Dan Pennell, leader of Avenu’s Program Management Office (PMO), describes how the function is particularly important for local governments and why they should insist that partners have it in their organizations.
What makes a PMO essential for jurisdictions?
I’ve seen a wide range of statistics on how often projects fail, either because they were delayed, over budget or did not deliver expected business value. The Project Management Institute claims that IT project failure rate is 14 percent, and The Standish Group says it’s higher at 31 percent, and others say it’s still higher. Regardless, whether it’s for IT or a large infrastructure project, not meeting deliverables is primarily a function of not setting and managing expectations appropriately.
To avoid this, jurisdictions need a PMO as a bulwark against losing trust from the electorate. It ensures alignment with standardization and the economies of repetition, so it supports elected officials who need a positive message of accountability. It also helps career professionals who need to justify what they are spending, which also gives them credibility for handling future projects.
Where does a PMO fit in the organizational structure?
A PMO is a service, so its functions and impact need to be throughout an entire jurisdiction. Through its standardization efforts a PMO enables the field to meet project milestones with processes, best practices and logistical support. It also informs management with actionable information about performance metrics for delivery and finance, so they can make decisions about funding and resource allocation.
What does a PMO look like at the ground level?
For our government clients it means we look at everything that affects their project with us. We review the organization, resource types, methodologies, policies and processes so that we know we can meet deadlines. We are especially mindful of constraints and make sure we have enough project managers available to reach milestones. Everyone involved in the PMO shares best practices and provides a level of skill redundancy so there is continuity and minimal failure potential if someone leaves, for example. We do this for software development and implementation, and we do it for projects that have a services component.
Your background is with the federal government. What are the similarities to state and local?
One likeness is that a good PMO is a resource that helps clients determine how to proceed, set and achieve deliverables and minimize risk. The federal space is very disciplined with standards and frameworks. There also is generally good interaction between the government’s contracting officers and project managers, and the project managers with the vendors. It’s a vital structure because changes always occur so the team needs to work together to modify contract language, move budgets around and generally agree on what must occur. It’s a good model for state and local government to follow.
Another similarity is that software development is often not in the job description of the government employees we deal with. They have other primary responsibilities, so we need to help them understand the need, the changing environment, vulnerabilities that can sink a project, and the schedule with its cost implications.