The PMO, Reimagined

The PMO, Reimagined

Historically speaking…

The Project Management Office, or as known in the biz as a PMO, has been evolving within large and medium-size organizations for centuries. However, as with everything else corporate, new technologies are changing the face and features of the typical PMO found within. PMOs are now popping up within small companies, and on an ad-hoc or one-off basis, with small projects being managed by one or two managers in the same fashion as projects tasking hundreds. But before examining this latest trend in the world of project management, let’s take a look at where and why they came to being…

The very first record of a PMO dates back to the 1800s, when the British Parliament established a management group to provide governance over the agricultural industry, with a focus on improving productivity, refining taxation policies and increasing exports. This PMO, like all future ones, cross-cut through multiple departments and management teams, and reported directly to the top. Fast forward to the early 1900s in America, where we find the US Government using the PMO concept to control costs and improve transparency within civil engineering endeavors.

By the 1950s, government administrations had established PMOs within NASA, the Coastguard and the National Science Foundation. Most other gov’t agencies began to follow suit, with American corporations mimicking this model as well. Within these 20th century corporations, PMOs were formed to specifically benefit the org by:

Early PMO Benefits

  • Established closer relationships with clients and other stakeholders.
     
  • Enhanced the org’s ability to deliver projects on time, within budget

 

  • Standardized governance processes and facilitating the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools and techniques 
  • Established best-practices, and increasing the capture and sharing of institutional knowledge.

PMO design and structure developed concurrently with the model of project management we find in use today – the “Iron Triangle” of time, cost and quality. As the practitioner community developing this model of project management grew, so did the literature on (and practice of) PMOs expand. For example, by the third edition of the PMBOK Guide (the PM bible compiled by the Project Management Institute), the establishment of a PMO for any project, regardless of size or duration, is recommended by the institute and detailed as a best practice for all organizations doing project work.

The Modern PMO…

With that backdrop, we can better understand the wide variety of PMO structures that provide different services within so many organizations. Sometimes called a Centre of Excellence, Performance Office, or Portfolio or Programme Management Office, the PMO usually consists of lead project managers overseeing the org’s work effort and monitoring output in terms of time, cost and quality. Today’s PMOs work hand in hand with HR, Finance, QA and C-Level departments to provide them with the estimation, monitoring and reporting that they all need. In addition, PMOs support the personnel doing the work (for example, construction, engineering, manufacturing and production professionals). PMOs act as a hub for standards and guidelines, as well as data-driven best-practices and software tools.

However, the modern PMO is not without problems, despite the benefits described above. In most cases of today’s PMOs, they have become part of the political landscape of the organization, and in some cases, a commodity (to be touted or blamed for project performance). Often, a PMO may become just another silo within an organization, hindering its ability to complete a charter of understanding the complex relationships between strategies, projects and organizational structures. (See The Project Management Office: it’s just not what it used to be, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business 9(2):282-308 · April 2016.)

In addition, running a PMO can be expensive and when itemized as overhead, subject to budget cuts and other revenue anomalies. As a political body, a PMO is also subject to C-Level criticism when projects go awry, or do not perform as predicted (deservedly or not).

Partially to blame for PMO woes, is the fact that the very best practices for running a PMO originate from a very loud echo chamber of business books, blogs and professional organizations – all mimicking each other, and producing practices that may not be based in science (where a list of functions is selected by successful traits). In other words, PMOs are often established and run based on dubious and unscientifically collected data. So, its no wonder that some small, light-weight and nimble companies often opt to forgo the formation of a PMO altogether – often to their own detriment.

The PMO, Reimagined for the 21st Century

By 2015, it was estimated that more than 75 percent of all small businesses (<$100 million in revenue) had established a PMO, while 95 percent of large businesses (>$1 billion) lead the way. So there is no doubt that the benefits of having a PMO within your small business would include:

Modern PMO Benefits

  • Increases your bottom line

  • Improves customer satisfaction

  • Enhances stakeholder participation

 

  • Helps you better understand portfolio performance
  • Standardizes what works and rules out what doesn’t 

Some ask, “Is a major hiring initiative, a large budget and tons of software really needed to realize these benefits?” One member of the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG.org) thinks not, and PM Gaton expresses his views on a PMO-in-a-Box design here. Basically, his idea is to smartly use software to automate more of the functionality of a PMO, without all the people and expense of hosting a traditional 20th century one.

