PMOs Viewed as Unneeded Bureaucracy

ATLANTA — As project management offices work to instill more-disciplined approaches to managing IT projects, their leaders are often finding it tough to avoid the perception that they're creating excessive bureaucracy.

"We all know there's resistance to a PMO" by project managers, said Tom Nodar, PMO manager for the American Cancer Society. "There's this image of a governing body being bureaucratic or creating red tape" to manage and monitor IT projects, he said.

Nodar spoke at a PMO best-practices conference held here last week by the International Quality & Productivity Center. At the event, Nodar said that he and the other five members of the Cancer Society's PMO have been sensitive to such concerns since the group was created in 2000.

"We didn't want to become a source of bureaucracy," said Nodar. "But we knew that we needed a certain level of governance and discipline over these projects."

Challenges Get Clearer

The challenges are becoming clearer as a growing number of IT organizations create PMOs in an effort to improve upon IT's historically abysmal record of delivering projects on-time, within scope and under budget.

It's a tricky balancing act for many PMO managers, attendees said. "I think this is the fundamental question as to whether the PMO is going to succeed or not," said Jack Duggal, a principal at Projectize Group, a Simsbury, Conn.-based consultancy.

By establishing a firm set of project management processes, PMOs are forcing IT project managers to abandon oversight approaches they've been using for years, Duggal said. "You're changing their religion; you're taking away their freedom" to choose, he added.

Several PMO managers said that one way to gain acceptance from IT project managers is to introduce a PMO slowly and build on project successes to gain their trust.

With an IT project completion rate above 90% at Meijer Inc., IT project managers "are pretty committed" to the methodologies espoused by the company's PMO, said Jim Morse, program office manager at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer.

Meijer's PMO tries to gain the trust of its project managers by giving them project status reports before they go to senior executives.

At the American Cancer Society, Nodar and his team hold regular PMO issue meetings where IT project managers can gripe about any requirements they may view as overly bureaucratic and can suggest revisions. For instance, one project manager recently recommended that the PMO adopt an off-the-shelf project management tool that was better than the system that was in place, said Nodar.

"We encourage feedback from our project managers. They're comfortable enough with us that they can be blunt," he added.

Government agencies can also benefit from a PMO, attendees said. Since it established a PMO in December 2002, the IT division for the state of Florida's Department of Health "hasn't had any 'black hole' projects, and that is a success for a government agency," said Jane Matthews, a project manager at the Tallahassee-based division.

For companies that are in heavily regulated industries such as financial services, it's a bit easier to sell IT project managers on the need to document their project management processes, suggested Jennifer Code, executive vice president for program management within Citigroup Inc.'s technology infrastructure group in New York.

"People don't blame us; they blame the regulators" for those requirements, Code noted.


Beating Bureaucracy

Tips for striking a proper balance with a project management office:

Allow IT project managers to gripe; act upon reasonable requests from them.

Gradually implement a single approach to project management. Show value through initial successes to gain acceptance.

Track the time savings and other benefits of a disciplined project management approach.

Provide incentives for project managers to follow PMO-approved methodologies.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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