Positioning the Project Management Office

Lorena Weaver may be charged with communicating the status of existing projects to executives at her company, but that doesn’t mean she goes it alone.

“I certainly don’t do it in a vacuum,” says Weaver, vice president of the central project office at Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. “It’s very much in partnership with the CIO. That way we speak the same language and tell the same story.”

This kind of arrangement is common for the many CIOs who have established project management offices (PMOs) within their organization and have PMO directors reporting to them. While PMO directors generally run the PMO, it’s up to the CIO to ensure that the project office “functions the way it should,” says Bob Benson, a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium and a principal at The Beta Group.

The CIO’s oversight of the PMO has become more complex of late, as the charter for many PMOs has expanded, says Benson. Many PMOs were launched over the past several years to help bring more discipline to projects while also ensuring on-time and on-budget performance. More recently, though, a growing number of PMOs have taken on the added responsibility of ensuring that projects deliver their intended business value. “If the point of a project is to deliver value, that’s a big objective, and the CIO has to make sure that happens,” Benson says.

UNICEF didn’t have the resources to operate a PMO when Andre Spatz was CIO, but his IT shop did have all of the elements of a PMO, including a layered organization of project managers and leaders who handled various aspects of execution and deliverables, he explains.

In his role as CIO at UNICEF, Spatz would report on project updates, along with the business unit co-owner, to a global IT steering committee, which included UNICEF’s COO, Spatz and various business unit leaders. “My role was to make sure all of the priorities and deadlines met the IT master plan in terms of resource allocations and dependencies from an overall perspective, not for individual projects,” says Spatz.

Rockford Health System CIO Dennis L’Heureux established a PMO about a year ago as part of an effort to add more structure and discipline to project management, including defining requirements for various projects. To help prioritize projects and keep a record of their respective statuses, the PMO incorporates project portfolio management techniques based on Microsoft Office tools and Excel spreadsheets. As part of this, the company created a SharePoint intranet site, which company executives can access to check on the status of a project, including whether it has reached a milestone or has hit a roadblock. The site, launched in late 2008, is updated by the PMO director.

Benson believes it’s the PMO’s role to communicate the status of projects to top executives, while it’s up to the CIO to ensure that the project management processes are working. He points to a recent meeting he had with an oil company client whose IT governance group–made up of business and IT executives–meets every other week with the PMO to rank the priority of projects, highlight the ones that require action and determine how such action might affect the overall project portfolio.

Benson says that, for business-centric projects: “The CIO’s role is to make sure the priority process happens and to enable that those decisions get made” by business leaders.

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