time -to-market
period for new products. The Project Office decided to modify their project
management practices in an effort to reduce time -to-market. The Project Office put
in place a mentoring program, project planning and estimating, project tracking and
control, and additional project coordination/communications avenues. The Project
Office ensured that the project management methodology was established and
followed. The organization started planning and showing the impact to key
milestones. Regular meetings were held to address issues. The Project Office enabled
comprehensive resource capacity planning and project prioritization, resulting in
better planning for resource demand. The attention and focus placed on project
management caused Project Teams to place closer attention to detail and place
better discipline in meeting deadlines. The net result was a reduction in the launch
cycle of a particular product by two months, resulting in an increase of tens of
millions in revenue. Lessons Learned: 1) Project methodology buy-in at the business
unit level is critical. Those buying in saw their time-to-market improve while others
who didn't "pay for the service" languished and time-to-market even got worse. 2)
Take small incremental steps and show results continuously (keep it simple and
focus on value). 3) Get an executive sponsor high in the organization.
What Doesn't Work
Just as there are key activities that work in a Project Office implementation, there
are factors that hinder progress. Avoid doing these things. At minimum, recognize
what is going on and change your behavior and approach.
What Doesn't Work - The Top Five
• Do it All at Once
• Forget Key Stakeholders
• Demand before Provide
• Work in a Vacuum
Do it All at Once
There are three factors to a Project Office implementation: People, process, and
tools. Obviously changing all three at once is a very complex undertaking, to be
avoided if possible. Change the tool environment/but keep the process the same; or
change the process but use the same tool environment. A phased approach makes
this feasible. Don't do it all at once: you may not be able to deliver and people will
Once you make the decision to implement a Project Office, move on it. Don't hesitate
or partially support the idea. You will lose support and focus and the organization will
stop believing in the concept. In addition, the longer you take to implement, you
may encounter organizational changes and upheaval. Such adjustments may result
in changes in your executive sponsorship and other key stakeholders. Priorities may
change and the effort may lose support and funding, resulting in an unsupported
attempt that won't work.
Forget Key Stakeholders
Earlier, we mentioned the importance of executive sponsorship. Executives are not
the only key stakeholder or customer of the Project Office. There are other
customers, including project managers, project teams, functional/resource
managers, and line managers. Just like the executives, get these stakeholders
involved from the beginning and determine their needs, expectations, and goals.
Understand the problems at different levels; otherwise, you may overlook a key
Demand before Provide
A Project Office must be viewed as an entity that helps-an entity that provides
services to ease project management administration and to facilitate smart business
practices. All of this results in an improved track record of project delivery. The
Project Office should never be in a position of always demanding information and
seldom providing services. You will not be successful by always demanding-you win
Work in a Vacuum
In a Project Office implementation, a team approach wins. The office is intended to
serve multiple customers, each with personal experiences and ideas to share.
Incorporate other people's ideas and acknowledge them and give credit where due.
Learn from other's experiences-don't re-invent the wheel. Find out individual
requirements and needs and design accordingly and appropriately. Don't work in a
vacuum-you miss a lot of good stuff.
A Real-Life Experience:
- "If Only We Knew This Before"
The airline was adding a new type of aircraft to their fleet. A new technology
passenger convenience unit was planned as part of the rollout. With four years of
development and production expected, a subcontractor was chosen to build the
units. Five years after the contract, the subcontractor is asking for a delay in delivery
and more money. The technology also is now two generations old. On reviewing the
situation, we find performance and technical specifications were severely lacking
from the start (especially the performance specifications). No requirement was levied
on the subcontractor regarding the specific project reporting requirements and
delivery milestones. Little (or no) accountability for schedule delays and cost
overruns were included as part of the contract. What happened? During contract
negotiations, the airline failed to include specifications with sufficient detail to include
operating performance characteristics and requirements. No provision was
established in the contract for the subcontractor to adequately plan and control the
development project or to report on-going status to the airline. Many delays,
technical complications, and overlooked deliverables built up to create a project
disaster. Lessons Learned: The airline itself did not perform sufficient project
planning nor did it require the same from one of its key stakeholders - the
subcontractor. The airline delayed reaction until the damage was already done then
wanted to put project controls in place. In the end, no one was happy; a poor
deliverable was produced, airplane delivery was delayed, costs were overrun, and
protracted litigation ensued.
A Real-Life Experience:
"Too Much Too Soon"
An Information Technology organization saw the need for standard project
management practices and a central office to manage ongoing efforts. The project
budget was expected to increase significantly and management recognized the need
to smartly manage the resources. The organization was going from an informal
project management environment to one with more structure in process and tools.
Both process and tools were being changed at the same time and most Project
Managers did not welcome the change. The Project Office effort progressed smoothly
until the Project Managers were asked to change their tool environment and be more
disciplined in drafting project management plans. The leadership was focused on
other pressing issues and did not have time to support the Project Office initiative.
There was rebellion on one side and lack of interest on the other. The initiative was
pushed to the back burner and significantly decreased in scope and importance.
Several factors contributed to the situation: organizational changes and upheaval,
changes in priorities, doing it all at once, and lack of executive sponsorship.
Learned: 1) Keep things simple and focused on value to "preserve" the initiative
during the organizational changes.
2) Put in place a strong communications program
to obtain buy-in from all key stakeholders.
3) Introduce the tool environment and new processes in an incremental fashion.
4) Secure and repeatedly work to keep executive sponsorship.
Final Words for Success
A decision to implement a Project Office does not need to be followed by a lengthy,
drawn-out implementation. You can't afford it-time is short and you are faced with
limited resources, competitive pressure, and the need to do business. The way to
implement a Project Office is to first focus on immediate value and business
necessities. You should design an implementation approach that takes care of these
immediate concerns and in parallel lays the groundwork for longer-term solutions.
The key is to keep the implementation simple, focused on value, and structured with
a plan. Don't try to do it all at once. Build an Office that provides services to ease
administration and put in place smart business practices. The net result will be a
structured, consistent method to manage projects and an understanding of project
performance-resulting in overall better project performance.
Prepared By: Marc Stamas - for GE Corp, Marvel Comics, NTT, Suntory, Crain's New York Business Reed Elsevier, Sega Japan and more...