It consistently comes out as one of the top challenges a PMO has to deal with. That’s both the services they provide to the delivery organisation and in staffing the PMO itself.
These services include providing corporate resource capacity versus demand; alignment of resources to business priorities; resource allocations to programmes and projects; and resource capability for projects today and in the future.
Although resource management in project management covers all resources including equipment, tools, space and logistics, it is specifically people who are the focus in this article.
Due to the varying types of PMOs in organisations today and the services and functions offered by those PMOs, there is no one answer to how the PMO can respond to the challenges that exist.
In this article we take the first step to understanding the challenges PMOs face in resource management by uncovering the different types of PMOs that exist today and the different areas of resource management they provide supporting services in.
Identifying Types of PMOs
It is widely acknowledged that there are four main types of PMOs that exist in organisations today. These are:
- Project Office
- Programme Office
- Portfolio Office
- Centre of Excellence
Here is a quick run-down of each of those four types of PMOs:
The Project Office is the simplest model and is there to support projects only. An organisation can choose to have a permanent Project Office which is there to support the continuous stream of projects that it initiates. Alternatively an organisation may choose to have a temporary Project Office which is there to support a singular or large project which when completed will mean the Project Office is disbanded. An organisation could potentially have a temporary Project Office for each project which needs it.
The Programme Office operates in much the same way. If the organisation has many programmes in operation, the permanent Programme Office will be there to support ongoing programme delivery. The temporary Programme Office will exist for as long as the programme it is supporting is in operation, again, once delivery of the programme is completed – which can be in operation for many years – the Programme Office will be disbanded. Again multiple temporary Programme Offices may be in existence for each programme.
The Portfolio Office differs from the first two types of PMOs because it is primarily a permanent fixture within organisations where projects and programmes form a dominant part of their business. The Portfolio Office is concerned more with making the links between the business strategy and the delivery of programmes and projects. It is concerned with selecting and prioritising of programmes and projects that once completed will meet the business strategies. This type of PMO is also often referred to as an Enterprise Wide PMO or Strategic PMO.
The final type of PMO – the Centre of Excellence – again is considered to be a permanent fixture that concentrates on improving the organisation’s programme and project management capability and will be the custodian of assets such as the project method, processes and standards. In some organisations, the Portfolio Office and Centre of Excellence are joined together to form one large PMO.
With four different types of PMOs, each with different overall objectives for being in existence, it is obvious that there will be different manifests of resource management available through different types of services they offer.
Resource Management Areas for PMOs
There are ten different service areas that PMOs can provide within organisations today. Some of these services are only found in certain types of PMOs. Each service offered will also vary depending on the objective and maturity of the PMO.
Each area is taken in turn here, with the most common services highlighted first. Figure 1 also shows the service areas in relation to the different types of PMOs.
1. Resource Utilisation
The most common service area in resource management a Project Office and Programme Office provides today is resource utilisation. For many this is translated into the need for completed timesheets and the resource utilisation reports that are produced as a result.
The role at this level is about ensuring that project team members are allocating their time to the project, that there are no mistakes and an accurate report can be generated for the project manager.
It is seen as the simplest task to carry out; however timesheets and resource utilisation reports are not without challenges for PMOs.
Research has shown that timesheets on projects are not as accurate as they should be which calls into question the usefulness of such a PMO task in projects and programmes (Harvard Business Review, ‘Workers Are Bad at Filling Out Timesheets, and It Costs Billions a Day’, 2015)
Further challenges include failing to accurately report resource utilisation because of the lack of system or tool with easy access, functionality and reporting capability. Other challenges, such as what time blocks to use, for example, should it be daily time allocation, half-day, or hourly? And what is the accepted utilisation figure for time spent on project work versus other activities like training and development, time spent on non-project administration like emails?
Despite these challenges, resource utilisation reporting is seen as the easiest task for the PMO to take up and it is often one of the first services a new PMO will implement.
As highlighted in Figure 1, resource utilisation is not something which is carried out within the Portfolio Office, yet the reports and data do feed back up the chain from the programmes and projects to allow the Portfolio Office to feed these into the overall strategic resource plan for the organisation. We will explore the Portfolio Office role further in the article.
Figure 1 – Types of PMOs and the Services They Offer in Resource Management
2. Resource Allocation and Commitments
With resource allocation, the Project and Programme Offices’ main responsibilities lie in assessing resource requests from the plans; prioritising the requests and allocating those resources to projects. These services are offered by the permanent PMOs as they are most likely to be in a position to see the whole resource pool; have a view on availability and will most likely be using a resource management database to manage the resource pool.
