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The Well Equipped Project Management Center

There are two popular institutions that organizations use to improve the quality of project management: the Project Management Office, or PMO, and the Project Management Centre, or PMC. They both do this by imposing a set of standards on the project managers working in the organization that will ensure they manage their projects so they meet the project’s goals and objectives. One significant difference between the PMO and the PMC is that the PMO manages the project managers and assigns them to the corporation’s projects while the PMC does not. The other key difference can be described as the active approach versus the passive approach. The PMO approach is active. The PMO group is recognized throughout the organization as the control centre for projects. No project can be recognized as such without first passing through the PMO and being assigned a project manager. The PMC takes the passive approach. The PMC does not supply the corporation’s project managers and there are no rules forcing project managers to use the tools and aids offered by the PMC.

The PMC must maintain the best set of tools and aids, and make these readily available to the corporation’s project managers if it is to be successful. The tools must be the best possible and the access as easy as possible because traffic here is "pull” (as in project managers pull the tools from the PMC); the PMC has very limited "push” abilities. Here are some tips that might help the aspiring PMC manager to implement a successful PMC. The most important asset the PMC has is its knowledge. The knowledge managed by the PMC must be such that it is perceived by others in the corporation as a centre of excellence for all things project management related. The project managers must look to the PMC as their one stop shop for everything they need to succeed.

The Right Personnel

The PMC should be under the control of a seasoned project or program manager. Remember that when direct authority is lacking, referential integrity can be an effective source of influence. The person selected to manage the PMC should be someone that is recognized throughout the organization as having proven their knowledge and expertise in the discipline of project management. The only exception to this would be if an outside resource who is an experienced project manager with experience in setting up PMCs can be hired on a contract to set the PMC up. If the sponsoring organization decides to employ a consultant, the executive sponsor will need to visibly demonstrate their support of the venture and consultant.

The size of the PMC will be proportional to the size of the business implementing it and the importance of projects to that business, but any PMC will have to have access to certain skill sets in order to succeed. First and foremost there must be project managers who have experience in the types of projects your business needs and experience dealing with the stakeholders in your corporation. These seasoned veterans need not be 100% devoted to the PMC but should be available on demand.

The PMC should be the centre for project manager certification. In North America, the PMI have the most recognized certification, the PMP®. The PMC should have at least one project manager available who is certified and who can walk the candidate project manager through the certification process.

The PMC should have expertise on each of the tools, processes, and best practices it maintains. The expertise should not only be in the acquisition and maintenance of these tools and best practices, but in the implementation of them in a given situation.

The PMC should also be able to offer facilitators to projects. The facilitators should have experience in facilitating risk workshops and running gate reviews, phase exit reviews, or business decision point reviews. Experience in other areas peripheral to the discipline of project management such as Root Cause Analysis will also come in handy. Experience in running pre-Gate review meetings would also be helpful. The ability to offer mediation services to projects would be an additional bonus.

The Right Tools

Software Tools

The very first tool that any PMC should avail themselves of, is a scheduling tool. There are several excellent scheduling tools on the market, but MS Project is probably the best known and most widely used. MS Project is by far the most popular tool for software projects and is the one I’m most familiar with but any of the others, such as Primavera from Oracle can be used. Choose the right type of MS Project – Microsoft offers Enterprise MS Project as well as MS Project. While there are many differences in feature sets, the key one is that Enterprise MS Project (EPM) allows different projects to share information. For example, resources can be shared among various copies of EPM so that when one project manager schedules a resource for a given period, another project manager cannot schedule them for that time. My advice is to stick with the simpler version of MS Project when starting out. You can always upgrade to the EPM version at a later date.

Some other tools that your PMC should make available to project managers are what are referred to as "office productivity tools”. Most computers running Microsoft operating systems come already imaged with some for of Office which will include Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Another very useful tool is Visio which supports drawing process flows very well. This tool will come in very handy when making charts which illustrate a process flow. Ensure that there are sufficient licenses for all the tools in the PMC’s inventory. The software purchasing may be handled by an organization outside of the PMC, but the PMC should be responsible for ensuring that there sufficient licenses available for the project managers they are responsible for supporting.

The PMC may also be responsible for providing project managers with licenses for communication type products such as conference bridges, audio/video conferencing, GoToMeeting, etc. The PMC should act on behalf of the project managers to obtain the communications products their project managers need.

Templates

Templates are one of the handier tools in the project management tool kit and will tend to re-enforce the project management discipline the PMC is attempting to implement. The · Project Schedule and Work Breakdown Structure – these are almost always combined by the scheduling tool in use such as MS Project

 

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Include anything in the list of templates that project managers in your organization use repeatedly. Templates are very simple to create. Simply take a used form, such as a risk register, and strip all the risks out of it. Now you’ve got a template.

