Project management has gained popularity as the approach that firms use to achieve their strategic goals. Khan (2015) says that project management requires close coordination of activities to ensure that desired results are realized. Some projects are independent of others, while many are always interdependent. It means that the success of one project depends on the success of the previous project. Failure to complete a given project in time and with the assigned resources may have negative ripple effects on other related projects. It explains why managers have taken a keen interest in having ways of ensuring that such projects are conducted in ways that will ensure success is achieved. In this paper, the focus is to explore types of PMOs and interface management.
Project management is currently one of the most sensitive issues in an organizational setting. Companies are currently using projects as a means of implementing larger strategic goals through specific activities. However, it is worrying that most of these projects fail to achieve the desired goals. Scholars and industry experts argue that challenges that lead to such failures can easily be overcome using PMO. In this paper, the focus was to explore various types of PMO that can be used by a firm and their effect on the success rates of such projects (Freeman, 2014). Various types of PMOs have been outlined in this paper, and the context under which they should be used is explained. It is clear from the discussion that PMO can help improve the success rates of projects if it is used appropriately.
In the current competitive business environment, organizations are changing the manner in which they operate. In the past, operational activities were based on departmental units and directed by the heads of these departments under the guidance of the managing director or chief executive officer. However, the approach is changing as firms try to lower their operational costs while at the same time increase their profitability. Many organizations are now shifting their operational strategies from a departmental approach to project-based activities. Freeman (2014) says that strategic goals are broken down into specific projects which must be completed within a given time and using specific resources. In this paper, the researcher will look at different types of PMO and their relevance in an organizational setting.
According to Dinsmore and Rocha (2012), the level of project failure in many organizations has made it necessary for managers to rethink the strategies they are using when undertaking these activities. In most cases, failures of such projects are caused by forces, which are within the control of the affected company. It is true that sometimes the external forces may affect the failure of a project, but Khan (2015) notes that in many cases, the success of a project depends on planning and governance strategies. Figure 1 below summarizes the success rate of projects in a number of organizations:
As shown in the figure above, the success rate of programs based on the respondents interviewed in that study is only 16%. It is reported that most of the programs (53%) underperform, while another 31% are canceled. Initiating a project takes lots of resources and time. When such a project underperforms, it means that the value that was expected from it cannot be achieved. It is worse when a firm is forced to cancel a project. As the above statistics show, it is worrying that canceled projects are always twice as many as successful ones. When asked why projects often fail, poor project management practices were one of the leading reasons, at 36% (Levin & Green, 2013). Poor definition or in some cases missing project objectives is another major reason. It creates an environment where project members work without knowing what they need to achieve. Ineffective planning of projects was identified as another reason that causes such failures. Insufficient resources, issues with suppliers, technical issues, among other issues were identified. These issues can be addressed effectively using PMO (Levin & Ward, 2013).
Project Management Office- popularly referred to as PMO- is defined by Sarbu (2014) as a department within an enterprise that primarily focuses on the improvement of project management through standardization and sharing of resources. It sets basic rules and guidelines that every other department must follow when undertaking every project. It improves certainty when undertaking each project because the employees know what they are expected of, and the managers know how to assess the progress. PMO also serves as the center of excellence within an organization by enabling project managers and their team to access new information that can improve their performance (Steinberg, 2014). It helps in aligning program and project work to an organization’s corporate strategies. It means that when a given project or program goes off the organization’s goals, corrective measures can be taken to address the issue effectively.
Why we need PMO
According to Thiry (2015), many organizations still report that majority of their projects to underperform. Many others are canceled soon after they are initiated. As shown in figure 1 above, the failure or underperformance of these projects is attributed to poor planning and management. PMO addresses the planning and management issues that cause failure when undertaking projects. It sets out standards that must be observed by the program manager and all project managers. PMO makes it easy for the top management unit to assess the success of every project because of the standardized practice. To the project managers and their entire teams, PMO provides them with new knowledge about emerging trends and practices that can improve success in their activities. PMO is one of the most reliable systems that can help in eliminating the underperformance or failure of projects. When used effectively, it can assure a firm of regular success in project management.
