5 reasons why PMO’s fail

sign showing failureMany organisations now run an annual change budget.  This means that it is very common for the majority of change projects to mobilise in the first quarter (Q1) of the year.  This in turn means that this is the time that many PMO’s that are dedicated to support the change activities are formed.

So if your manager has just tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to mobilise a PMO, you will want to know the common reasons for failure so that you can take the right steps make sure that you are successful.

Common reasons for PMO failure

1. Value perceived as offering little or no value

It is still very common for many people within an organisation (especially project managers and senior management) to view a PMO as little more than a low value, bureaucratic administrative function that is staffed with junior resources.

Due to this the PMO function is not respected and any attempts to request project information or implement standards are either ignored or the inputs from the projects is very poor and do not follow standards.

The unfortunate impact of this is that the quality of the reporting provided by the PMO is very poor that provides more support to the project managers and senior management that there is no value being provided (even though they are responsible for the poor quality).

The problem is then further compounded by:

2. Lack of senior sponsorship for the PMO

Hopefully a PMO should have a senior sponsor (if not you have real problems and the chances of success even further diminished).  However, even if you have a sponsor, in many cases that do not understand the full benefits of a PMO and think that it is simply a means to achieve a consolidated report (a simple case of collecting all the inputs from the projects and placing them into a consolidated presentation).

This will typically result in a sponsor who sees little value in supporting the PMO to execute their duties.  This is especially critical when you have the inevitable situation where the project managers complain to their own sponsors that the PMO is taking up their valuable time to complete pointless reports instead of important delivery work.  Then, at the next senior management meeting, the sponsors will find  way to attribute any delays on their projects to the fact that the PMO is impacting the projects with pointless requests.

A disengaged or reluctant PMO sponsor will not support the actions of the PMO.  This will result in the position of the PMO being further weakened or even to be disbanded!

3. Lack of authority

This is very closely linked to point 2, lack of sponsorship.

If a PMO is not given the appropriate authority (mandate) by senior management, the project managers will interpret any request for information or to comply with standards as optional (at best).  This will result in the PMO not being able to collect the required project inputs meaning they will not be able to provide consolidated reporting for senior management.

4. The PMO resources are inexperienced

This links very closely with point 1, perceived lack of value.

If senior management believe that all the PMO does is collect and consolidate information, it is all too common for this to result in the PMO being staffed by junior or inexperienced resources – why do you need experienced (expensive) resources to collect, copy and paste information into a spreadsheet or PowerPoint?

This results in a PMO that does not know what tools and process should be implemented, are unable to review and challenge inputs resulting in poor quality output that is not valued by senior management.  This compounds the problem further why would you invest more funds for more experienced resources if the value provided is so low.

Inexperienced resources will also suffer at the hands of the project managers.  With little or no project delivery experience, how can an inexperienced PMO resource have any chance of challenging the reports of experienced project managers?

5. PMO operates as an audit function (project police)

Project managers do not like people outside of their project reviewing their reports.  This usually results in every problem being exposed resulting in extra attention from management.  While it is important to have open and transparent reporting to avoid nasty shocks, it needs to be done the right way.

Unfortunately some PMO’s get into a mode of operation where they are looking to expose weaknesses and problems so as to expose the project manager.  This behaviour makes the project manager reluctant to share any information other than the absolute minimum.

The net result is that the working relationship between the PMO and project managers breaks down resulting in only the minimum information being reported and the PMO not really understanding where the REAL problems are in the project.

It is worth remembering that the PMO is not an audit function, it should be working with and supporting the projects to help them deliver.  The objective of the project managers and the PMO is the same – the successful delivery of the projects.

In summary

The above are some of the common reasons why a PMO will fail and it is important to understand them so you are well placed to avoid them.

PMO KPI’s (key performance indicators)

A question often asked is “what value does the PMO add”?  While the answer is “lot’s of value” (if the PMO has been set-up correctly), in many cases you need to back this up with some PMO success metrics (aka PMO KPI’s).

What is a PMO KPI?

