How does the Program Management Office grow up?

According to the PMI and established project management standards and practices, project management in organizations have certain levels of maturity. In other words they could be very plain vanilla, simple and do just the obvious basic things or could be quite sophisticated and elaborate and anything in between. Let’s explore some of that progression from elementary to highly sophisticated so that we can have a clear path of how we in our organization can grow and mature.

Typically an organization that adopts project management without a program management office is likely a truly elementary one at least in that respect. Program and project management are each their own discipline and therefore need special consideration. Just like in marketing, if all you have is one door-to-door salesman who constitutes your entire marketing effort, then you are basically very elementary. Obviously the level of maturity is dependent on the need. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on an advanced level of project management if that is not what your organization needs.

To talk of the levels of maturity I am going to use an analogy. Let’s say that project management is like doing battle. Now don’t get the notion that I have any military knowledge, I don’t. I am actually being presumptuous in believing that like me, your knowledge of the military is probably just as naïve so you will understand this analogy quite well. So let’s have a go and see where this takes us.

Levels of maturity:

Battle Office (Project Office). At this level, the company is really just starting out. They have decided that they need to conduct their battles in an organized fashion and therefore need some kind of central control, someone to keep an eye on things. However they don’t have many soldiers (project teams), or generals (project managers) or usually a handful of battles (projects). Those few projects probably keep the soldiers they have pretty busy all year round though.

Here, maybe there is only one or two commanders (program managers) running the central command station (Project Management Office, PMO). They are focused on making sure battles that are fought are what need to be fought and for the right reasons (control objectives and priorities), that soldiers and generals know what they are doing and have the supplies and tools they need to do their work. They also provide advice when needed.

In this scenario, the battle group is more like a militia than an army. They have a smattering of weapons (tools), each soldier or general gets and uses what they can get their hands on. Some use shotguns, others handguns, others shovels, pick axes etc.

Basic Battle Office (Basic PMO). At this level, the organization has realized that there are quite a number of battles that it fights and it really needs to get better organized. It wants a better way to identify the best type of weapons to have for the type of battles it fights. This will probably be more of the foot soldier type, rifles, backpacks, proper boots and fatigues. It also wants to make sure that all generals and soldiers are trained to use them properly.

Standard Battle Office. At this level, the organization has grown and needs a full blown army that is properly organized and maintained. Central command now has several people working there. There is more bureaucracy. There is now heavy weapons, tanks, planes, trucks. The central command uses computers to analyze and control logistics.

The army does ongoing studies to make sure their arsenal of tools (project management processes and tools) are the best for their needs and will contract out the custom creation of some of these (templates and processes for everything). It will have a process for continuously re-evaluating the efficiency of these tools, their performance and level of use.

Advanced Battle Office. The PMO has now really grown. The central command has a control room that monitors all battles (projects) that are underway. It can produce, at any given time a snapshot of where all the troops have been deployed, what battles they are fighting and how things are going. It can report, on demand, to the political brass what’s happening on the ground.

Centre of Excellence. The army is now very advanced. It has in-house personnel that help design some of their weapons (tools). All personnel in the army and all resources are monitored and managed centrally. Battle level (projects) and war level (programs and portfolios) information is completely integrated and aligned. The big picture is captured and defined to drive what happens at the lower levels (top down approach), while activities at the battle front (project and task levels) are aggregated (bottom up) to ensure alignment with plans and allow for adjustments and changes. There is a very clear division of rank and purpose (roles and responsibilities).


Hopefully this analogy helps clarify some of the discussion around maturity. Please let me know what you think. Send me a comment..


Thanks for reading.


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