At its simplest, resource allocation is about finding the right person, with the right skillsets, available at the right time for a project which ideally fits with the resource’s own requirements and wishes to work within a challenging and interesting project.
Performing a successful resource allocation role in the PMO relies heavily on having a system or tool in place which accurately presents all this data. The more successful PMOs have a dedicated resource manager within the PMO team with a full-time job of keeping records, allocations and commitments up to date.
Resource commitments are closely related and as the name suggests this is current commitments made by resources i.e., committed to work on X project for X days. Commitments can also include any work in the future, a commitment made by resources in advance of actual project initiations. This is normally in response to work carried out by the Portfolio Office in forecasting future requirements within the portfolio and assigning resources months in advance.
3. Resource Deployment
Resource deployment is another common PMO role within resource management. This is related to getting resources started on a project or programme once they have been allocated. Sometimes this is full onboarding service, especially if the resource is new to the organisation as well as the project. The PMO is there to make sure the new resource is ready to hit the ground running, being as effective as they can from day one. Figure 2 gives an overview of the types of activities the PMO will run and organise.
Resource deployment also incorporates redeployment too for more advanced PMOs, especially those which operate the resource manager role. When a resource is coming to the end of their time on a project, the PMO is able to assist in lining up new project work or in the case of temporary or contractor resources, manage the termination of contracts.
Figure 2 – The PMO Onboarding Checklist
4. Resource Requirements
Typically resource requirements are done in a bottom up fashion. The project and programme begin planning as a result of the schedule, an understanding of the quantity and type of resources required to deliver become clearer. The Project and Programme Office PMOs can support the Project and Programme Manager in capturing these requirements and start the process to getting the resources identified and allocated.
In recent years, with the advance of Portfolio Office type PMOs within organisations, the opportunity is being seized to carry out resource requirements from a top down approach and be more proactive in meeting future demand.
In Executive Resource Management (Barner and Davies-Black, 2000) the case was made for creating a resource management strategy that linked with the business strategy, the linking of strategic plans to staffing requirements within the organisation. Strategic PMOs or Portfolio Offices have become the organisational entity that has picked up this work to apply it directly to the programme and projects area of the business.
The Portfolio Office conducts the strategic planning reviews in line with the corporate’s strategy planning cycles to carry out baseline reviews of the strategic plans. The Portfolio Office can kick-start scenario planning and forecasting exercises as they begin to build a view of the future portfolio of work which will be potentially initiated to meet the strategic goals of the organisation.
The objective of the Portfolio Office here is to make visible the possible resource requirements the organisation will need in the future based on the strategic plans they have. It is this proactive planning that allows an organisation to prioritise the programme and project work they carry out based on when they have the available resources to do it. Alternatively they can start making plans to plug resource gaps that they can see will be an issue in the next 6 months or so.
5. Capacity Planning
Portfolio Offices are taking the lead in determining what resources are likely to be needed in the organisation’s portfolio of programmes and projects now and in future. During the initial work in portfolio investment, selection, planning and prioritising the project portfolio, the Portfolio Office is also analysing how the portfolio can be optimised and balanced in terms of the resources available in the organisation. Understanding what capacity the organisation has in terms of the ability to deliver the programmes and projects which have been selected will require different scenarios to be modelled. If a certain set of skills are not available at a certain time because those resources are already committed elsewhere, prioritisation can be altered to schedule work when the resources are available.
Capacity planning also takes place at the micro level of Project and Programme Offices. The PMO will work with the programme and project managers to create a forecast supply and demand view – highlighting over and under allocation across the programme or project. More advanced or mature PMOs with good data and systems can carry out modelling exercises such as what-if analysis i.e., being able to play around with the schedule, dropping and adding resources in, changing dependencies, creating different scenarios to find different ways and means of getting to right end result and solution.
The PMO work here relies heavily on accurate data and a robust system that enables them to carry out the forecasting and presenting the different scenarios quickly and easily to others. This type of work requires PMO practitioners with advanced experience and typically falls to the role of PMO Analyst.
6. Resource Monitoring and Reporting
The PMO, regardless of its type, is known across the organisation for the role it performs in monitoring and reporting. The PMO makes visible all the work that happens across programmes and projects, turning data into reports and useful information so decisions can be made by people across the whole portfolio.
For the Project Office, resource monitoring and reporting focuses on outputs like utilisation reports, presenting booked time in the previous month and resulting costs for hours worked. They also provide information for the resource sections in the monthly status reports highlighting resource requirements for the coming month, highlighting over and under allocations and any exceptions with regards resources like planned holidays during seasonal times or bouts of sickness affecting the team.
