Project Office

Project Office

Here's an attractive idea. Set up a Project Office and let them run your project, relieving you the project manager of all that project management stuff so that you can get with something more useful like, er...

I recall running a project management course some years ago. On the first morning two girls arrived, can't have been more than 19 years sold. Surprised to see anyone so young I asked what their jobs were. "We joined the company yesterday, we're going to be the Project Office," they said. "The programmers have made a list of all the tasks that will have to be done in the project and it's our job to build the project plan - we're on the course to find out how to do it." Oh dear.

Project Office - Role in I.T. Projects

Should the Project Office plan the project, control the work, collect and analyse time records and report project status to senior management? A couple of war stories may be instructive:

A project manager took over a troubled project. At his first status meeting the project office turned up to present what was going on. They showed all the numbers but, surprise surprise, when asked what was actually going on they hadn't got a clue. So the project manager insisted the team leaders do the reporting the next week. Next week the team leaders presented the Project Office's numbers. When asked to explain what the numbers meant they couldn't. The Project Office were called in. They explained the numbers. The team leaders' reaction? "But that doesn't reflect what's going on at all!"

One organisation had a central Project Office that collected data from all projects and reported project status to the various project steering committees. The data reported consisted primarily of the original budget, what had been spent so far (allegedly) and how much more the project expected to spend. This data tells you nothing about the status of a project and since the project manager wasn't doing the reporting he couldn't be asked about it. Everyone was very contented. Most projects went wrong - apparently very close to their planned end dates - but, hey, that's projects.

The role of the Project Office is covered in this free Project Management Book

Project Office - Project Manager, Team Leaders

So how should we divide the project management tasks between the project manager (and team leaders) and the Project Office?

Imagine we have a project team of 30. A project manager, three team leaders, a one-person Project Office and 25 workers. The team leaders, with their teams members, do the planning - not the Project Office. The team leaders make sure their team members report hours worked, tasks completed etc each week - not the Project Office. The team leaders analyse the status data and drive remedial action - not the Project Office. The team leaders own the data - not the Project Office. The team leaders report status and actions to the project manager each week - not the Project Office.

The team leaders own the project plan and are responsible for keeping it up to date. The plan, and time recording against it, are tools to help the team leaders manage their team's work. It is not a bit of admin to be shuffled onto the admin guys.

Each month the project manager presents project status to the sponsor, steering committee or whoever - not the Project Office. The Project Office may well physically produce the charts that the project manager shows - a synthesis of the 3 team leaders' reports - but this is essentially a secretarial function. If you are a project sponsor or other senior manager receiving a project status report ban Project Office personnel from the room: make sure the project manager is the one on the spot, that way he at least has to know what's going on.

Should the Project Office have anything to do with planning and time recording? Start from the position of: no, they shouldn't. These are jobs for the team leaders and project manager. Having the Project Office handle some of the mechanics may be desirable but is a slippery slope. Pretty soon the plan becomes the Project Office's and is disowned by the leaders. Team leaders may choose to delegate but they must retain ownership and responsibility for the plan and for status reports.

Project Office - Administration

Half way through build the users want a requirement changed. The team leaders do the impact analysis. The project manager makes decisions about the change request. The Project Office log and record - they do the admin.

Want some ring binders? Want some desks moved? Need an offsite project meeting organising? The Project Office can organise all of that.

Filing can be a huge task. One very large project I came across had over 10,000 documents and versions of documents. Keeping all that under control was an immense task and but for the excellent Project Office, chaos would have reigned.

Need to know how many issues are currently open and how many are past their target resolution date? The Project Office should have a virtually instant answer to that one.

Need to find a contractor or hire some staff? Have the Project Office do the leg work for you.

How are we doing against our expenses budget? Expenses tracking isn't something the team leaders would generally look after, it's not usually germane to project status (if it is they should). Clearly somebody must track expenses: the Project Office. But they are providing data to the project manager: if we're being too lavish with the cash the project manager tells the troops to pull their horns in, not the Project Office.

Not quite sure what the process is with regard to seeking a budget increase? Have the project office get hold of the procedures and advise you.

Need a consistent template that the whole project will use for something or other? Ask one of the team leaders - yes, one of the team leaders - to devise one and agree it with the other team leaders, then have the Project Office incorporate it into the project procedures. If the team leader chooses to delegate the job of designing the new template to the Project Office that's fine, but the team leader shows you the result and is accountable for it.

You will need to send people on training courses. The Project Office can make the arrangements.

Project Office - Small Projects

Only got 10 people in the whole project? You can do the admin yourself or perhaps delegate some of it to the team leader. You don't always need a Project Office. In fact since most projects are small, most projects don't need a Project Office.

By contrast one 400 person project had a Project Office of 20 people - and they were genuinely adding a lot of value, in fact the project would have fallen apart without them.

Project Office - Policing

An independent project assurance group should ensure that all projects conform to project management rules and adopt best practice. As a project manager hold your team leaders responsible for the completion of necessary admin - not the Project Office. If the team leaders want to enlist the Project Office's help in this that's fine. They're pulling help from the Project Office. See this page for information about Project Assurance.

Project Office

In summary, make sure the project manager and team leaders are accountable for planning and managing the project, not the Project Office. View the Project Office as people who can help the project manager and team leaders with some of the administration. You don't need a Project Office in a small project. An efficient and effective Project Office is absolutely essential in a large project or programme - without it there will be chaos. Make clear to the Project Office that they have a vital role, that they will be an important factor in the project's success. They will be.

If you're still not sure what the Project Office might do don't worry: start the project with the intention that you and your team leaders will do everything and you'll soon discover tons of admin stuff that you simply won't have time to do yourself! But do not be tempted to try and shuffle the management of the project onto an unsuspecting 19 year old.

Click here for more on Project Office, Project Audit and Project Assurance.

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