Building a digital Project Management Office – it’s not purely about the product

Many of us leading major projects and programmes have all been there. Getting all the senior decision makers in a meeting room to review progress and performance - only to find it ends up being a waste of time. This can be down to not trusting the data being presented, or there’s simply too much of it to make sense of. In some cases, we simply don’t have the full, integrated picture in front of us, and the reports we’re using aren’t fit for purpose. This frustrating situation doesn’t allow leadership to lead effectively and make the best decisions to mitigate risks and realise opportunities.

I believe our clients have experienced these frustrations too, not only in the realm of major capital projects, but in many other industries delivering change. Current reporting solutions have multiple sources of truth with very inefficient, out of date and labour intensive processes. Project controls teams know very well that paper, and even some digital solutions without full system integration, require high levels of manual effort and manipulation due to inefficient processes and data quality issues.

Some teams have built dashboards providing only a certain point of view e.g. corporate KPIs which are disconnected from their project performance. Many get accused of building ‘cottage industries’ to manage this inefficient process. However, it’s an unfortunate fact that teams have to spend more time on report production rather than providing analysis and insight which is where the real value add is.

So, wouldn’t it be great to have a technology-enabled, system-based MI/Reporting solution that’s accurate, collaborative, transparent, consistent and dynamic? Obviously, yes.

A digital Project Management Office

In addition to the growing interest from businesses around the impact of disruption by new technology, we also need think about what the future holds for us as professionals in terms of our day-to-day roles. Despite some fears around AI taking our jobs, surely new technology can be used effectively to support us, the humans, to be more efficient. As discussed above, one area we see making a significant difference is digital MI/Reporting solutions where we combine human insight, business understanding and technology – building a digital PMO.

Based on experience, there are two easy mistakes you can make if you’re thinking about building a digital PMO. One is to have too much focus on the product; and the second is believing that it can be done overnight. When we’ve built these for clients in the past, we acknowledge the need to gradually introduce the new technology over time, cleaning data sets as we go, using agile methods and tools. Patience and tenacity is required as we experience various obstacles in the way of immediate success including data issues in legacy source systems.

Our experience is that there is either no data; or too much data; or when there is data, it is not in the right shape or it is of poor quality. Learning about data quality issues can be quite uncomfortable for the organisations as you open Pandora’s Box with the implementation of digital MI/Reporting solutions. The level of transparency such systems bring displays all the problems in the source systems - as the famous phrase goes ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

Therefore, it’s important to know that building a digital PMO is more than building the product. It’s also about building a supportive ecosystem to enable your digital MI/Reporting solution.

Things to consider before building a digital PMO

In order to build a supportive ecosystem, below we’ve laid out a few questions to ask yourself before you start:

Have you got enough buy-in from the leadership for innovative digital tools and an appetite amongst the staff to adopt to new ways of working? Change can be uncomfortable for anyone as it is not easy to let go of paper-based solutions which have a lot of flexibility and certainty. Therefore, leadership needs to lead by example and help prepare staff for new ways of working with open and transparent data.

Have you got the right IT infrastructure in place? Nothing frustrates users more than slow internet speeds or unresponsive IT support teams.

Have you got the right level of governance in place with the right people attending the right meetings with right delegations? The product is an input to the review meetings helping you to drive the agenda, but without human insight and decision making at the right level, the meetings run the risk of becoming another talking shop.

Have you got data quality focus and master data management in place? Poor data quality in source systems is a serious obstacle which requires collective efforts of users, system administrators and assurance teams to improve. Data issues can reduce users’ confidence for the digital MI/Reporting solutions and present a serious challenge for adopting new ways of working.

If you’re building a digital PMO to be the ‘single source of the truth in your organisation’, it’s important to recognise that it’s a parallel journey of product and ecosystem development. We need to ask the questions above and not miss the importance of the enablers - which include both data and human elements. Otherwise, no matter how good a product you’ve created, there’s a huge risk it can be seen as a ‘shiny PowerPoint’ but miss the opportunity to transform your organisational thinking and performance.

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