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Throw Off the Shackles of MS Excel in the PMO

Microsoft products such as MS Excel and MS Project have long been go to tools for the PMO. In fact MS Excel in particular has become so ingrained as PMO tool that over 90% of PMOs use it has their main tool for reporting and analysis. Yet many have a love / hate relationship with it which has stemmed from MS Excel being repeatedly used for something which it was never designed to do – provide a project organisation with the information to make decisions.

Over the lifetime of a PMO being in operation, MS Excel was always going to feature in the early starter kit, after all, it was readily available on every corporate desktop. Fast forward years later and Excel is still the main tool. Why? In order for a PMO to mature and grow, it needs tools and processes that grow with it. Excel is creaking at the seams and no matter how many advanced formulas, macros and links to other systems it can hold, the time has come to say enough.

The PMO wants the right tools of the trade. It’s time for a PMO mutiny! OK not quite an all-out riot but PMOs need to be making the case for better investment if they are to meet the expectations of adding value to a project organisation.

I caught up with Rebecca Leadbitter from Sciforma, they are gold sponsors at this year’s PMO Conference. The Sciforma tool is a project and portfolio based solution and they have 500,000 users worldwide.

I first heard about Sciforma at a presentation they gave at Project Challenge in London last year. Rebecca was speaking alongside Mark Woodward of Mill Beck Consulting about the value of having a PMO tool like this and more importantly how can PMOs justify their need for a tool. We chatted about that ahead of the PMO Conference on the 11th June.

There are the usual justifications such as saving time and money, being able to provide ‘one version of the truth’, having more control over areas such as budgets and resource management.

Rebecca said PMOs need to go further and start with their own business case. Mark gave a great definition of the business case:

“A business case is a contract between the sponsors of an initiative and the organisation – give us these resources and we will deliver these benefits.”

In creating a robust business case, the PMO can not only highlight robust and measurable benefits for having a PMO tool, they can also address all the usual objections that normally arise when there is a need for a tool, with a well thought out and realistic plan.

Rebecca states that there are three areas that PMOs can look into when constructing the benefits of having such a system. These are ‘efficiency gains’, ‘operational reasons’ and ‘strategic support’.

Efficiency gains are the areas that are immediately obvious like the amount of time the PMO saves from having to capture information on a monthly basis and the amount of time formatting and reformatting reports.

Operational reasons are areas such as the business is growing and therefore there are more programmes and projects as a result. It can also mean things like distributed locations or wanting to drive a better project management culture. From the PMOs point of view, it’s about being able to offer more value add services.

Finally, strategic support, looks at the areas of programmes and projects and their links to strategic change. The need for tools is suddenly transcending project management and moving into organisational strategy with the rise of portfolio management. It seems absurd to think something as important to an organisation as strategy is reduced to being managed on spreadsheets.

The business case from the PMO should also be written with the decision maker in mind and that the benefits will vary depending on who that decision maker is.

Let’s consider the two likely decision makers in the PMO world – the portfolio manager and the delivery manager (the head of the project organisation for example).

We can make the assumption that the portfolio manager is interested in the health of the whole portfolio of programmes and projects and whether projects are aligned with the strategy. They will also want to be able to quickly see interdependencies and make go/no go decisions about individual projects.

The head of the project organisation will of course be interested in individual project metrics and progress with rolled up view for programmes. Having the reports when they want them, rather than waiting for the obligatory month end.

Once the PMO understands more about their decision maker’s wants and needs, Rebecca went on to say, that it is time to get serious by making the benefits measurable.

Let’s take a look at a PMO metric such as timesheets. The PMO should be able to create a current cost associated with a monthly activity such as this:

Sciforma

300 people in an organisation, taking an average time of 15 minutes a week to complete a timesheet will give both a time and financial impact. It is the current time and cost impacts that are mentioned in the business case with the improved time and financial impacts post tool implementation.

Another example is a time and financial impact for the PMO having to work different systems each month in order to provide, say the monthly progress reports:

Sciforma

There is no easier way for the PMO to justify the need for a tool than to show the financial and time implications of continuing with the status quo. Measurable benefits have always been a difficult thing to identify in the PMO, yet without them, there is no need for anyone to make a decision on additional investment in the PMO operations. The PMO need to start working on the business case that will ultimately enable them to move forward, becoming more mature and add extra services and values that we know organisations really want to see from the PMO.

Rebecca will be speaking at the PMO conference on the subject of How to Make Your PMO Tool Implementation Successful and Deliver Real Business Value. It will be the only session at the conference that focuses on automation and will feature insights from other organisations and their PMOs and what they have done to implement their tools successfully. Here’s the overview:

In this session we take a look at how previous PMOs and organisations have successfully designed, implemented and deployed their automation tools and share insights into how your own PMO can get ready for your own high-profile change.

Successful PMO tool implementations combine people, processes and tools and in this session, based on real case studies, we share insights from organisations across different industry sectors, highlighting their challenges and how they overcame them to ensure all three factors were in sync.

The session will cover how to manage a PMO tool implementation as a project, starting with a vision, the business case, requirements capture, change management, planning the implementation and deployment.

Delegates will also discover practical steps they can be taking now in readiness for change and understand how PMOs make the case for a PMO tool within their organisation.

Take a look at the full programme at www.pmoconference.co.uk

About Lindsay Scott

Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Also blogging at How to Manage a Camel. Lindsay has also launched The PMO Conference

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One comment

  1. This is a very interesting approach that points out why project managers need something more than MS Excel when planning a project. The expenses and earnings do play a critical role in all projects. Having a clear and simple justification can certainly ease the work of all PMs.

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