Project management suffered an identity crisis half a decade ago, when ever-more-empowered developers were learning to work directly with their business patrons as Agile development philosophies encouraged developers to co-ordinate their activities in tight-knit teams that regularly report, evaluate, reassess and re-plan their short-term strategies.
When developers work side by side with business owners, project managers become a third wheel. Without change, some observers warned, the discipline of project management would die out altogether as its functions were subsumed by other roles. And change it did: Supported by a range of tools, PPM’s combination of breadth and depth have made it essential for the successful execution and monitoring of projects in all kinds of industries.
PPM complements tried-and-true project management nous with technologies capable of not only tracking project status forms, but of informing the process through proactive analytics and better forward planning. If business reporting tools provide a good view of where the company is now, properly constructed PPM can provide clarity as to where the company and its resources will be one year from now, or five.
While its value might seem obvious to technical staff, a recent Forrester Research-Project Management Institute survey (see Image 1) found PMOs reporting to vice-presidents of IT actually have the hardest time proving PPM’s value; PMOs reporting to the CIO do better, while PMOs reporting to business leaders are perceived as having strong value.
Rapidly shifting business conditions are giving PMOs new ways to prove PPM’s value. As VHA learned, intelligent use of PPM systems helped break down organisational silos with ready access to progress metrics, prefabricated analytics to highlight project issues, and proactive planning capabilities that can drive better outcomes.
Many companies are using the technological freedoms to try new approaches such as the creation of communities of practice (CoPs), in which project teams work together in a semi-autonomous situation while the PMO steps back and waits for results.
This approach minimises the sense of top-down interference while maintaining visibility and allowing the organisation to take advantage of disintermediating Agile practices. It also helps increase perceptions of PPM’s value, drives education to business stakeholders who don’t understand their role in projects, and improves and refines the usage of relevant tools.
However, as always, realising these benefits depends on strong business support.
“With executive support,” Forrester Research analyst Margo Visitacion recently wrote in a manifesto for PMO change, “the new PMO strips away inessentials and takes a less hierarchical approach to projects, embracing communities of practice to develop pragmatic methods that are consistent, measurable and effective.”
Visitacion sees PMOs converging into several key types: Tactical, which are organisationally static and focused on consistency; strategic, which are less hands on, have wider organisational support and foster more CoPs; and transformational, which “fully integrate into the company’s project planning and delivery… while the PMO places great emphasis on standardisation, the community must recognise and refine individual practices.”