Values of PMO
The project management office works under strict and specific guidelines because it seeks to standardize project management within an organization. Any entity that decides to embrace PMO must understand its principles and values, as Levin (2013) observes. Failure to understand these values may hinder its successful application in an organizational setting. The following are the basic values of PMO that the management should not ignore:
- PMO must be based on a specific governance structure based on the forces affecting a given organization
- PMO should reflect the organizational culture and the people within the given setting
- Processes of project management must follow specific standards irrespective of the department
- Program and project managers should embrace emerging technologies to achieve the best outcome in every project
Functions of PMO
According to Steinberg (2014), strategic PMOs facilitate strategic change within an organization. It can be applied in a variety of settings based on the size of an organization, the number of the projects, the team of employees involved, and the complexity of the project. The following are some of the primary functions of PMO in an organizational setting:
- Standardization of project governance processes. In this function, PMO provides a standard guideline that should be followed within an organization when undertaking a given project.
- It facilitates resource and tool sharing. PMO makes it possible for project managers to have access to information and tools they may need to help them work effectively on a project.
- It acts as a center of excellence within an organization. By setting higher standards for every project, PMO pushes project managers to greater levels of success by providing them with the means and information needed in the project.
- PMO helps in aligning programs and projects with corporate strategies. It helps in ensuring that every project undertaken within a given organization is in line with the corporate goals and strategies. It eliminates conflicts of interest.
In this study, the primary objective is to explore types of PMOs that can be applied in an organizational setting. The study also seeks to determine the impact of PMO on complex multiple projects in an organizational setting. The information can inform the decision of program managers when setting standards for projects in an organizational setting.
Main Types of PMO (PMBOK)
Williams and Samset (2012) say that three primary types of PMOs exist based on the level of control, and the impact that they have on the project in an organization. It is important for the management to determine the one, which is most appropriate based on the complexity of a project, its significance within an organization, the level of skills and knowledge of the project team members, organizational culture, and many other relevant factors worth considering. The following are the three basic types as shown in figure 2 below:
This type of PMO focuses on providing project managers with the basic support they need to undertake a given project. The project managers are granted greater authority in the decision-making and running of the activities within the project. The program manager and other senior authorities do not get largely involved in the activities of the project. These top managers are expected to provide support to the project managers in form of resources, information, best practices, and relevant expertise when needed. This type of PMO is effective when the project manager is a highly knowledgeable and experienced manager who needs limited supervision. Such project managers are always tried and tested officers whose performance is above board (Sarbu, 2014). The level of trust they have earned among the top management unit makes it easy for them to be entrusted with important projects. Longest (2015) says that supportive PMO is popular when handling regular projects. In such cases, the main assumption is always that each of the project managers knows what should be done and little support is needed to make them achieve the set goals.
Controlling PMO goes a little further than supportive PMO in providing support in a project to ensure that the desired goals are achieved. The top management provides support, including methodologies and templates that must be followed, and emphasizes the need to work under the set guidelines. The controlling PMO is required to conduct regular reviews of the project to determine if there is progress towards the expected objectives (Thiry, 2015). The controlling PMO is expected to ensure that there is full compliance with the set standards and that the set goals are achieved within the scheduled time. This type of PMO is popular in cases where the project manager has just been promoted to that position. Although such a manager is determined to be capable of leading others in undertaking a given task, their limited experience makes it necessary for them to work under the strict control of the top managers.
This type of PMO goes beyond controlling as it takes greater responsibility in the management of a project than the other two types. Directive PMO emphasizes the need for the top managers to get actively involved in the activities of the projects to ensure that success is achieved. They have to bring in experience and professionalism at every stage of the project. The project managers are often reduced to supervisors who must implement instructions given by the superiors without fail. This type of PMO is relevant when handling a crucial project whose failure may have a devastating impact on the organization (Saporita, 2015). In such cases, the top management cannot take chances. They have to ensure that there is success. The only way of doing that is to be actively involved at every single stage of the project development. They have to direct individual activities and ensure that the outcome is within the set goals and expectations.
