The Project Office and What It Is Not

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Michelle Symondshttp://www.dittodigital.co.uk
Michelle Symonds spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in SEO.

A Project Office is not set up merely to do all the paperwork and administrative tasks for a project. If that was the case you could simply employ an administrator but, in fact, the most successful Project Offices employ members who have project experience themselves and have often been involved in establishing an organisation’s project management framework.

 

Neither are these team members simply people who produce reports to send to senior management – they have an overview of a project that is impossible to achieve when you are closely involved in the detail. They will not lose sight of the original business objectives because they will not get bogged down in the minutiae of the daily tasks involved in being a project team member or indeed, the project manager.

 

The Project Office has little involvement in planning the project (except perhaps to provide useful templates) or in controlling the tasks, but is likely to become involved in analysing some of the budget and time reports supplied by the project manager in order to present to senior management the broad overview that they require. They are often more adept at doing this than the project manager simply because they are farther removed from the coal-face. However, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the reports presented to senior management do accurately represent the status of the project. Sometimes numbers and graphs alone cannot portray a full picture of what is really going on.

 

The project office should not be merely a bureaucratic group nagging over-worked project managers to submit their reports, but rather they should strive to be seen as (and actually be) a supportive group that assists the project manager to report the information that will enable them to accurately provide a representative image of the project. Good reports often take a long time to prepare and a Project Office that work collaboratively with project managers will find that the good working relationships built up will ensure that project teams appreciate their efforts in easing their workload.

 

So it is not the Project Office’s responsibility to ensure team members report hours worked, tasks completed etc each week. Nor is it their responsibility to analyse the status of the project or suggest any actions to resolve issues. These are the responsibilities of the project manager, as is the project plan – keeping it up-to-date and altering it when necessary. Alterations to a project plan are not an administrative job as they require a detailed knowledge of all tasks in the project, both complete and incomplete, and the skill ad experience to determine what can be changed and how.

No Project Office should be required to discuss the status of a project with senior management – they will certainly have been involved in producing reports based on the information supplied by the project manager but it is the project manager who is ultimately responsible for justifying the status of the project, the actions taken to resolve issues and any changes made to the project schedule. The project manager makes the decisions and the Project Office document the decisions. They then ensure all project documentation is available to anyone who requires it from both current and past projects.

This is an important task – complex projects may have hundreds of documents (all with a number of different versions) which need to be controlled and made easily accessible so the knowledge contained within them can be shared to improve future project delivery. A project office does not consist simply of good administrators but also individuals who have completed professional training, such as APMP or PMP Certification and use the knowledge and skills gained on these project management courses to support the project manager.

 

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with your comments that the Project Office requires skilled and qualified people. The requirement is for people who understand project management, project tracking and project reporting. On large complex projects this is often done by a highly experienced Project Manager in addition to having the main Project Manager facing the Management Team.

  2. Fay – I tend to think there is a perception that a Project Manager working as part of the Project Office team is not one of the most successful PMs and this probably contributes to the often poor relationship between project teams and the Project Office. If PMs working in the Project Office were more highly-valued that would go a long way to solving this problem….

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