It is an agreed set of indicators that, if achieved, should demonstrate that the PMO has achieved what is was set-up for.  If the correct time and effort has been spent defining a good set of meaningful KPI’s, the PMO should have delivered value.  However, if the wrong KPI’s have been chosen, why they may have been achieved, it does not mean value has been delivered.

Example PMO KPI’s

There are many KPI’s that can be chosen to measure the success of a PMO.  It is important that they are chosen based on alignment to the objectives and the organisation.

A good place to start would be:

  • % of projects delivered
  • % of projects delivered inline with business case
  • % of projects at Red, Amber, Green status
  • % of projects remain at same status for x reporting periods
  • % of projects stopped
  • % of projects fail to deliver
  • Benefits realised against Benefit forecast for year
  • Simple Return on Investment (ROI) for all of the projects the PMO has oversight for
  • Resources added against Resource forecast for year

In order to make this type of KPI’s work is to be able to compare with previous years.  This will then allow you to show the positive impact the PMO is having against each of the indicators.

PMO KPI Action Plan

  1. Spend time to work out what would be the most meaningful indicators for your PMO and / or organisation
  2. Make sure that you agree the KPI’s with the appropriate stakeholders.  This includes agreeing what needs to be evidenced to demonstrate achievement (tip do this at the start when it will be less emotive).
  3. Work out how the KPI’s will be tracked and put processes in place to collect the data.  You may need to go back to capture historic data so as to be able to demonstrate year on year trends.
  4. Design a dashboard that clearly shows the performance against KPI’s.  This will become a very powerful slide in your PMO management report.  Take a look at the posts on PMO dashboard design for ideas on designing dashboards.
  5. Collect and validate the data on a regular basis.  Review what the data is telling you and, if performance is not looking as good as previous years, take action early to get back on track.

Example graph showing PMO KPI performance

If you have some ideas on good PMO KPI’s, please register and post a comment.

PMO RAG status levels

It is expected that every project will report progress and status on a regular basis.  The reason for this being that the sponsor and other stakeholders want the comfort of knowing they have visibility of progress.  This helps ensure that there are no nasty surprises and, if the project is having challenges, it ensures that the sponsor and stakeholders are aware and gives them the opportunity to take corrective action (or stop the project before more money is spent).

It is very common for a project status to be reported by RAG.  RAG being the acronym for Red, Amber, Green.  The basic principle is:

  • Green = project is on track
  • Amber = some issues, being managed, needs to be closely monitored
  • Red = serious issues, dates being missed, recovery plan required

This simple approach makes it very easy for the projects at risk or in trouble to be identified and action taken.

Consistent RAG Reporting

It is very important for an organisation to be able to understand the trust what status is being reported for a project.  Therefore, it is very important to have clearly defined criteria for selecting the correct RAG status.  Having a standard definition for each status will reduce reporting inconsistencies such as where one project manager is very hard on their reporting where as another is very relaxed.

The aim of the definitions is to ensure that all projects of a similar status are reported using the same RAG.

PMO Actions

1. RAG Definition

Define sensible definitions and criteria to be used to set RAGs for:

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Costs
  • Benefits
  • Overall Status

You can also include other dimensions such as Resources.

Make sure that the definition and criteria for each makes sense, is easy to understand and does not involve subjectivity.

2. Document and Publish RAG Definitions

The PMO must ensure that the RAG reporting definitions and criteria are clearly communicated, especially to the project managers.  Time should be spent checking with the project managers to ensure a common understanding.

Guide of PMO RAG levels for reporting

3. PMO Review of Project Reports

As part of the review process of all project report submissions, the PMO should check the RAG status on each project to:

  • Ensure the project is using a RAG that reflects status
  • Ensure that RAGs are being consistently applied across all projects

Other tips and ideas

It is very common for a project to start move to Amber and then remain at Amber for the duration of the project.  This is not very helpful for monitoring progress.  To overcome this you can look to define further granularity for each RAG setting:

  • Green 1
  • Amber 2
  • Amber 3
  • Red 4
  • Red 5

Then when a project moves to Amber 2, it is highly likely it will move between Amber 2 and Amber 3.  This gives a better indication if the project is improving or deteriorating.