Different Types in other Research
In this section, the researcher looked at other types of PMOs. The following are some of the common types of PMO that can be used in an organizational setting.
This type of PMO focuses on supporting projects within departments. Instead of having an organizational-level PMO, each department is allowed to develop its own standard of practice based on forces relevant to them (Martinelli et al., 2014). Departmental PMO is popularly used in large multinational organizations specifically to allow regional marketing units to develop models relevant to the prevailing forces. It may not fit in a small organization. The departmental head acts as the program manager and is in charge of all the projects within that department.
This type of PMO focuses on particular projects within the entire organization or within a department of a firm (Steinberg, 2014). For instance, Apple Inc. has developed a culture of producing new models of iPhones, iPads, and Macintosh computers. The process of producing a new product, from the idea stage to the design, and finally the production process follows a given pattern. Project-specific PMO can be developed to ensure that a set of standards is developed that must be followed when undertaking such a project.
Strategic PMO is popularly used to introduce and manage change. According to Müller (2012), one of the biggest challenges that managers face in the modern business environment is the management of change. People often resent change for known and unknown fears. Some feel that they could be replaced if they cannot cope up with the new system while others fear that the new system may expose their weaknesses. However, an organization cannot ignore the need for change. As such, it is important for an organization to come up with a pattern of introducing and managing change. Strategic PMO enables the management to come up with a plan for introducing and managing change. It eliminates fear and resentment towards change. Everyone gets to know the steps that will be taken to introduce the system and it becomes a routine.
Center of excellence PMO
Competition is becoming stiff and challenges continue to arise not only for for-profit organizations but also for non-profit entities. Morris (2013) says that the concept of excellence has increasingly become important as firms struggle to overcome these emerging challenges. Center of excellence PMO focuses on training and development of the project managers. They are helped to understand the emerging market trends and the manner in which they can be managed. This type of PMO seeks to ensure that project managers gain knowledge and experience to handle their tasks with minimal supervision possible. Project managers who come out of such systems successfully can be allowed to operate under supportive PMO. However, during the time of training, they have to work under controlling or directive PMO because they need assistance and close monitoring.
The project management office has become critical to many organizations around the world keen on promoting excellence. Many firms are now approaching various operational tasks in terms of projects to enhance the success and to identify mistakes or underperformance early enough before they can affect strategic goals. However, it is worrying that many organizations still report that the success rates of their projects are very low. Most of the projects often register underperformance while others are canceled prematurely. It causes wastage of money, time, and human resource. It is clear from the analysis that poor planning and inadequate management strategies are the main causes of such failures and underperformance. PMO provides a perfect solution to these problems. The top management needs to understand the most appropriate type of PMO based on the prevailing forces within the internal and external environment. Using the right type of PMO can help improve the success rates of various projects in an organizational setting.
It is important for project managers to ensure that there is harmony when undertaking projects, especially if handling critical tasks that may have a lasting implication on the success of a firm. Project managers are currently using interface management to coordinate and control project activities, and to ensure that knowledge is made available to the relevant team members at the right time and in the right manner. In this study, the focus was to explore popular types of interface management and their relevance in project management. The study has identified different interfaces and their appropriateness in different settings during project management.
Interface management is increasingly becoming a critical discipline in the modern organization, especially when handling major capital projects. According to Longest (2015), organizations are finding themselves in situations where they have to handle mega projects with millions or sometimes billions of dollars. In the past, software such as excel would be used to plan and monitor the progress of such a project in terms of costs, schedule, and expected outcome. However, Zhang (2012) says that such basic software applications are no longer effective when it comes to handling crucial mistakes. When an entity is assigned a major project, for instance, construction of a road, cancellation may not be an option, especially if members of the public expect to use the facility after a given period. The project manager must ensure that such a project is completed in time, using the assigned resources, and in the manner expected by the sponsors and other relevant stakeholders. A failure is never an option in such critical projects. The amount of pressure that organizations face when handling complex and capital-intensive projects have made it necessary for project managers to embrace interface management. It makes it possible to successfully identification, recording, monitoring, and tracking of project interfaces. When used properly, Morris (2013) says that interface improves the performance and outcome of complex and capital-intensive projects.