Templates should also include anything that is governed by a project management process. A typical example is a Change Management Plan. The Change Management Plan details the actions that are called for to manage changes to the project in accordance with the change management process established for the project or the corporation. The plan will also include roles and responsibilities and a schedule for the actions, or a reference to another project plan containing the schedule. To make an existing Change Management Plan into a template for your projects, simply remove all the details that are specific to the project it was created for. This will mean that all the text except the section heading is deleted. Replace this information with a generic description of the information to be captured in the section. You may even wish to leave some of the old information in place to use as an example of what the section is meant to capture. Format all instructions and examples in a font and color that clearly identifies them.

All the project processes which are governed by plans should be supported with a template. These will include:

 

You may also want to include a Cost Management Plan where the project manager has signing authority on the project.

Intranet Website

An intranet website is not an essential part of the PMC but can be a useful tool for communicating the PMC message, especially in larger organizations. Investigate the possibility of piggybacking on the parent site with a set of pages devoted to your PMC. The pages should contain an overview of the goals and objectives of the PMC. They should also contain links to all the tools and templates and knowledge available from the PMC. The website should also contain information on how to engage facilitators, tool gurus, coaches and mentors.

Processes

The templates offered by the PMC should align with and support the processes that the PMC provides. The processes are just as important as the templates and the PMC should be a centre for written information on the processes, as well as training and information sessions to educate the project management community on their processes. The processes should conform to the best practices in the industry, but be customized and specific to the organization’s needs.

The Right Knowledge

Humans make errors, no matter how well trained, or how well equipped. Project Managers will make mistakes, even when supported by the best PMC. The trick is not to make the same mistake twice. We can assume that no individual project manager will make the same mistake twice, but the PMC can distinguish itself by helping to ensure that a mistake does not get repeated by any project manager. The way the PMC does this is by establishing a knowledge base. There are two advantages to deploying a knowledge management system: 1) they do facilitate the sharing of information, and 2) project managers are like anyone else when confronted with the latest and greatest technology, they can’t wait to get their hands on it.

I know that some of you will envision databases and applications which will cost thousands to purchase and weeks of training to master. You can blow the budget on a product like Lotus Notes, or you can utilize a product available over the internet such as Confluence. Lotus Notes provides a wealth of features that make it very versatile and is also customizable so offers a lot of different ways of storing and retrieving your information. "Wiki” products like Confluence are not easily customizable, but are much easier to acquire and implement. If you can’t find a product that closely meets your PMC’s needs, you aren’t trying!

You don’t need a software tool to begin your knowledge base. You can start one with something as simple as an archival location that is properly partitioned so that project managers can easily find their way to the directory holding the type of information they are interested in.

One of the first sources of project information that should be shared is risk registers. There are several purposes served by making risk registers available to the project management community. The community should be aware of failed risk mitigation strategies so that the same strategy is not used again. You also want to make the successful strategies available so they can be re-used. The risk events that form the base of the register are also useful. These form one of the key inputs to the risk identification process.

Lessons Learned are designed to be shared with subsequent projects so are also a valuable knowledge resource. Try to archive these in such a way that future project managers can find the Lesson that interests them during their planning. For example, when they are planning quality management activities Lessons Learned during quality control or quality assurance activities will be useful. You may want to catalogue your Lessons Learned in several different ways to make the job of finding applicable Lessons easier. For example, you could categorize them by process area and by project phase. A little forethought applied when you are archiving this documentation will save much time and frustration when project managers are searching through them.

Change registers and change requests are also useful sources of information. Change registers and requests should capture any corrective or preventive actions that previous project managers have taken to improve project performance. It will be even more helpful to your project managers if you can direct them to a source of information that will show them the effectiveness of the action.

Action registers or issue logs are also a valuable source of information. Much of what went wrong with the project will be captured in the issue log. Issue logs or action registers tend to capture all the little ills that may not be represented in the change or risk registers. They are also easy to archive; there is only one of them and no special consideration need be given to how they are stored.

The Right Support

The PMC should always make support of the project management community a key component of the services they offer. The PMC should have experts on all the tools, templates, and processes in their inventory. These Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or senior project/program managers should be available to support the project management community. They need not be full time PMC resource, that probably is not an efficient use of these people’s skills, but they should be a phone call away whenever a project manager is in trouble and needs help.

The project management SMEs should also be available for information/training sessions on any of the PMC’s processes, tools, or templates. These sessions should not attempt to duplicate training offered by external training service providers, such as courses in the use of MS Project, etc. They should occur whenever a new process is introduced, or an existing process is changed. They may also cover tips and tricks on tool usage that make the tools more effective in the host environment.