The idea of providing a low-cost and tools-based PMO environment, where anyone with task-leading abilities could slot into a virtual PMO is not new however, and today, many leading software developers are trying (and failing) in this regard. Examples of new-age virtual PMO environments pop up on the web almost daily, and include the likes of Basecamp, Monday, Trello, Smartsheets, Wrike and a host of others – all attempting to mimic the PMO environment of yesteryear, yet each adding 21st century innovations. These innovations include social networking and cloud computing.

Taking What Works and Making it Better, Cheaper and more Inclusive

Arguably, the most successful project management software of all time is Microsoft Project, which started out as a DOS character-based system back in 1984. Now, after more than a dozen iterations, Microsoft supplies a very elaborate “PMO-in-a-Box” design, known as Project Server / Project Online. The base tool (Project) allows anyone to develop project schedules, assign resources to tasks, track progress, manage budgets, and analyze workloads in many ways traditionally performed by highly specialized PMO personnel.

In addition, Project Server (in conjunction with SharePoint Server and other requirements), creates a platform that many large-scale PMO deployments use to manage portfolio and project data in a distributed and customizable way. However, because of an astronomically high price-tag and burdensome IT-staff requirements, smaller businesses with limited capital are left in the cold, fending off project dilemmas on their own.

Enter Project Plan 365…

Project Plan 365 Business & Enterprise solutions take what’s best from a MS Project Server-based PMO experience, and delivers a like experience more affordable and better suited for very small- to medium-sized business. In addition, Project Plan 365 apps allow Apple users to contribute to the PMO, just like their Microsoft-based brothers and sisters – a support feature that Microsoft dropped way back in 1991.

This allows the small biz owner to achieve PMO goals just as the titans of industry do today, all using a standardized format for their project data. Project Plan 365 users can communicate directly with Microsoft Project users via a single project management “language” and protocol. Considering that over the decades, that wealth of project data worldwide has grown into the petabytes, this common data format has profound implications for big-data mining and other AI possibilities – making the PMO of the 2020s one of the leading influencers in all future business to come.

For more information on starting your own small-business PMO, see www.projectplan365.com.

Cloud Basics for PMs

Cloud Basics for Project Managers

Over the past decade or so, the concept of ‘cloud’ has become synonymous with a place where we store all things work-related (such as documents and data). In many cases, a ‘cloud’ represents the place where we work (i.e. within a digital workspace like SharePoint or Project Plan 365).

For project managers, we often speak in fluffy terms that reflect this new atmospheric characteristic of the modern workplace: “…just put that in cloud” is common geek-speak for putting any bit of communication or data in a place where everyone else can get to it.

However, how many of us really understand this amorphous reference to a metaphor taken straight out of metrology?

While developing a new file-storage option rolled out in Project Plan 365 (a popular look-alike to Microsoft Project), we gained insight into the common understanding (and misunderstanding) of what the ‘cloud’ means to everyday project managers. Sorin Fiscu (CEO of Housatonic Software) explains: "While my team was analyzing user trends for tens of thousands of project managers, only a tiny fraction of the user-base was implementing a cloud storage system."

He wondered why, so this article explores why individual PMs and organizational PMOs have not embraced the cloud as wholeheartedly as other professionals, such as programmers, engineers, marketers, etc. who are all working in legitimate cloud-computing environments.

Demystifying the Cloud Concept

Before discussing why or why not the cloud should be used during your daily work regimen, let’s explore what the ‘cloud’ really is…

Eric Griffith (Feature Editor @ PC Magazine), extolls that the ‘cloud’ is nothing more than a buzzword and is not really new – especially if you were born after the invention of the internet. Eric explains that the ‘cloud’ is the internet, for all intent and purposes. He also points out that the cloud is not an upgrade to your hard drive, and is not about attaching a NAS (network-storage device) to your company LAN (local area network) and calling it a cloudy day.

Instead, Eric enthusiastically explains that the cloud is really a paradigm shift in computing (call that cloud computing), and that this shift fundamentally changes the way we approached all of our work within a computing environment. Well, obviously he was right, as 2016 was the year that Microsoft introduced Planner and made OneDrive for Business a key component within the Office 365 suite. In essence, these and other additions to Office 365 (like Project Online) signify a shift away from terrestrial computing as we know it – away from using Microsoft-Project standalones like Project Server and SharePoint to something seemingly more ethereal and out of our control…something somewhere up in the clouds.

But, ethereal the real ‘cloud’ is not...