Interface management is an important tool for project managers keen on achieving harmony when they have to bring together different systems and structures within an organization to coordinate project activities successfully. It facilitates sharing and management of information needed when undertaking a given project. Müller (2012) says that it helps in creating an environment where unrelated objects, such as equipment, systems, services, data, and software, can co-function with the primary objective of achieving a common goal. Successful project managers know that to achieve success in their assignments, they need empowered employees. They need the employees to know what they are doing and to have regular and unlimited access to information that can enable them to work effectively. Interface management creates that platform where relevant information is collected, processed, and made available for the members of the project. The project team members also need to share relevant information they might have with their colleagues to enhance coordination of various activities. With the project manager in the middle, interface management creates a system where activities are undertaken in a coordinated manner, with information flowing easily to all the involved parties, as shown in figure 3 below:
It is crucial to have a clear definition of the interface before looking at its relevance in project management in the current competitive business environment. Zhang (2012) defines the interface as a point at which two or more systems, organizations, or subjects interact or meet. It is the interaction with people, systems, and structures with the primary goal of meeting common interests. It facilitates the connection between two or more people so that they can share ideas and knowledge with the view of achieving a common goal. In the field of computing, it refers to a program or a device that enables a user to have proper communication with a computer (Sarbu, 2014). All different definitions of the interface have a common view that the concept involves the interaction of people, systems, devices, and data.
What is Interface Management?
Scheer (2012) defines interface management as “a series of activities involving defining, controlling, and communicating the information needed to enable unrelated objects (including systems, services, equipment, software, and data) to co-function” (p. 21). It refers to a methodological control of communications and knowledge management that supports processes and procedures. When undertaking a project, it is always critical to ensure that knowledge and information are shared at all times. Project members should know what their colleagues are doing and the manner in which the activities should be related and coordinated. Mistakes such as overlapping of activities or failure of some activities to be undertaken because of lack of clear information on how the project should be implemented are eliminated when interface management is used effectively. The project manager also gets it easy to understand the activities of the team members at every stage of the implementation.
Interface Management Processes
Project managers are finding it important to apply interface management in their operations. It is important to explain the interface management process so that project managers can understand how to use it in managing activities in a given project. According to Steinberg (2014), the interface management process entails three stages that should be followed strictly. The first stage is the identification and evaluation of the interfaces. In this step, the project manager is expected to evaluate the entire plan and milestones that have been made. Issues to be taken into account include the complexity of the project, associated costs, the time needed to complete the project, individuals involved in the implementation, and the stage of project implementation. The evaluation stage makes it easy for the project manager to identify gaps and needs that should be addressed. The identified gaps should be addressed both qualitatively and quantitatively to help come up with a solid plan of addressing them.
The next step is the determination of the sufficiency of the interface management practices. The project manager is expected to assess the practices, which have been embraced and determine their ability to help in achieving the set goals. It also involves assessing if the resources and time allocated for the project are sufficient to meet the set goals. At this stage, if a project manager identifies an issue that needs the attention of the financiers of the project or senior managers, a message should be passed to them as soon as possible. The last stage is the development of a complete action plan that seeks to improve the interfaces. At this stage, all the issues identified in the previous stages are addressed. If time and resources were identified to be major issues, they have to be addressed at this stage. If planning and management were determined to be adequate, they have to be addressed at this stage. The project manager must remain responsible and committed to meeting the goals set for the project in the best way possible.