Another similar approach is to combine Red, Amber, Green with an arrow:

  • Up Arrow = status improving
  • Down Arrow = status deteriorating
  • Side Arrow = status remains the same

Whatever approach is chosen, just make sure that there is a clear definition and criteria to ensure the consistent application.

In summary

  • RAG is one of the universal standards for reporting project status
  • It is important that the definition and criteria is clearly defined and communicated
  • Independent review (normally by PMO) is critical to ensure consistency
  • Further granularity is possible using numbers or arrows

PMO frustrations

Following on from the last blog that covered dealing with difficult project managers, it is topical to spend some time considering PMO frustrations.  Followed by some thoughts around the reason for the frustrations and proactive steps to address the,

Frustrations to the PMO

There are a number of common themes

  • Project report submissions late
  • Constantly having to chase responses
  • Being treated as an administration centre / bureaucratic
  • Being seen as adding low or no value
  • No support for trying to instil good practice and standards
  • Little understanding of the time and effort to complete tasks

Anyone who has worked in a PMO should be able to connect with some if not all of the themes above.

Reasons for the Frustrations

hand written good jobThe main driver behind the feeling of frustration for many of these is that the work is not valued.  Most people when they go to work want to do the best job they can and feel that what they do makes a contribution and is valued.

In the PMO it can feel like every day is a struggle, the work not valued and that it would not make a difference if the PMO packed up and stopped.  In case you are thinking this – IT IS NOT TRUE!

Recent Survey

The 2012 survey by Project Management Solutions found that PMO’s contribute to the following performance improvements:

  • 30% decrease in failed projects
  • 25% of projects delivered under budget
  • 31% increase in customer satisfaction
  • 19% of projects delivered ahead of schedule
  • 39% improvement in projects aligned to objectives
  • US$411k average cost savings per project

If you look at similar research by PMI, ESI, etc you will see similar trends.  It is for this reason that there has been a big increase in the number of large and small organisations investing in a PMO.

Action Plan

Understanding this trend is very important.  Before being able to convince others by acting with confidence, you need to be confident yourself.  Therefore, take time to digest these statistics so that you have no doubt of the the value of a PMO to an organisation.  Having self belief in the “product” will reflect in the way you act.  You will be more confident knowing that a PMO does add value.  Be confident in your abilities.

Build relationships.  Proactively engage the project managers and stakeholders as mention in post 67.  Make sure that they get to know you, that they understand your experience and why you are well placed for the role and how you can help.  Recent surveys show that PMO’s are a lot less thought of being administrative centres resulting on average in practitioners with 10 + years of change experience being recruited into the roles.  Doing this will improve getting the project submissions in on time.

Collect metrics that demonstrate the value being added.  In January, think ahead to how the end of year review looks like for you and your boss.  Identify what needs to be delivered to make those meetings go well and then build processes to collect and track the metrics so you can demonstrate process through the year.  Doing this will allow you to demonstrate the benefit of the PMO and why you are not a low value admin center.

Make sure you only ask for information that is absolutely necessary and that the process is well thought out and adds value.  This includes getting feedback from stakeholders to ensure the process is sensible and that the output is what is required.

In summary

PMO’s are here to stay.  The value is becoming better understood.  It is a satisfying career choice.  However, it is what you make it and you need to have the right positive attitude and desire to build and implement a PMO you are happy to work in!

Engaging with difficult project managers

dealing with difficult project managerOne of the hardest aspects of the role of the PMO manager is getting project and programme managers to act and respond to the requests from the PMO.  Requests for updates are issues, followed by gentle reminders, a phone call, a visit to their desk, a more direct e-mail, a more direct telephone conversation, etc.

Depending on the project or programme manager, the necessary information may be provided at any of the above steps.  However, it is all to common that even after all the chasing, the information is not provided.  Very frustrating, a waste of time and usually some upset stakeholders who get an incomplete update!

