Project management offices offer planning expertise

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One should create a project management office to coordinate all business and technical details. Source:  

One of the campaign catch phrases of Democratic presidential primary candidate Barack Obama is that Washington, D.C., is a place where good ideas go to die. This slogan has found resonance with voters because most working people have first-hand knowledge of the death of a good idea in their organization.

“When healthcare executives complain IT projects are failing; absence of a defined, uniform and enforced project management process is the likely cause,” said Robert Case, a business development director for the health services sector of Fredrick, Md.-based General Dynamics Information Technology.

Case offered his insight on the creation and development of a project management office (PMO) framework in a narrated electronic poster presentation at the 2008 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) meeting.

A PMO, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), is “an organizational body assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain.”

The PMI maintains that the goal of a PMO is “to coordinate technical and business facets of project management to provide oversight, control and support within the project management environment.”

On the low-end, Case said, a PMO serves to support a single function, such as a repository for historical project information or a location for project coordinators. On the high-end, these offices can change an institution’s project management culture.

They can provide:

  • Enterprise-wide project coordination and consistency;
  • Set standards and methodologies for all projects in an enterprise;
  • Perform project quality audits;
  • Help management teams select projects that support strategic goals;
  • Help executive teams track an entire portfolio of projects in progress through the development and application of metrics and measuring all projects against those metrics;
  • Identify resources available to work on projects;
  • Support project managers and teams with training, mentoring, tools, and career development;
  • Collect and archive completed project documents and analyze them for trends; and
  • Produce a knowledge management system for project-related information and make it readily accessible.

Case has found that many healthcare organizations have difficulty applying basic project management principles because healthcare IT leaders often become project leaders by accident.

A PMO in healthcare functions as a sort of ombudsman for projects. That is, it controls staff resources; makes decisions on timeline, scope and budget changes; provides project inventories and status reports; and develops and assures project management criteria compliance.

“The PMO allows clinical and operations staff to apply their specific skills and knowledge to a project,” Case said.

Creation of a PMO within an organization requires an understanding of the impact of the corporate culture. Some key factors must be examined to implement a PMO, including defining the number of projects the institution completes in a year; the amount of resources available to a PMO; how well different healthcare departments work together; and typical problems faced when managing projects.

Without a corporate champion and a commitment to a defined mission plan, nearly two-thirds of PMOs will fail, Case observed.

“PMOs fail to adopt new ways of prioritizing projects and continue to select projects in a political fashion,” he noted.

For a PMO to succeed, it must not lose touch with its stakeholders. Flexing its muscle as the process police is almost certain to create a negative impression of a PMO. In addition, utilizing project management jargon and acronyms will build communication walls between the PMO and its customers. Lastly, trying to accomplish too much too soon is a well-known pitfall of failed PMOs, noted Case.

“Do not undertake too many objectives without gauging the capacity for cultural change and ensuring executive support,” he counseled.