For the Programme Office, resource monitoring and reporting concentrates more on the overall view of resources on the programme and the interdependencies across the projects. The Programme Office relies on good data from the project feeding into the programme plans which allow a consolidated view of the resources. The Programme Office can now start to see potential conflicts in resource uses across the whole programme enabling the programme manager to make key decisions about managing those conflicts.
With the Portfolio Office, the data is received from the Project and Programme Offices which enables them to feed it back into the project prioritisation and selection process. If changes are happening at a project and programme level which means resource commitments are longer than originally planned for example, this information enables the Portfolio Office to reprioritise the portfolio of work.
The Centre of Excellence, in their role of supporting the improvement and maturity of programme and project management delivery, are focused more on the capability of resources. This includes acquisition, retention, assessment and development. All these areas need regularly assessing, reviewing and analysing which forms the basis of their reports.
We now take a look at the areas where the Centre of Excellence make a real difference, starting with acquisition.
7. Resource Acquisition
Resource acquisition is all about acquiring people for the project that do not already exist in the organisation. For the majority of Project and Programme Management Offices this is the acquisition of temporary or contract resources needed to plug current resourcing gaps. The PMO here will assist the Project and Programme Managers with recruiting these resources, providing a link between the programme/project and the Human Resources (HR) department.
The PMO will assist with developing the role profiles required for resources; create a job advertisement; manage the approval process; review CVs; set up interviews and generally deal with communications and administration around the acquisition.
In the recent series of PMI Thought Leadership reports, “Talent Management – Powering Strategic Initiatives in the PMO” (2014), it highlights that the PMO could have and should have a greater role within acquisition, or the recruitment of programme and project management talent that the organisation needs to deliver the strategic plans.
The Portfolio Office and the Centre of Excellence both have a role to play in ensuring a tighter link between the strategic resource management plans that fall out of the overall strategy plans for the business and having the right people available to deliver the programmes and projects. From a Centre of Excellence PMO, concerned with ensuring the organisation has the right capability to deliver and the Portfolio Office concentrating on future capacity, it is obvious that the two PMOs work together. What this focus highlights is the need for these PMOs to work much more closely with HR departments to enable them to “develop talent management strategies through alignment with the business strategy” rather than being in a reactive state. The PMO is the ideal entity to form that partnership.
The PMO will work to understand what the role profiles are for the resources across the entire portfolio of programmes and projects. There has to be a greater understanding of what core competencies are required; the different levels of experiences and knowledge required; what training and development needs to be in place to bring on current resources and career paths in place to aid retention.
The work starts with understanding what skills are needed and what the organisation has in place already. It begins with assessments.
8. Resource Capability and Assessment
The Portfolio Office and Centre of Excellence PMOs are the ideal entity to create and manage the delivery organisation’s competency framework and assessments.
“A ‘competency framework’ is a structure that sets out and defines each individual competency (such as problem-solving or people management) required by individuals working in an organisation or part of an organisation.” CIPD, 2015
The Centre of Excellence PMO works to define what core competencies are required across the organisation’s portfolio of programmes and projects. It will include management roles like the project manager as well as technical project team roles and subject matter experts (SMEs). For each competency there are different levels to denote experience levels i.e., the practical experience of the competency or skill and a knowledge level, an understanding of what the competency is.
The Centre of Excellence needs experienced practitioners in this field in order to create a competency framework which is fit for purpose and will require close working relationships with the HR department.
The Centre of Excellence not only creates the competency framework, they are also responsible for ensuring each resource within the project organisation complete their self-assessment against it. There is also a process of validation to be managed i.e., each resource has their self-assessment validated with their managers.
The outcome to the competency framework work provides a deeper understanding of what the current skills profile looks like across the delivery organisation. It is this work that feeds into the Portfolio Office so forecasting and scenario planning can begin to work out what these skills profiles means for the organisation’s capacity to deliver the programmes and projects in the pipeline or further in the future.
The next stages for the Portfolio Office and Centre of Excellence PMOs are what PMI’s “Strategic Initiatives in the PMO” report call ‘creating broad succession plans across organisational boundaries” and we cover that next in resource succession planning.
9. Resource Succession Planning
The ability of a project and programme management organisation to manage the capability (the skills available) and the capacity (those skills being available at the right time) of its resources has been recognised by PMI as a high performing organisation. In these organisations, 72% of projects meet the original goals and business intent compared to lower performing organisations (58%). “The difference of 14% in project success rates equates to risking 50% more project dollars when talent management is not effectively aligned with strategy” (The Competitive Advantage of Effective Talent Management, 2013)
In the report ‘Spotlight on Success – Developing Talent for Strategic Impact’ from PMI (2014) states that in some organisations, “PMOs provide the vital link between the talent management and project community strategies”.