Possible Reasons

It is important to understand why the information was not provided:

  • The request was not explained clearly and / or not understood
  • The request did not explain why it was required
  • The project manager was genuinely too busy with delivery activity i.e. a go live
  • The request was delegated and then was forgotten
  • The request was not passed to the correct team member
  • Project manager does not want to provide the update
  • Project manager does not recognise the authority of the PMO
  • Project manager does not think the request is important

There are others, however the list covers the main themes.

The Impact

The consequence of the project manager not providing the update in a timely manner includes:

  • Wasted time and effort
  • Missed deadlines / production of important material
  • Unhappy stakeholders / senior management
  • Frustration and conflict between work colleagues

Action Plan

Unfortunately there is no single ‘silver bullet’ for the PMO to deal with difficult project managers.  What is required is a number of strategies and styles to address the situation.

1. Understand the Project Managers

Fortunately people are all different, which is just as well as life would be boring.  Unfortunately that means that an approach that will work with one project manager will not be successful with another.  Therefore, it is important to build an understanding of the project managers the PMO will work with.

  • Collaborative / Confrontational
  • Supportive / Resistant
  • Respectful / Discourteous

2. Engage the Project Managers

This is very important.  You will need to work with the project managers for months maybe years.  Therefore, you must make every effort to build solid and productive working relationships.  This should be both formal and informal.

When a new project manager joins the organisation / moves onto a project within the portfolio, introduce yourself and set-up a ‘meet and greet’ meeting – it works quite well over a coffee and make sure you pay!

Take time to find out about there background, where they have worked, what type of projects they have worked on and their interests.  Obviously don’t ask about personal / family details unless they offer.  It is good to look if there is a genuine connection, especially a common interest.

Provide a brief background about yourself, your experience, interests and what your role is in respect of the PMO.  This is a great opportunity to “credentialise” yourself – something most consultants do!  It provides an understanding why you are qualified to do the role you are doing and, importantly, why you are in the position to make the requests for information.  Warning: make sure you do not come over too much of “I have done this, I have done that, etc”.  You should also try to avoid consciously or sub consciously trying to score 1 up’s.

Close by offering to help them navigate the organisation and the requirements in respect of delivery.  This gives the opportunity to send them material about how the PMO operates and set-up a follow up session.

3. How to make requests

The way you ask for information from the project managers will influence the results.  For example, simply sending a communication:

All,

Please provide your project status report by the close of business Friday.

Regards

PMO Manager

While some of the more compliant project managers may respond, many will not, especially if this is the first request they receive.

With all requests make sure that you follow some basic principles:

  1. Background / Context
  2. Purpose / Objective
  3. Request
  4. Format
  5. Deadline
  6. Thanks

All,

The XYZ Programme Steering Committee is a monthly forum with representatives of the 5 global businesses to oversee and direct the delivery of the strategic projects.

To provide the members with the information to make informed decisions, it is important to provide an accurate and consistent status of all of the strategic projects.

Please can you submit a the standard project status report for your project by the close of business on Friday 30th November.  This will allow for the reports to be reviewed and consolidated for the steering committee on Tuesday 4th December.

If you have any questions or require assistance, do not hesitate to contact your PMO contact.

Many thanks for your cooperation

Regards

Helpful PMO Manager

A clearer and friendly request.

4. The Stubborn Project Manager

There will always be a small minority of project managers who will not respond (you will have identified them in step 1 and 2).  A more direct approach will be needed.  Follow up with a reminder e-mail and then a phone call.

Publish the steering committee pack to the project managers for review ahead of the meeting with gaps for those who have not submitted their report.  Peer pressure is a good persuader.  While good practice (even if all project managers have submitted reports), do not use this approach if the majority of project managers have not responded.

Be open to understand if there is a genuine reason for not responding.  If there is not, remind them the purpose for requesting the information and if no response is received, there will be a gap in the meeting material.

If they still do not respond, escalate to the PMO sponsor.  They may wish to have a discrete conversation with the project manager or the steering committee member responsible for the project.

Word of warning, only escalate when you absolutely need to.  You do not want to appear that you can not do you job.