Project management SMEs should also be available to act as facilitators for workshops, gate review meetings, pre-gate review meetings, phase exit review meetings, business decision point meetings, and as mediators where the situation calls for intervention by someone external to the project. The PMC may also want to purchase mediation services as needed from a consultant external to the company.

A key function of the senior project managers will be their ability to coach and mentor other project managers in the community. Coaching or mentoring, when well done, is more effective at transferring skills than formal training or certification. There are 2 criteria for successful coaching:

 

  1. The project manager to be coached must want the coaching.
  2. The coach or mentor must be committed to spending as much time as needed to deliver the coaching.

The first criteria can be met by requiring the candidate to actively seek out the coaching. Try posting an application form on the PMC web site, wiki, or directory and requiring candidates to complete the form. The second criteria may be somewhat more difficult to achieve. Coaching junior project managers will require a significant commitment of time on the coach’s part. If your PMC is big enough and rich enough to have these folks as part of their staff, no problem. If they aren’t, you’ll be asking volunteers to make this commitment of time and effort. Offer some form of reward to these people. The best reward would be the formal recognition of this role by your Human Resources organization and its inclusion in the career path to more senior positions. Encourage formal recognition by the project manager’s manager if this isn’t possible. At the very least, have an executive sponsor acknowledge the value of this service and recognize the volunteers in person.

Both coach and student must be flexible in order for this relationship to work. The flexibility must acknowledge the coach’s obligations to the projects they are managing (if you are working with volunteers), or their other students. Students must be sensitive to these commitments and make adjustments in their own plans to accommodate the coach’s schedule. Coaches must be ready to adjust their schedules to provide help to their students when the student has encountered an emergency. They must also be ready to commit the time necessary to see the relationship through to its conclusion.

The coach/student relationship should be like an apprenticeship. It should have a start date and finish date, and may have some total amount of time as an objective. This time line should not be a hard and fast rule, but a guideline to inform both student and coach of the expectations of the relationship. Completion of the apprenticeship should be followed by a formal recognition that the student has completed the program. Recognition may be formalized by the Human Resources group, but it should at least be recognized by the project manager’s manager. Completion should also include an assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses and recommendations for next steps.

The Right Training

Your PMC should be able to guide project managers to the training they need and also offer advice on what training they should take at this stage in their careers. This advice will fit nicely within a coach student relationship. Even where a project manager is not in such a relationship, someone knowledgeable in the area of project manager training should be available to offer advice.

The PMC should work with the Human Resources organization, or training department to ensure that the project management community has access to all the training the PMC recommends. The approval of any courses that the PMC recommends for a project manager should be a matter of course, providing the project manager’s manager has given their approval.

I would strongly recommend that the PMC be an advocate for project management certification. There is one recognized institution offering certification in the Americas and that is the Project Management Institute (PMI). Their leading brand is the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation, but the also offer Program Management Professional (PgMP®), a Certified Assistant Project Manager (CAPM®), a PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP), and a PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) designations.

The PMI are recognized world wide as the single most influential organization promoting project management best practices. The certification of all the project managers in the organization should be a goal of the PMC. There is really no reason for anyone in the organization not to become certified at least at the CAPM® level. The PMC’s role in this area should be to mentor candidates for certification, help provide information on the criteria each of the designations requires and help with filling out application forms, gathering documents, etc. The PMC should set a target for certifications and measure its performance against that target.

Finally….

The key difference between a PMC and a PMO is that project managers use the PMC as a resource whereas they work for the PMO. This difference need not mean that the PMC cannot be as effective in bringing improvement to the management of projects in its organization. Project managers, like anyone else, can only be led to water; they can’t be forced to drink. The PMC can overcome the lack of authority by making compliance with their standards a desirable thing instead of an onerous duty. If you are charged with setting up a PMC for your organization, make it a place of refuge and comfort for harried project managers. It will become the first stop for project managers looking for help or guidance if you can put a friendly face on it.

 


The tips and tricks described in this article are intended to help the project manager using the best practices promoted by the PMI. Project managers who are certified have already implemented those best practices. If you haven't been certified as a PMP® (Project Management Professional) by the PMI and would like to learn more about certification, visit the three O Project Solutions website at: http://threeo.ca/pmpcertifications29.php. three O Project Solutions also offers a downloadable software based training tool that has prepared project managers around the world to pass their certification exams. For more information about this product, AceIt, visit the three O website at: http://threeo.ca/aceit-features-c1288.php.