Succession planning which incorporates recruitment, retention and development, is a key component of talent management and in project delivery organisations this is ensuring that internal resources are skilled and ready to work on future programme and project activities. Once again the role for the Portfolio Office (from a future capacity planning point of view) and Centre of Excellence (future capability needs) requires a closer working relationship with the HR department to make sure resources are identified, developed and ready to be allocated.
10. Training and Development
A core component of making sure the delivery organisation has the right capability and skills to deliver projects and programmes now and in the future is training and development.
The Portfolio Office in its strategic role of ensuring the organisations has the right skills at the right time for the mix of programmes and projects within the portfolio has a vested interest in how skills are being developed and when it can expect to utilise increasingly experienced resources. The Portfolio Office also feeds into the potential new skills that will be needed in the future as the organisations strategic plans and goals shift too.
It is the Centre of Excellence that takes the central role of training and development in delivery organisations. It develops assets such as the competency frameworks and skills assessments, so the natural next step in the process is to address those skills gaps that invariably become visible once assessments have been undertaken.
Again a strong working relationship is needed with the HR and Learning and Development departments to ensure the project delivery organisation has the right options available to them. The Centre of Excellence will influence and determine which formal training courses should be made available. In terms of the project, programme and portfolio resources, PMI’s Talent Triangle highlighted that high performing organisations include a blend of three types of training; technical project management; leadership; and strategic & business management skills training.
The Centre of Excellence should also drive the IT, technologies and other subject matter specialisms training too for the wider project teams.
The Centre of Excellence will not only utilise external courses and vendors but also deliver their own courses and workshops in-house too.
The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development from McCall (1996) also provides guidance to the Centre of Excellence for the types of blended learning options that will be required across the project portfolio. The model reflects how people learn; 10% from formal courses; 20% from learning from others and 70% from experience and doing the job itself. The Centre of Excellence can set up mentoring schemes and coaching sessions (part of the 20%) and can support on-the-job learning through activities such as provide job rotations (some organisations find it useful for new or aspiring project managers to spend time working within the PMO before commencing their first projects); work shadowing and creating knowledge forums or internal conferences.
The Future of Resource Management in the PMO
There are clearly many areas of resource management the PMO can play an active part in, yet many PMOs today only focus on one or two in any depth or provide a thin slice of a majority of the services and miss the opportunity to provide the level of insights that make a real difference to the organisation’s main objectives of being able to utilise their resources in the most beneficial and effective way.
Here are five areas where PMOs can increase their work in resource management in the future to really provide proactive support:
- Joining it all up with Strategic / Portfolio Offices
The increase in organisations adopting a Strategic or Portfolio Office PMO, which performs the role of filling the gap between business strategy and strategy execution through programmes and projects, have been able to focus on resource management activities from the top-down, starting with a resource management strategy.
For resource management to be effective across the project portfolio it has to start at the executive level. It is only until programmes and projects have been selected and prioritised, in a controlled, standardised way through the Portfolio Office, that longer term planning of what skills will be needed and when, can begin to happen. Without it, programmes and projects will continuously manage resource requirements in a reactive, often combative way.
- Focus on the areas that are the most important
Today’s work in resource management by PMOs focuses too much in the past, i.e. resource utilisation and progress reporting and not enough on the two most critical areas – resource capacity and capability. Each different type of PMO has to discover what capacity and capability really means at project, programme and portfolio levels and then initiate services based on each area.
- PMOs need the right tools for the job
PMOs today, by and large, still rely on basic spreadsheets and tools which don’t enable them to perform the services and functions they are capable of providing. Being able to provide a resource database; perform scenario planning simulations; carry out competency assessments and resource allocations across a programme need the right tools for the job. Until the PMO can utilise tools that increase efficiency and accuracy, they will always be a third rate service provider.
- Using lessons learnt for resource management
Lessons learnt have long been known as ‘lessons recorded’ in the PMO, in other words the lessons that could be learnt from past programmes and projects are never really understood and acted on. The PMO is in a prime position to take resource management lessons from across the project portfolio and provide recommendations for senior decision makers which in turn feed back into the resource management strategy.
- Upskilling the people within the PMO
As the PMO seeks to improve the support they can often at different levels within resource management, they too must be skilled and experienced to do so. The role of PMO Specialists, people within the PMO who are focused on just one aspect of programme and project management like risk or finance, is just one way PMOs can offer advanced services and functions without the need for all staff within the PMO to be trained and experienced.
If an organisation really wants to improve its project portfolio success rates it has to focus more on the area that can make that happen – the people who deliver the programmes and projects. One thing this article has highlighted is just how many areas within resource management there are to tackle and the PMO really is the one entity within the organisation that is in prime position to offer them.