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OUTSIDE THE BOX: Forum HPM Framework Project Support Office

WARNING! When it comes to enterprise project management offices, Occasional Project Managers (OPM) are often on the outside looking in.

They need a project support office that provides a number of specialized services, including customized tools, templates and processes as well as targeted coaching and training.

They are not interested in standards or compliance to standards.

The traditional Project Management Office (PMO) is a standards-based and practice compliant monitoring unit. In most models it is accountable to senior management for compliance and performance monitoring, and to project teams for a variety of functions and support services. It can exist at the enterprise level or within a division for larger more complex organizations. The Career Project Managers (CPM) uses processes and practices that are under the control and stewardship of the PMO. A variety of functions and support services are available to the CPM.

Those functions and support services include:

  • Project Administrative Support and Resource Allocation
  • Methods and Standards
  • Software Tools and Training
  • Consulting and Mentoring
  • PM Training and Education
  • Ensuring project management protocols are followed
  • Creating organizational project management policies and procedures
  • Project Manager Professional Development (in partnership with HR)

These eight areas are inclusive of the functions and support services that should be offered by a fully functional Project Support Office (PSO) to the enterprise, the business units and the CPMs. This is all well and good, but the OPM needs a PSO that is quite different from the PSO defined above. The PSO can provide a number of functions and support services to business units at the request of an OPM, but these support services must be tailored to the needs of the OPM. In addition to supporting the OPM, there may be occasions where a business unit manager may request intervention assistance for troThesubled projects. There are no compliance monitoring functions as is the case with the PSO for the CPM.

Both at the enterprise level and division levels the PSO supports both the CPM and the OPM. The two levels of support are very different, but both are important and necessary. The functions and support services offered by the PSO for the OPM can exist within the Enterprise-level PSO. These functions and support services can be alternatively tailored versions of what is offered to the CPM or they might be totally unique to the OPM.

The PSO can be tailored to the OPM. Business Units are islands unto themselves and so the Community of Practice does not exist for inter-unit communications. The Policy & Standards link is minimal as compare to the link that existed for the CPMs. As you can see when comparing the two illustrations, the support to the OPM is quite different. The “community of practice” is often not available or non-existent to the OPM. Recall that the OPM is not a traditional project manager and may not have any regular or direct affiliation with the PSO. Although the project sponsor or business unit manager may offer the PSO as a resource, the OPM may be viewed as an outsider to the official PSO. As stated in a previous edition of this article, the OPM is often an accidental or incidental project manager. This leaves the OPM in the unenviable position of being on “the outside looking in” to the PSO.
As a result of some of the issues identified above, the PSO often takes on a passive role with respect to their support of the OPM and the OPM project team. Three areas deserve to be mentioned.

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Vetted Portfolio of Tools, Templates and Processes

For the CPM this portfolio is broad and deep. It is a documented portfolio that is constantly growing and evolving to meet the complex project management needs of the enterprise. For the OPM the project management needs are quite different. We presented those in Part I. Common sense, intuitive, and ease of use are the cornerstones of their portfolio. This is a challenge to the PSO whose processes and practices are often more closely aligned with the 5 Project Management Process Groups and the 10 Knowledge Areas, which in turn aligns with the needs of the CPMs they support. The OPM is a new and unfamiliar addition to their customer list.

There are three ways the vetting process works for the HPMgr:

  • The PSO reviews and vets HPMgr developed tools, templates, and processes. This service is an insurance policy for the HPMgr and their management. It assures that the HPM hasn’t put the practices into harm’s way.
  • The PSO repurposes CPM tools, templates, and processes and vets them for OPM use. Here the PSO takes the initiative and suggests tools, templates and processes that might be a good fit for OPM use. The OPM and their management should review and approve what the PSO has submitted.
  • The PSO reviews the OPM’s project plan to ensure there are not any critical gaps or oversights. This may be more crucial for the OPM than the HPM. The PSO may spend more time reviewing the project plan developed by the OPM than that of the HPMgr if experience and knowledge levels are known or readily apparent. In either case, the OPM benefits from the oversight of the PSO. The OPM gains the reassurance that their project plan is accurate and valid. The OPM has the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience without the risk of error by leveraging the guidance, oversight, and mentoring from the PSO. The effective PSO may prove to be the training ground for developing OPMs into CPMs.

Coaching and Consulting

The OPM is not a CPM and they will encounter situations beyond their ability to manage. The OPM needs to acknowledge this fact and muster the courage to reach out for help. The PSO can provide the necessary help; however, they must understand that the typical OPM is not a CPM. As noted above, the PSO must have an understanding that the OPM themselves may have varying degrees of knowledge and experience. The help must be collaborative and not directive. Finding and implementing solutions is a participative endeavor. Although some “hand holding” may be required, the PSO must take great care not to appear condescending. Those that work within the PSO must be aware of their non-verbal towards the OPM; keeping in mind that the OPM often had the project thrust upon them by a sponsor or business unit manager that had thoughts of project completion over the OPM’s prior project management experience. In the same breath, some OPMs may be highly experienced and will resent the PSO if too overbearing. As indicated, soft skills, collaboration, and proper engagement will serve both those working in the PSO and the OPM to have the best chance for a successful partnership.

Targeted and Customized Training

To reach across the industry verticals the training is best defined by project type. We discussed the three types in Part III. There are few opportunities for the OPM to acquire training. Those that do exist may include the following: Attending one or two day project management seminars found at local colleges or through training institutions such as Fred Pryor or Skill Path; Joining local PMI Chapters and networking with other CPMs, OPMs, and other professionals who are interested in project management; Reading entry level PM books that offer alternatives to strict PMBOK based philosophies (albeit few exist); Pursuing mentoring from more experienced OPM Chefs or understanding CPMs who wish to share their knowledge and skills with the newly drafted OPM or OPM Cook.

PSO Support Services for Business Unit Managers

When a business unit manager detects performance problems they need help and should be able to reach out to the PSO for some type of intervention. That intervention could take the form of coaching, consulting, or even short-term training. The OPM needs to see that intervention as a collaborative effort to correct the performance problem. If the OPM sees the intervention as a threat, all potential learning will be at risk as well as the success of the project.

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