The Project Environment
PRINCE2 is a de facto standard developed and used extensively by the UK government and is widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and internationally. For a widely used project management method, I found that few people know what the name stands for: PRINCE2® (PRojects IN Controlled Environments).
It is a boring name, even if you allow for the clumsy reference to royalty. However, it is brilliant at stating what it is. It does not pretend to be about all of project management (it isn't by a long chalk) but it does explain what it helps to do: to set up a controlled environment in which projects can run successfully. Anyone who uses PRINCE will agree that it is not so much about the processes and skills required to actually manage a project team and its stakeholders, but it does set out what organisational roles need to be played, what the management deliverables of a project should be, and how they are controlled and assured.
It is worth keeping in mind the insight found in the name of the method: what counts for long-term, business-wide success in project management is the capability of an organisation to set up and maintain a controlled project environment.
So what is this "project environment" and why is it profitable to control it? The project environment consists of all those elements of an organisation that are necessary to define and deliver a change using project management disciplines.
For example, Finance will have conventions, processes and facilities that control how project budgets, expenses, benefits and forecasts are accounted for. In some organisations they will also approve or reject investment directly. In others, this function will be performed by a board sub-committee. And so on.
HR will also have conventions, processes and facilities that control how project managers are appointed, managed, trained, etc. Resource management may be done through HR, or it may be done department by department, or by a central function.
Some IT departments follow ITIL and that will imply a range of roles, governance, skills and lifecycle controls for projects that have a significant IT component or are purely infrastructure. Most IT departments subscribe to some form of prescribing and controlling the lifecycle of projects, running the full gamut from waterfall to agile.
And then, depending on the nature of the business, there will be subject matter experts and operational managers in each of the areas that make up the engine of the organisation: sales, operations, supply chain, marketing, whatever is appropriate in a given industry and size of organisation. All of these areas will include the control of their projects as part of the normal management of their units.
In some organisations, some areas will be stronger than others in terms of project management discipline. Some areas will adhere to a particular method. It may not even be the same method in all areas. Others will consider project management just another activity to be managed by objectives, and there will be a whole range of approaches in between.
The combinations are nearly endless, and this is what gives rise to the many different views of what a PMO is. Because the idea, the concept of a PMO, is ultimately nothing more and nothing less than the project environment made visible and explicit - so that it can be controlled. A controlled environment contributes greatly to the success of projects, which in turn assures that organisational change is managed profitably.
The more comprehensibly that a PMO can knit together the different elements of a given project environment, the more effective and efficient it will be in contributing to managing change profitably. However, the more that the various elements of the project environment are transferred away from their source areas and into the PMO, the greater the resistance from those areas to the loss of control they perceive. This is not unique to PMO, it is part of the essential tug-of-war in any corporation. Witness the current re-organisation(s) in your own organisation. I'm sure that you also know that the next one is at most 18 months away.
I mention it because once we get to the point where we start to cover how to optimise real PMOs we cannot pretend that organisational politics does not exist. We have to understand it and work with it. More on that later.