As the Office 365 concept portrays, we are not just saving bits of information or knowledge to the collective. We are actually using software that does not exist on earth as we know it, such as on our computing devices in the form of apps and programs. Instead, we are now in the realm of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which means you no longer “own” computer programs, but rent them instead. In many cases, you never install anything on your computing device, but just log into the service using whatever web browser you have at hand.

SaaS leads us further upwards in a trajectory to the cloud, where even our computing infrastructure is now found there. That’s called PaaS, or Platform as a Service, where your entire IT department is soon to be extinct, with applications and infrastructure (all those black boxes with blinking lights) being moved out of your company basement and into someone else’s worry basket. In the case of a PaaS, internet service vendors (ISVs) perform the duties your old IT gal or guy did back in the day (when you had hardware and software in-house). Figure 1 explains:

Figure 1. PaaS explained

Organizations that currently deploy Microsoft Servers in-house (SQL, SharePoint, and the Project Web part), are considering (or being pushed) into moving all of that out of the organization’s IT basement and into the cloud using the Microsoft Azure offering (which is essentially the setup shown in Figure 1 above). This takes your entire company’s IT setup and moves it offsite and upwards into a stratosphere owned solely by Microsoft, but rented to you and your company on a per-seat basis.

Why PMs should use the Cloud (and why we don’t)

Getting back down to earth for a moment, you may be wondering why in the world you or your organization would depart on such an adventure, considering the other million things that your organization has on its plate. The old adage of “if it ain’t broke, why fix it” comes to mind. Outside of the fact that most projects fail (or partially fail) in the world today, here are a few reasons why SaaS and PaaS should be considered as a computing environment for project management (and PMO) work. SaaS plus PaaS equals:

  • Better and easier collaboration between planners, partners, and stakeholders
  • Faster “time to market” for new projects planned collectively in the cloud
  • No up-front investments for hardware or software
  • Minimized operational costs, especially if you are now paying big bucks for an IT department
  • Enhanced productivity, as planners and partners work together at the speed of electrons
  • Access to project data anywhere, anytime using whatever device or platform at hand
  • Secure and customized access to data by project workers, partners, management, and even the public
  • Centralized project management activities, with no more disparate project managers working in isolation

So, what’s not to like, a good planner will ask. The major inhibitor (in our opinion), is that this is a huge change in the way that we have used computers in the past to plan out our projects. And as some planners rightly equate, change means re-work, more expense, and in general, more headache.

But, change is what we are good at, no?

Another inhibitor for smaller PMOs and organizations with just a handful of planners is that all of the above may seem overkill when trying to meet the bottom line and come out with more green than red at the end of the year. Many dozens of dollars per person per year may seem like a lot when all is said and done. Training people on new software, and setting up access for all to experience the wonders of cloud computing, may also be prohibitive in the middle of a busy schedule.

Another concern heard most is security and privacy. PM may ask, if my data is in the cloud, can’t it be hacked easier than if on my company’s local network? Well, one has to just look at the Equifax breach, the Sony breach, or any other security or privacy breach over the last few years. Do you really feel safer with your project data on the ground, rather than, say in a Microsoft-controlled cloud?

With some of your concerns heard, let’s harken back to the fact that most all projects endeavored either fail or partially fail in the world today. Perhaps there is one big reason to switch to a total cloud computing environment – to succeed!

Project Plan 365's secure cloud: Drive 365

To help subscribers of the Project Plan 365 Business (PMO) or Enterprise (EPM) plans succeed, we have included access to a secure, private cloud for all of your project data, and that's called Drive 365. This is a much simpler way to implement cloud computing (as show in Figure 1 above).  With Drive 365, the entire concept is condensed; part of our service to you is to store your critical project plans (those that relate to your project portfolio) safely and securely. 

In this way, not only are portfolio statistics generated automatically, but you don't have to worry about where any of your critical files are, or if they are safe from prying eyes or not. And you don't need to understand anything else.

In summary...

During this blurb on cloud computing, we have discovered that “let’s put it in the cloud” means much more than just storing your MS project file on OneDrive or Dropbox. We also see now that there are a few different tiers within modern cloud-computing: there is one tier where you or your organization use SaaS offerings to collaborate on project planning, and then there is the more extreme tier where most of your IT department is displaced by PaaS. In this case, all those servers and mysterious doo hickeys once housed in your IT basement are now gone, leaving you with more party space when it comes time to celebrate your project success. And if you need an instant cloud environment, all that's needed is a subscription plan to Project Plan 365.

To give PM cloud computing a try, simply try us out free for 30 days!