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The Programme Management Office is there to help the Programme deliver its outcomes keeping a close eye on performance and helping leadership see through the fog of complexity.

Author: Martin Paver Director at i3Works

How many Programme Managers set off with good intentions and then end up with a raft of reports and information that they never get the opportunity to absorb, rationale and ultimately ask … ‘so what’?

PMOs can become an industry in their own right, often providing data and analysis to prop up decision making rather than focusing on the core, essential, killer analysis that enable the Programme Manager and SRO to ‘fly the plane’. How often do we jump into the Gucci dashboards and pictures without laying enduring foundations?

Getting back to basics, there are 3 essential steps to tackling this problem. Lets put a scenario around this to make it easier to grapple with. Billy has recently been appointed as Director of a small business and he is struggling to understand what is going on.

Step 1. Assurance. Billy realises that there is little benefit in reviewing reports or complex dashboards if the underpinning data is flaky. His first step is to get to grip with the quality and integrity of the data that he is given.

In PMO terms, ensuring that you have confidence in the data that you are presented with. Is it sound, it is current, is it appropriately sourced, is it peer reviewed? Which data is critical and do you have confidence in its pedigree?

Step 2. Static picture. Billy asks himself whether he has the simple tools and visualisations to enable him to understand the nature of the landscape that he is grappling with? He imagines the challenge as a multi sided object, e.g. a cube ad is able to view the challenge from a number of different perspectives to get to grips with how to manage it.

In PMO terms, ensuring that you have appropriately captured how you want to manage the programme views and that data is available to underpin these views. You should now have a characterisation of your programme from which you can develop a plan on how you would like to manage it. You can develop a plan.

Step 3. Dynamic picture. With a robust data stream, a plan and a set of information to let him know how is business is performing, Billy is in good shape. For simple programmes this may be sufficient. But for complex programmes, the challenge is in managing the dynamic nature of the environment and how the programme interacts with it. How the programme evolves and how Billy should respond is often difficult to get right; the programme will have emerging properties created through this interaction which can be difficult to predict.

In PMO terms, this is where effective Programme Managers should be focusing their effort; but only when they have confidence in the first two steps. Numerous tools, dashboards and systems exist to help resolve this complexity, but it can often be easy to get carried away in the journey and lose sight of the destination. How many PMOs have produced whizzy outputs which get rave results and then fall into disrepute as initial production effort begins to wane. Steps 1 and 2 should focus on the fundamentals – it is important to stay on the same theme and ensure that the analysis is tailored accordingly. Maintain a wide field of view with a core set of analysis but supplement it with a tightly focused narrow field of view to address specific issues as they arise. As producers and consumers of this information across complex £billion projects i3Works appreciate it can be easy to say but very difficult in practice. But with a structured approach built upon practical experience of what works, and more importantly what doesn’t, the destination may be a little easier to reach.