The EPMO

David Dunning and Ivan Lloyd, Corporate Project Solutions (CPS)

No organisation can stay in a fixed state and remain a leader in its field: change is essential as new ideas and outside factors evolve. Change requires a structured vehicle to be delivered and the enterprise project management organisation (EPMO) is that vehicle. David Dunning explains the rationale for investing to become a best practice EPMO.

With the increasing uncertainty, variable costs and financial instability in today's marketplace, now more than ever the delivery of change is vital to remaining lean and competitive. Elements of change are delivered through individual projects; the EPMO provides the most effective environment for projects to be identified, prioritised and, more importantly, executed.

What is an enterprise project management organisation (EPMO)?

Enterprise project management (EPM) is a common and collaborative approach to managing programmes, projects, work and resources within an organisation. The EPMO is defined as an organisation that has embraced the people requirements, processes, technology, structure and strategy to deliver EPM across its portfolio of change. Each of these five elements needs careful definition and the implementation of each will vary according to the maturity of the organisation. It is important when reviewing the current organisation to carefully map existing maturity, set aspirational levels and then plan a series of one or more projects that will deliver the changes to move the organisation to the aspirational desires. At a high level the five elements can be defined as:

People
How many organisations really recognise the importance of people in the management of change? To deliver change effectively, all stakeholders from board level through project managers to team members need to understand the organisation's enterprise project management strategy, processes and tools.

It needs to be realised that this understanding will only come from significant investment by the organisation in its people. Career paths need to be defined and structured training programmes need to be provided. Training should not just be about off-the-shelf methodology training such as PRINCE2; such training alone will teach staff about how to follow a standardised structured process, but will not teach staff the softer skills required to be a project manager or how that process works in relation to their own organisation. Training should be tailored to encompass both standard qualification-based training and training in an organisation's own processes and in the organisation's chosen project management technology.

Recognition of the importance of people in an EPMO, provision of appropriate training programmes and even potentially incentivising staff based on their project performance will all contribute significantly to the more effective management of change and therefore the delivery of strategic objectives.

Process
A unified approach to identifying, prioritising, planning, authorising, executing controlling, and closing programmes, projects and other work packages needs to be agreed, documented and instilled within the organisation and the people.

While these processes are often 'understood', and in part practised within organisations from experience, they are very rarely clearly documented and, as importantly, completely accepted.

Processes will need to cover all elements of the life cycle from defining the organisation's strategic objectives, identifying new opportunities for change and subsequently prioritising them against the strategic objectives through to the detailed processes for the management and control of individual projects and programmes.

EPM processes should be designed based on a combination of best practice and realism. All processes must have an owner, a roadmap and an agreed approach to change management. As an organisation's maturity evolves, so these processes evolve alongside. Documented and agreed processes will need to be embedded within the organisation with people understanding their usage, a structure and technology to help enforce them and a strategy that realises their importance.

Technology
The appropriate technology to underpin processes and support people effectively is a key constituent element of the EPMO. It is not uncommon for organisations to have very little commonality of systems, standards or levels of training and use. The correct adoption of technology provides the EPMO with standardisation, with automation of process and with immediate visibility of information.

Technology needs to be clearly matched to the EPMO maturity level and any changes in technology must be accompanied by the appropriate change management and user training. Standard systems will provide elements such as:

  • planning;
  • resource management;
  • cost control;
  • timesheeting;
  • templates;
  • document management;
  • collaboration;
  • management reporting;
  • standardised risk, issue and change management.

Technology components will have an owner, a roadmap and a change management process. Standardisation of tools should assist rather than inhibit and when implemented correctly are key too underpinning the EPMO processes.

Structure
The EPMO structure needs to be designed to enable and support all phases of the EPM processes and the people and technology that underpin it. The EPMO structure needs to encompass all levels of the organisation including a senior level board director responsible for the delivery of change.

At the heart of the EPMO should be one or more support functions such as a portfolio management office and project support offices responsible for ensuring that organisation operates effectively and delivers against strategic objectives. Support functions could/should own:

  • portfolio management;
  • benefit management;
  • quality assurance;
  • process ownership;
  • management reporting;
  • standards;
  • mentoring;
  • personal development;
  • resource management;
  • technology (project management systems).

