With King 3 starting to ‘bite’ and executives increasingly being held accountable for the success of their organisation’s IT projects, there is growing recognition of the value of professional project management and with that, the need for creating properly functioning enterprise project offices (EPOs).

But it is only mature organisations that can create effective EPOs; individual managers are often protective of their own projects and divisions and are loathe to hand the reins over to a centralised function. The end result is that many EPOs are set up to fail, ultimately relegated to a reporting function with little or no authority and limited effectiveness.

The main function of a successful EPO is integration management because it has a bird’s eye view of the organisation’s entire project portfolio. This means that the EPO is able to prioritise which projects should be undertaken and identify interdependencies between projects so that duplication is avoided. Since IT projects frequently have functionality across different divisions, a centralised view of projects can save a lot of time, money and frustration.

The EPO has many roles, the most important of which include setting the rules (methodology, tools, etc) for all projects; monitoring compliance with rules; and reporting across projects. The EPO would also streamline the process through which all projects would go before being launched. This could start with the presentation of a business case, after which the EPO would prioritise the project according to the business’ strategy, legislative compliance requirements and various other pertinent issues. Finally, projects would be filtered down into an achievable set of projects that can be executed according to the available financial and human resources.

The EPO also functions as the company’s central repository for all project history. This centralisation of information is in itself a useful tool, allowing project managers (PMs) to learn from the mistakes (and successes) of their colleagues.

Because the EPO has a high level view of all the projects being planned and run across the entire company, it may even be possible when the initial business case is presented, to identify current projects that, with some ‘tweaking’, could include the deliverables specified in the new business case; thus saving the company time and money.

Essentially, the EPO can, and must, be a strategic instrument. Projects actually represent the company’s investment portfolio (in terms of funds and resources) and no company has unlimited funds or resources, so project investment must be done prudently. To be successful, the EPO must function at a high level (reporting directly into the executive) and operating across multiple business divisions.

An effective EPO is essentially a competency centre and the ‘home’ of all the organisation’s PMs, taking responsibility for their career path management, training and assignment.

But, despite the many obvious benefits of having a strong, independent EPO, many, if not most, organisations continue to launch projects within the division that has motivated the project. And the end result is often different divisions within the company running projects that squander resources.

It takes courage, and corporate maturity, to get an EPO right, but for those companies willing to ‘take the pain’ the benefits are significant and patently evident.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

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