Project Governance: Overcoming Obstacles and Challenges

Michael Wood . Posted from Project Management.com.

One of the primary roles of the Project/Program Management Office is to provide a framework for ensuring the proper governance over projects. This goes beyond just ensuring that proper project protocols and practices are adhered to. The governance process begins with the vetting of projects; continues through their prioritization and deployment; and ends with assessing the effectiveness of each project once completed. Sounds simple enough, but there are obstacles and challenges that many PMOs need to overcome to get governance right.

One of the easier to understand models of PMO governance can be found at Diane Meiller and Associates’ website as presented below:

This model breaks down the PMO governance function into three simple layers:

  1. Investment & Prioritization Decisions
  2. Program & Project Dependencies
  3. Consistent, Repeatable Delivery

Most of the PMO governance functions can be covered within this framework.

Answerport.com provides an expanded list of PMO governance functions in context to the following definition:

“The Program Management Office provides a set of tools, technologies, and standards that enables the synchronization and governance of multiple related projects within a program. These tools assist in reducing the risk of project failures and increase the likelihood a project will meet its established goals.

Governance Activities Include

  • Project Execution
  • Program Issue Tracking & Management
  • Change Request Management
  • Status Reporting
  • Standards Creation
  • Training Coordination
  • Program Communications
  • Contract Administration
  • Financial/Target Tracking
  • Monitoring Accountability”

This expanded list of functions begins to shed light on why achieving adequate governance over an organization’s ever-changing portfolio of projects requires a formal and disciplined approach.

Blending the above together, we get a pretty decent set of PMO governance functions and areas of oversight. So let’s look at some of the obstacles and challenges facing the PMO governance function–as well as some tips for overcoming them. For purposes of discussion, the following areas will be reviewed.

  • Investment & Prioritization Decisions
    • Project Request/Proposal
    • Project Value & Alignment Vetting
    • Project Authorization
    • Project Prioritization
  • Project Execution& Consistent Delivery
    • Project Planning
      • Charters/Business Plan
      • Workplans
      • Communications Planning
      • Team Formation
    • Project Conduct
      • Progress Tracking & Plan Updating
      • Status Reporting, Scope & Performance Management
      • Plan Recalibration & Change Management
      • Financial Management
      • Contract Administration & Vendor Management
      • Issue Tracking & Management
  • Project Post-Implementation Reviews
    • Compliance to Project Standards, Methods, Processes & Tools
    • Process Effectiveness
    • Team Performance
    • Stakeholder Satisfaction
    • Successful Outcome Achievement
    • Learning & Recalibration

Investment & Prioritization Decisions
Perhaps there is no better place to sow the seeds of failure into a project than in approving projects that are ill-conceived and misaligned with the organization’s objectives. This is why the PMO needs to be diligent in assessing each project proposal based on its quantifiable merits. Even in the face of strong political support, a project that is misaligned and ill-conceived needs to be disclosed as such. The same holds true for projects that are lacking in political support but meet all the alignment, ROI and achievability thresholds.

To do this, it is incumbent on the PMO to establish project assessment and vetting criteria that are as free as possible of subjective evaluation criteria. Scoring each project based on consistent criteria will go a long way toward limiting the approval of projects that are doomed to failure before they begin.

Once a project has passed the vetting process, it still needs to be woven into the project portfolio in terms of its priority. Again, using an objective prioritization approach will yield better results than negotiating where the project should set in the scheme of things. The PMO leadership would be well advised to not allow new projects to disrupt projects that are in progress just because it has a higher priority score. Stopping and starting projects in motion can cause chaos, add to project failures, result in reduced buy-in and more. A good rule of thumb is to prioritize new projects in context to projects that have yet to start. The exception to this rule would be in situations where regulatory deadlines loom, in-progress projects are no longer needed in light of pending ones, or where other extraordinary circumstances prevail.