Other structural elements will include functions for project and programme management, planning, and cost management. In some organisations these operational areas are included within the support functions for example with the project support office owning not just the support of projects but the project managers themselves.

Strategy
Strategy underpins all elements of the EPMO. Within a mature EPMO the organisation will have understood the necessity for an EPM approach and will have invested in a strategy to ensure delivery. However, in many organisations, there is limited recognition of organisation capabilities and maturity, no roadmap for the organisation to improve, and it is hoped that things will 'evolve and get better over time'. Because in many organisations there is no senior board level member responsible for change, it is common to find a lack of strategy to deliver change at high level that translates down through the organisation to incomplete processes, lack of tools and inadequate staff training and development. Strategy needs to encompass the design of a roadmap for carefully advancing through capability levels. Strategy also importantly needs to consider how to maintain capability levels once reached.

Figure 1. The EPMO.

Challenges to adopting an EPM approach

There is a range of challenges that can inhibit the evolution from an organisation that just does projects to an organisation that holds change and therefore projects as the essential elements to success:

  • Is there widespread acceptance that this status quo is not acceptable? Unless process discomfort is felt, and the cost of being inefficient realised, there will be no appetite for change.
  • Who is raising the perception of a need for EPM, and do they carry the right level of authority and persuasive power? Does senior management accept that EPM is a crucial pillar of business management?
  • Is it possible to define a realistic solution that the organisation can justify and afford?
  • Has the organisation really understood its current level of capability and maturity? If the organisation over-estimates its capability, it will struggle to get a level of change adopted.
  • Is it the right time? Is it already in the throes of change?

The degree of change initiated to become an EPMO will depend on many factors:

  • Problem severity and business case gives rise to organisation 'will' to accept a level of cost and change discomfort.
  • The current level of project management maturity - the higher the maturity, the more it is possible to introduce.
  • How big is the organisation? The larger the organisation the slower it becomes to engage into a common approach.
  • Can time be made available for key stakeholders to engage in the change process?
  • Can a credible project manager be found, and does process, technology and business transformation expertise reside with the organisation?

Benefits of the EPMO

Clearly, if all elements of the EPMO are addressed, there is plenty of scope for benefit:

  • Only projects that are determined to align to the organisation's strategic objectives will be allowed to progress.
  • The benefits originally identified for each project will be realised or, if not, the reasons why not understood.
  • A standardised approach means that all members of the EPMO understand how to effectively deliver change and just as importantly why.
  • More projects will be delivered on time and on budget.
  • Processes and tools for elements such as resource management will ensure that utilisation rates are maximised making most effective use of existing availabilities.
  • Common and clear visibility of key project and portfolio information will allow better and more informed decision-making.
  • Staff satisfaction will improve as it is understood that the organisational strategy recognises the importance of the EPMO.
  • Standard approaches to elements such as risk, issue and change management will ensure fewer surprises through the project life cycle

These are just a few potential benefits from the adoption of the EPMO. Benefits will depend on the maturity of the organisation and the subsequent level of EPMO implementation; however, as part of the change process to become an effective EPMO, anticipated benefits should be clearly documented and tracked.

Conclusion

Those organisations that do not embrace the concept of becoming an effective EPMO may or may not be successful; however, those that do will undoubtedly improve their chances. Recognising and understanding your entire portfolio of change, defining elements of change as projects and then prioritising those projects against the organisation's strategic objectives will ensure that only the right projects are undertaken. Having the people in place with the right skills and technology will not only underpin this selection process but will provide the key elements to ensure that once projects are selected they are effectively delivered on time and to budget and, just as importantly, with the benefits originally identified that move the company forward with its strategic objectives.

Figure 2. End-to-end project process.

David Dunning is a director and co-founder of Corporate Project Solutions. He is a highly experienced project management process consultant, project management systems implementation project manager, professional trainer, procedures author, systems analyst, account manager/sales executive, team leader, facilitator, presenter and evaluator who has overseen project management solution implementations in many organisations (www.cps.co.uk).