In summary

Focus on building relationships, building your credentials, making sure there is a clear purpose and offering help.  Don’t request information if it adds no value and has no purpose, this is the number one reason project managers resist requests from PMO’s

PMO mandate

A common, even number one reason that so many project management offices fail is because they are not given the right mandate.  A decision may be made to form a PMO or, even worse, it is more of a suggestion that a PMO is formed.  Unfortunately, as one of the duties of a PMO is to provide transparency and visibility of the status and progress of projects, many project managers are very resistant.

This is understandable as why would you want to have an independent function shining the spotlight on your work, especially when it is not going well.  Many project managers and stakeholders would be far happier keeping close control on what is reported and when so as to control the message flow.  This of course is the very reason there are so many surprises near the end of a project as the project has not been honest about progress and status.

Make sure the PMO has a Mandate

For the reason above, it is very important that the PMO is publically given the mandate at the start.  The mandate should:

  • Be issued by senior management (not the PMO)
  • Clearly state the objective (goals) of the PMO
  • Empower the PMO manager
  • State what is expected
  • Explain why it is important to the organisation

Clear Communication

Time should be spent crafting this communication as it is very important to the success of the PMO.   It must convey the importance of the PMO in achieving the objectives.  It must not convey any sense of bureaucracy, this will be used to damage the PMO.

It is also very important that the communication is sent to all relevant stakeholders within the organisation.  It is no good approaching a project manager to complete regular reporting, etc if they are unaware of the mandate because it has not been sent to them.

The PMO manager should spend time ensuring that the distribution list includes all relevant parties.  This can then be given to senior management.

Example PMO Mandate e-mail Communication

The senior management team have identified and approved 4 projects that are critical to the strategic objectives of the organisation.

  • Project 1
  • Project 2
  • Project 3
  • Project 4

To provide focus and support to allow these projects to be successful, a project management office will be formed to:

  • Provide support to the project managers
  • Provide oversight and challenge on progress and status through standard reporting
  • Provide a platform for the identification and resolution of risks and issues threatening delivery
  • Provide a governance structure for rapid decision making
  • Ensure senior management are able to make informed decisions

The PMO is very important to the organisation.  Therefore, <PMO Manager> has been appointed as the PMO Manager reporting to <Senior Manager Name> and will be responsible for:

  • Building the PMO function
  • Defining tools and processes
  • Providing consistent and frequent updates to <Senior Management Forum>

Please can I ask that you provide your full support to <PMO Manager> and the PMO so as to support the successful delivery of the strategic projects.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact <PMO Manager> or myself.

In Summary

A PMO must have the support of senior management and a visible, widely communicated mandate.  Take time to ensure that this mandate is clear and communicated to all of the appropriate stakeholders, especially the project managers and sponsors.

More PMO template design tips

The recent blog post about pmo template design included guidance on designing templates.  However, there are some additional tips that are worth considering so as to avoid mistakes that could impede the benefits of the templates.

Use of Macro’s and complex formulas

Our good friends at Microsoft have done a fantastic job of delivering a great suite of programmes in MS Office.  Word, Excel and Powerpoint really are the cornerstone of most of the documents produced for business including for projects, programmes and the PMO.


It is usually for project and PMO templates to be developed using Word or Excel, especially as Excel allows for multiple calculations and data manipulation.  All ideas that can save time.
However, this does come at a cost.  When a PMO has an Excel wizard (usually fresh out of college or university), they can do great things with Excel.  They design wonderful templates that import data from multiple spreadsheets, flip it into pivot tables, format colours and plot graphs all at the touch of a button.  The first reaction is that this is great and a desire to create even more automation.  However, this is great until it goes wrong (usually long after the Excel guru has moved to another department or moved to another company.

Then the people in the PMO spend hours on end looking at long complex formulas that they do not understand trying to work out why it is not working or producing the incorrect results.  The same is true when additional data needs to be added because a senior manager has asked for additional items to appear on the graph.

In both cases the best course of action is to start again.  Positive is that you get control over your destiny, negative it takes a long time to develop the new template.

User input error

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the formulas.  Project templates are completed by people, usually the project manager.  People have a tendency to enter data incorrectly either because they don’t understand what format should be entered or a genuine error.  Both can cause a formula to fail.