Interface Management and Life Cycle
According to Scheer (2012), interface management takes a complete life cycle that is always involved in project management. It follows the same pattern of a normal project lifecycle, as shown in figure 4 below:
As shown in the figure above, the first stage is the initiation. It is the stage where the needs are identified to justify the relevance of a given project. In most cases, the initiation is done by the departmental head that identifies an issue that requires to be undertaken within the department. In other cases, the project manager may identify the need to introduce interface management in a project to improve efficiency. The second stage is the planning process. At this stage, the project manager and other subordinates clearly outline the objectives and the deliverables that need to be achieved when using interface management. The goals must be set in a clear and measurable manner so that they can be used to measure the level of success at the end of the life cycle (Rummler & Brache, 2013). The third stage is the execution process. Here, the set plan is put to practice. The project manager, working closely with the team members, implements the activities set out in the plan (Rummler & Brache, 2013). The next stage involves monitoring and controlling the process. At this stage, the project manager will be expected to closely monitor the implementation of the activities and recommend changes that may be necessary for the project’s success. Senior managers such as departmental heads may be involved in this process. The final stage is the closing process. It involves reporting the success (or lack of it) of the project to the relevant authorities and handing it over.
The goal of this research is to explore various types of interface management and their relevance in project management. The study looks at how interface management can be used to enhance the performance of the project. As stated in the introduction, interface management plays a critical role in enhancing the success of complex and capital-intensive projects. This study looks at how interface management can be integrated into project management.
Main Types of Interface
A project manager needs to understand the relevant types of interface management that need to be applied in project management. Choosing the right type of interface management based on the complexity and nature of the project determines success rates. In project management, there are two main types of interface management. They include the following.
This type of interface occurs when the scope of work goes beyond the full control of a contractor. The external interface is relevant when the work of a contractor (project manager) may be influenced by or cal influence activities of other contractors. It means that in such projects there is interdependence. Such a project manager cannot make arbitrary decisions simply because such decisions would help achieve results wanted in a specific project. Such a project manager must consult with other project managers in related projects so that the decisions made can be helpful to all the projects (Rummler & Brache, 2013). The external interface enables the contractors or project managers to share information, resources, strategies, and sometimes human resources to help ensure that the needed goals are achieved. Although they work on different projects and are judged based on the performance of their specific projects’ outcomes, they have to work as a team, and sometimes they are forced to make compromises for the sake of the success of the related projects.
This type of interface is used when a contractor or project manager has full control of the activities in a project, and the outcome of such a project does not influence or be influenced by other projects. In such a system, the primary goal of a project manager is to have an interface that will facilitate sharing of information among project members and other related stakeholders. The interface is created to ensure that relevant information from various sources within the organization and from outside sources is processed, interpreted, and made available to the members of the project team within the right time (Levin & Green, 2013). The contractor or project manager is always in full control of such interfaces and it is his or her responsibility to ensure that all the activities are properly coordinated.
Other Different Types of Interface
According to Zhang (2012), a number of other operational-related interfaces also exist that may be used under various contexts. The following are some of the common types of the interface that can be applied in an organization:
- The executive interface focuses on maximizing human performance through the management of risks, introducing and managing change, and ensuring that each project is adequately funded and provided with relevant information (Thiry, 2015). It promotes teamwork in project management and sharing of information not only among employees working on a specific project but also those in other related and unrelated projects.
- Data interface refers to a set of attributes in a template that represents a given entity that is used in creating processes, which read from and write to interfaces instead of directly to or from sources of data (Levin, 2013). It enables project managers to use the same data when undertaking different jobs in real-time without having to cause interference.
- The organizational interface looks at a comprehensive project organization as a system of resource suppliers (Rummler & Brache, 2013). The system brings together various departments within the organization, the technology suppliers, and suppliers of hardware and software. The system can only function properly if the parties are coordinated closely.
When managing complex and capital-intensive projects, it is important to ensure that knowledge and information are shared freely among the relevant stakeholders to enhance success rates. Interface management has become a critical instrument that project managers are using to ensure that they coordinate and control various activities to achieve specific goals. It enables these managers to make information available to the team members at the right time and in the right manner.
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