One service that is typically associated with a Project Management Office (PMO) is the delivery of common, consolidated reporting on the state of all the projects being executed within the organization. This concept can be extended so that the PMO tracks a complete, portfolio-wide view of all active, pending, and historical projects.

On the surface, this might seem like a trivial exercise. After all, you just need to ask the project managers to send you their status in a certain format and on a certain schedule. However, if you’ve ever asked a number of people to send you a common set of information, you know that the follow-up can be very time-consuming.

The PMO must also work with the management stakeholders to define what is in the consolidated status report. Some organizations like to keep each project to a one-line description, with some type of overall status indicator, such as green (okay), yellow (caution), or red (trouble). If the reader wants more information, he or she can follow up with the project manager.

Other organizations like to see a full status report on each project. If there are questions or concerns, the status report may contain the answers that the reader is looking for, without any further follow-up with the project manager.

I’ll look at a very common service that many PMOs provide: collecting common project metrics and consolidating project status.

Seventh in a series

This is the latest installment in a multipart series about the consultant’s role in establishing and maintaining a Project Management Office (PMO) for a client. Previous articles have discussed auditing a client’s project processes, training and coaching your clients, the basics of a PMO, customizing a PMO for your client, deploying a PMO, and project management methodology.

Problems gathering the status
Finding out the status of an organization’s projects may seem simple enough. The PMO just needs to collect, consolidate, and report the information. However, like all activities that rely on people, this can be easier said than done. Your PMO will probably encounter the following challenges.

All the project managers won’t send you the required status information within the timeframe you need it. I talked to a project administrator on a Y2K project in 1999 who told me that tracking down the “mandatory” semi-monthly status reporting information took her at least eight hours each time. Think about your own personal experience on status reporting. Isn’t it usually close to the bottom of your priority list?

In many cases, the information will be inaccurate. You may notice, for example, that the work a project team is planning for next month is the same as the work planned for this month, suggesting that whoever reported the information simply copied what was submitted previously. You may also find that the project manager may make the project appear to be on schedule, even though not all scheduled activities are completed. The rationale is that the time will be made up in the next reporting period.

Often, the information on the report is accurate, and it may also be timely. However, you may find that it is not complete. For example, the information provided may be very brief and not provide a real sense for the status of the project.

Overcoming the status reporting problems
Of course, these problems must be overcome and they can be. The PMO can address these types of chronic problems through activities such as the following.

  • Explain who is requesting the information and what it will be used for. This is a key aspect of consolidated reporting. People don’t like to spend the time to provide information if they don’t feel it will be used. If they understand who is requesting the information, it might take on more priority in their mind.
  • Be clear on the information you need and how it will be used. For example, don’t ask for budget information if you don’t need it for consolidated reporting.
  • Clearly communicate when the status reports are due. You may be challenged to get the information in any case, but don’t give anyone the excuse that they didn’t know when it was due.
  • Follow up on all items that need further explanation and clarity. This follow-up is designed to make sure that the project managers know what you need to receive differently, with the hope that you won’t then have to continue to follow up with them.
  • Use the governance process if necessary. If you find that the PMO is spending too much time running around for the information every month, you’re going to have to go back to the sponsor for help. This is where you need backing on the process governance. Senior managers need to be held accountable if project managers in their organization cannot get the status reports in correctly and on time.

Organizational metrics
One of the most difficult items the PMO will be asked to work on is determining the value of the project management. It’s one of the more fundamental questions for your sponsor and senior management to ask. Yet it’s also one of the most difficult to successfully answer.

There seems to be intuitive value in implementing a standard project management methodology, but if you try to quantify the value, you’ll quickly become stuck. It’s a little like holding a cloud. From a distance, it seems like there should be something there that’s solid that you can get your hands on. However, the closer you get, the more vague and transparent everything becomes.

You can take a couple of approaches to these organizational metrics. The first is to rely on industry research and look for companies and case studies that are similar to your organization. The thought is that if someone else was able to measure value and you’re a similar company implementing in a similar way, you should be able to claim similar value.

The second is to actually try to calculate the value associated with using the methodology on a detailed basis. For example, the PMO can work with project managers on different types of projects to try to determine the value provided. These metrics can include things like.

  • Savings associated with maintaining good scope change procedures. This could include the savings associated with scope change requests that weren’t approved.
  • Savings associated with risk management. This includes estimating the savings associated with resolving potential problems before they occurred, rather than having to resolve them after they became problems.
  • Ask clients for their estimate of the time savings they received through proactive project communication, compared to other typical projects they were involved with previously.

As you continue to interview a subset of the project managers, you should start to see some trends that you can apply to the rest of the projects in your organization.

Third, look for the reuse value associated with using the common project management process. Again, this approach asks project managers to estimate the savings associated with using similar processes on multiple projects and getting their estimate of the cost and time savings associated with reusing the common processes on an ongoing basis. Examples include the savings associated with using common project management procedures, and a common set of templates that the project manager didn’t need to build from scratch.

As I’ve discussed in prior columns, there are some areas of service where the PMO does not already have a sufficient level of expertise. Metrics could be another one of these areas. Many companies don’t know much about defining and capturing a good set of metrics. Some consulting firms have a strong expertise in this area that could be leveraged to make sure you start off right.

Consolidated metrics
Just as with status reports, there is value to having the PMO consolidate project-related metrics. If the PMO doesn’t attempt to track and quantify some of these benefits, the organization will have no idea what value has been provided. This, in turn, will make it difficult for the PMO to show the value that it is providing to the organization.

In general, the metrics associated with project management value are also indirectly indicative of the value of the PMO. For example, if more projects are completed within expectations over time, it would indicate the value associated with project management, and would, in turn, point out the value provided by the PMO.

The PMO is in a unique organizational role to be able to gain visibility over all of the projects going on in the organization. Therefore, the PMO is the logical organizational entity to define and collect a common set of metrics, and it’s the logical place to collect common project status information for consolidated reporting. These activities can be trivial if all the projects collect metrics and report status as requested. However, this is rarely the case, which makes these valuable services a couple of the most time-consuming and least liked services the PMO performs.