Then there is the very common occurrence of the project manager inserting extra rows and columns as they have additional information they want to include.  Even though the instructions clearly state not to insert rows or columns they still do.  This again leads to errors.

 Action Plan

  1. Only use complex formulas and macros where absolutely necessary, preferably not at all
  2. Design simple templates that are easy to understand and use
  3. Review the templates with friendly project managers to identify gaps so rows and columns can be added before wider distribution
  4. Use field or workbook protection where appropriate

Some simple ideas that are easy to implement and will save you time and ensure that you keep all of your stakeholders happy.

If you are looking to save time implementing your own set of project or pmo templates, you can achieve this by investing in readymade professional templates.

5 tips on PMO template design

PMO templates are the core tools used by most project management office’s. A number of processes need to be implemented to capture, analyse and monitor data and the mechanism for the standard capture is usually templates.

This post will share 5 tips that will help when it comes to designing templates so as to ensure that they are useable and achieve the required outcome.

1. Ease of use

When you design a template, think about the end user who will need to enter data. Make sure that the layout is clear with instructions. If it is not clear, the template will be filled in incorrectly and / or the user will get fed up and give up (plus probably tell everyone how bad the template is and that the PMO do not know what they are doing and wasting time).

2. Big enough to see

Just because you can set the font to point 6 or less to allow you to fit more data onto the template, it does not mean you should. The design will look very crowded, there may be an overwhelm of data and very difficult to read. Many stakeholders will get upset if they can not read the letters or, think you are using a small font to hide bad messages.  Remember the saying “less is more”.

If there is only limited space, educate the project teams to write clearly and only use the words that are needed to convey the information.  Senior management will appreciate this as they will quickly be able to understand the information.

3. What does it look like printed?

Most people will print the templates, especially if they need to go into a presentation pack. Try to make sure that the template will fit onto A4 landscape. Run a test print to make sure the design is clear.

example project dashboard

Designing for A4 will save a lot of time when you are copying and pasting into a presentation. If you do find you have templates that stretch across the page, try to design them so that the key data needed for a presentation is grouped together on the left, then you can select this region and paste into the presentation.

4. Only add data fields that have a purpose

In post PMO Dashboards, an important point was that a dashboard should only contain fields that need to be there. The same applies to templates. Be hard on yourself and only add data fields that have a purpose. Avoid the nice to haves or the desire to collect data “just in case” someone asks for it!

5. Professional design

Perception is important as well as first impressions.  A well laid out template, using the same font, colour scheme, etc will promote confidence.  Make sure that you do think about the aesthetics of the design and that it enhances the data not draws the readers eyes to some ‘clunky’ graphic.

Conclusion

The investment of time in designing good templates can make such a difference to the users entering the data and the recipients who review the content.  Make time to ensure that what is being produced in your PMO passes the grade!

If you are looking for ideas or would like to save time, consider purchasing ready made templates.

PMO performance – make sure you are measuring success

pmo building valueA common argument from project managers and senior management is that a PMO does not add value and creates bureaucracy.  This than can make it very difficult for the PMO to make progress, which results in limited value that can lead to the PMO being closed.  Obvious choice if you are a senior management, why would you continue to invest money that can be used elsewhere?

What can the PMO do?

To mitigate this risk, the PMO needs to be able to demonstrate the value they are providing. Unfortunately, while easy to say (write), not always easy to do!

Step 1

Spend some time thinking about the objectives of the PMO (why it was set up).  This could be a number of reasons such as

  • reduce the number of projects that deliver late
  • reduce the number of projects that over spend
  • improve the level of benefit realisation
  • provide transparency of the change projects
  • improve the quality of reporting / standardise reporting
  • implement a common project methodology
  • etc

Step 2

For each of the major objectives, work out what measure could be used to prove that the objective has been met.

Taking the example reduce the number of projects that deliver late.  A measure could be to take the previous years projects and calculate how many finished late i.e. 40 out of 100.  This equates to 40% of the previous years projects finished late.  You may even want to take the average for the last 3 years to give a more accurate view of a typical year.

