Recently my colleagues in pearcemayfield ganged up on me and made me join the APM Group early adopter programme for the delivery of a new training course in 'P3O' (I'll explain that in a moment!).
This involved studying a new Best Practice Guide on the subject - about to be published next month by TSO - and an advanced draft arrived in our office on the Friday afternoon. The trouble was, as one of the pilot lead trainers, I was due to be examined by APM Group on the next Monday afternoon, and I was told - as a prospective approved trainer - I would have to pass by 80%!!
So I could see my weekend being ruined. Grumbling to myself, I began to read and highlight the Guide. Before very long I found myself admiring this piece of work.
It is very good indeed.
‘P3O’ stands for ‘Portfolio, Programme and Project Office’. It is a Best Management Practice that has emerged strongly in recent years, particularly as the concepts and then practice of Programme Management and Portfolio Management have become embedded within organisations across the world.
In order to understand P3O, we first need to make sure we understand the distinctions between the portfolio, programmes and projects and why these matter to management.
Within any organisation, or major division of it, there will be all kinds of change going on. Some of this change will be managed as projects; some as informal initiatives or campaigns; some as the coordinated grouping of projects and changes to achieve major outcomes; these we know as 'programmes'.
Often a senior manager responsible for all of this will have no real idea of what the sum of all the changes are that are happening at any one time, how much this all costs, whether all the changes are aligned to current strategy, and whether the use of resources is the best it can be. Answering these questions can be a large task that holds the tension between offering the ‘big picture’ for investment decisions in changes, and the detail, for example of knowing what resources are being used - and therefore being denied to other changes. This is ‘portfolio management’.
Programme management is used to orchestrate otherwise separate projects and changes towards a particular step-change in capability and performance. Very unlike projects (IT and buildings, HR and process modeling) can be made to fit together to ensure there is joined up delivery of a new way of working for the organization. Benefits that should ensue from these changes are consciously realized as part of the programme.
However, the coordination of all this usually requires the support of a Programme Office, that often supports down to the constituent projects.
The idea and practice of projects and their management has been around the longest. One of the prevailing lines of evidence emerging from research, though, is that projects are more likely to be successful, compared with similar projects, if they are shorter and simpler. In the past projects have floundered because they have attempted to do the rather more complex and divergent work of programmes. Projects are at their best when they can focus on delivery, and when what is to be delivered is both clear and changes little during the life of the project.
A project manager is often empowered by the support of a Project Office, whether or not that project is part of a programme.
Enter P3O. As long as a P3O is tailored to the need of the organisation, and from the start demonstrates that it adds value and continues to add value, then it has a chance of becoming a powerful enabler at all levels of change. It is less likely to revert to a stale centre for administration and resources provided purely reactively to the project community.
The Guidance from OGC will show that there is a hierarchy of value propositions – a menu of benefits – that an organization can choose from in deciding what kind of P3O it needs. When it comes to P3O, one size does not fit all.
Anyway, I can't reveal details of the Guide, but it will be published next month. We will offer a two-day accredited workshop in the course from early December. It will give professionals working in this area a good grounding in this critical emergent concept.
Oh, and I got 88% in my exam - much to my relief and surprise.