Dec 31 2009

Enterprise PMOs: More than a Fad?

Photo: Steve Barrett

As agencies continue steadily toward consolidation of their information technology authorities and operating components, they have begun to encounter consolidation possibilities related to the management of IT.

One of the more interesting developments has been the creation of enterprise project management offices by some agencies. What are EPMOs? What are their objectives? Is this a new trend or a passing fad? How will we know whether they are succeeding? These are but a few questions that come to mind.

As It Is

The federal IT management environment has undergone significant change in the 10 years since enactment of the Clinger-Cohen Act. Over this time, the government has seen the Office of Management and Budget mandate programs for capital planning and investment control, enterprise architecture and project management. Coinciding with these programs has been the creation and early-stage implementation of the consolidation of IT authorities, budgets, infrastructure, security and application.

Capital planning has become a fairly mature discipline across agencies. Now, the trend is to pull together what used to be separate projects, each with its own business case, into portfolios of projects that support an overarching goal. The investment control aspect is less developed. Agencies are now implementing earned value management techniques to provide a consistent mechanism for evaluating project progress.

The practice of IT architecture has evolved significantly, too. A federal architecture exists for key management functional areas and selected mission areas. While agencies are in various stages of completing their agency-specific architectures, there is visible progress. Most have captured their current state in “as-is” architectures, and a number have completed or are near completion on their target state or “to-be” architectures. At least at the OMB and agency level, the architecture work is being used to understand and make budget decisions.

The emphasis that OMB and agencies have placed on improving project management over the past few years is well publicized. In addition to the EVM initiative, agencies have been on a steep curve to train and certify IT project managers.

Drivers of Change

The overarching IT strategy of the Bush administration has been to achieve improved results in large part by consolidating infrastructures, applications, management authorities and processes. The White House has steadily advanced this strategy, with the latest program to drive consolidation being the Line of Business initiatives. OMB has sponsored the LOB initiatives to consolidate like functions into a small number of providers, with the objective being to save money and achieve operational excellence.

The underlying factors that influence the drive toward consolidation are cost management and avoidance, improved interoperability, improved information sharing and use, and reduced complexity for customers.

The fact that the administration is well into its second term is also an influencing factor. To a significant extent, strategy development and planning for the remainder of this term have been completed; now it’s time to execute and implement. Given some fairly recent large and visible IT failures, OMB is demanding increased accountability and a strong focus on implementation.

What Is It?

With the current environment and drivers of change as the backdrop, many agencies have taken steps to improve their implementation capabilities. One important innovation is the

enterprise PMO.

Typically, an agency creates a mission vision, defines how its IT needs to support achievement of that mission and captures that alignment plan in the target state architecture. Using the current-state architecture as the starting point, the organization identifies a number of projects required to move IT capabilities from the current to the target state.

Most often, the CIO leads major portions of the project implementations. In other instances, the CIO office may centrally drive some, while agency-level organizations direct others. For the typical agency, the result is a portfolio of projects that comprise the IT transformation effort. In either case, the CIO often is responsible for the IT budget funding the projects, is accountable for implementing the projects within acceptable cost and schedule and may be accountable for achieving the promised results.

In this context, an EPMO is an organization established with departmentwide scope to assist with the implementation of IT projects. EPMOs perform a variety of roles, including focusing on oversight, project and organizational governance, and active project management coordination. In the area of oversight, the EPMO will lead capital planning and budget processes to obtain funds, and monitor progress to ensure that funds are spent well and deliver the intended results.

The oversight area includes most of the OMB-driven requirements. In the area of governance, the EPMO will craft appropriate coordination and decision-making processes for addressing issues that arise during project execution. The most effective governance processes will provide multiple avenues for resolving project issues, depending on their significance, and will also provide facilities for resolving issues that cross multiple projects.

For project management coordination, the EPMO will assist with achieving both intra- and cross-project efforts. The most effective EPMOs will focus on the integration points across multiple projects that are affected by key elements, such as data, cost and applications.

Keys to Success

The wave of consolidations that has been sweeping across the federal IT landscape has given CIOs more authority for driving IT use. It has also resulted in CIOs being held more accountable for achieving results. An EPMO is an organizational mechanism created to address some of the challenges encountered in this high-pressure environment.

For starters, CIOs are expected to oversee the investment of funds into agency projects and to dutifully report and correct exceptions. A key to EPMO success is that it fulfills this role and enables the CIO to be considered a credible steward by OMB.

Although oversight is an important function, it must not be the singular focus of the EPMO. Oversight will inform about status, but it will not lead to excellence in project execution. For EPMOs to be truly effective, they must provide good governance so that inevitable project issues can be addressed and resolved, and they must take an active role in coordinating activities within and across projects that are critical to program execution.

The execution of multiple, complex projects — simultaneously in a dynamic environment — is a scenario that will be difficult for any organization to successfully perform. An EPMO could prove to be an important tool, but it must have an expansive scope and actively coordinate progress, not just report on status. If used to perform this broad slate of functions, an EPMO is likely to improve project execution and emerge as a contemporary trend. If left to focus primarily on oversight, it’s not likely to provide project execution value and will likely be just another passing fad.