The next step would be to perform the same calculation for the current year.  If the percentage finishing late is less than 40%, you can demonstrate that you have achieved the objective.

This is only a simple example and is what is termed a trailing indicator – you only know if you have achieved the objective after the year has finished!  It would be far better to have a monthly process to track forecast project end dates as this will allow a prediction of the trend.  The PMO can then manage the monthly trend.

As this demonstrates it is important to achieve high quality, meaningful objectives and then spend time creating appropriate measures.

Step 3

Create a process to capture and track these metrics on a regular basis.  For example, as part of the monthly reporting process, ensure that the data is captured, stored and analysed.  The analysis is very important, if you don’t analyse the trends, you will not know if the performance against the objective is improving of deteriorating meaning you will not know if you need to take corrective action.

Step 4

Report progress on a regular basis.  This is obvious, all the hard work has been put in place to define the measure and measure progress, taking action where required.  This is also the crucial part to solving the problem of demonstrating the value the PMO is adding.

Invest the time in building some good dashboards that show the output of the regular analysis.  This includes clearly showing how objectives are being met.  By reporting this data on a regular basis to senior management you will:

  • build credibility that you are in control
  • demonstrate you are being honest and transparent
  • show on a regular basis you are delivering value – “doing what you said you would”
  • removing the risk of the “big reveal” – where benefit is only demonstrated at the end

Conclusion

In many cases stakeholders and senior management like a regular news flow to show incremental benefit.  They can see progress is being made as opposed of having to wait (and hope) that benefits will be delivered at the end of the project, especially when if they are not the money and time has been spent and there is no refund!

Getting the right measures in place and reporting against them is something every PMO should strive to achieve and, if you can deliver against them, be very good for the career.

PMO RAG status for reporting

As mentioned many times before on this blog, reporting is one of the most important activities performed by a PMO.  The PMO usually provides:

  • Status reporting of projects
  • Status reporting of programmes
  • Status reporting of portfolios

Within these, there is then reporting of:

  • Milestones
  • Scope
  • Schedule / timeline
  • Costs
  • Benefits

The Issue

Given this diverse reporting requirements, often across many projects, it is very important that there is a common standard for reporting status using RAG.  For those that have not encountered RAG, it is simply an acronym for Red, Amber, Green like traffic lights.

  • Green – usually everything is on target
  • Amber – minor issues impacting delivery
  • Red – major issues delaying impact

PMO RAG status

The reason a common approach is needed this that you may get one project who is very hard on reporting status and reports their project Red, then another project (in a similar state), where the project manager is more lenient and reports Amber or even Green!  Obviously this is not fair on the project manager who conscientiously is reporting the correct status of red and opening themselves up for management attention and the other, being more conservative with the truth, reporting Green getting no attention.

This is also very unhelpful to the organisation as, senior management will believe that all the projects reporting Green are on track when they are not.  This can only lead to a nasty shock near the end of the project when the project manager has no option other than to report that the project will miss dates, over spend, etc.

Common Reporting of RAG

The PMO should take the lead in defining a common standard for the reporting of status.  This means defining the tolerance levels, interpretation, etc for each of the statuses and communicating this to all project managers.  It is important that there is a common approach for all of the use of RAG.  Fr example, don’t use different interpretations at project, programme and portfolio levels.  This will result in multiple processes, more work and confusion.  The aim is to have one common framework that can be understood and applied.

Document the RAG Reporting Framework

While obvious – very important.  The PMO should take charge of defining and documenting the RAG framework.  This should be reviewed by friendly project managers to make sure that it is clear, can be understood and does not result in multiple interpretations.

PMO Review

The PMO should work with the project managers and review the reporting of status.  This allows an independent review of status, bench marked against the RAG framework and the other projects.  This will allow for a better chance of normalised reporting.  Be mindful this will take a couple of reporting cycles to truly bed down.  However, the effort is worth it as it will result in a reporting framework in which, senior management will have full confidence.

Conclusion

The use of RAG status is a very powerful way of reporting status.  However, an investment in defining an appropriate framework and working with the project managers to review results is required.  Get this right and you will have good oversight of the projects and will gain the trust of senior management.