Establishing these processes and guidelines upfront will provide a strong foundation of governance over new projects.

Project Execution & Consistent Delivery
The focus of the PMO’s governance changes once a project is in motion. During a project’s execution, the PMO needs tools and processes in place that give it visibility as to how the project is being managed, and what issues and risks could endanger successful completion (delivering the expected value, on time and on budget).

Accurately predicting delivery dates and forecasting budgets has long been the downfall of many a project manager–especially where there isn’t a mechanism in place for recalibration. Every project has two forecasts of time and money. The first is what is needed and at what value (when do we need the result and what is it worth?). This should represent the outside threshold for the project. This is based on the same two elements of time and money, but in this case the question is: When can I have it and how much will it cost?

This second budget and timeline are typically what get published. A best practice in this area is to use both approaches using the GAP between the “must have” and “like to have” as the wiggle room in which success can be achieved. Incenting the team to deliver the project on a “like to have” plan can yield accelerated results.

This process begins by working with project managers to:

  • develop viable workplans & budgets (must have vs. like to have)
  • resourcing that plan with the proper people, facilities and technology
  • developing an effective communication plan

In addition, providing project plan templates (tasks and checklists) can add to the consistency of workplans across project boundaries. About 80 percent of a project plan consists of activities that can be pre-populated with tasks and supporting checklists, reducing the time it takes to compile a plan and to estimate each task’s level of effort. The same holds true for communication plans and status reports. Using this approach, much of the project planning effort consists of piecing components together, accelerating the process while enforcing standards at the same time.

Once the project is in motion, the PMO’s governance activities focus on monitoring progress and helping identify and resolve issues and risks. Here, the PMO can provide the project manager with leverage by assisting them with progress updates, progress report preparation and interventions where needed or requested. Most project managers and teams hate project administration compliance tasks as they do not add value to the completion of project content tasks (specifying, designing, building, testing, etc.). Yet it is crucial that management and stakeholders be kept abreast of how the project is progressing and to know as early as possible if the project is running amuck.

Through PMO provided project analysts, the PMO can leverage the administrative aspects of a project while ensuring that proper visibility over progress (or lack thereof) is maintained. In addition, helping the project team stay focused on core tasks improves the project’s potential for success–and perhaps an early finish.

Project Post-Implementation Reviews
Once the project is completed and successfully deployed, the PMO still has some oversight activities to complete. The most important activity is to ensure that the proper processes are in place to measure the effectiveness of the solution implemented. Project success is more than finishing on time and on budget; the real test of success will only be known once the benefits have been experienced. These outcomes should have been quantitatively spelled out in the project charter.

The next activity the PMO needs to oversee is the review of the project in terms of how well the process worked; the extent to which the project complied with established standards; the level of stakeholder satisfaction with the process; and, where applicable, what lessons were learned that would help improve the success of future projects.

Finally, the PMO needs to oversee the assessment of the project team’s performance in terms of all of the above criteria (as a team and as individuals). This is rarely done on projects, and when missed does a disservice to the team and the organization.

The challenge here is time. Plus, poor performance reviews are uncomfortable and thus often avoided. By making the post-project performance and effectiveness review part of the project culture in a way that is objective and measurable, the discomfort part can be avoided. Teams that know they will be reviewed tend to be performance self-monitoring. To assist in this, the PMO can provide interim performance scorecards along with performance recalibration guidance.

Summing It Up
Providing proper governance through the PMO does not have to be difficult. By creating a framework that promotes success, oversight efforts can be painless and supportive. What has your experience been with your PMO? What obstacles and challenges have you overcome and which ones still plague you? Let us know.

References

  1. Three roles of the Project Management Office
  2. Diane Meiller and Associates, Incorporated – PMO Model
  3. Project Management Office – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  4. Program Management Office (PMO) Oversight/Governance
  5. Redefining the PMO by Michael Wood, workshop provided through www.ProjectManagement.com

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