Infrastructure provides support for projects, programmes and portfolios, and is the focal point for the development and maintenance of P3 management within an organisation.
The governance of P3 management requires a permanent organisational infrastructure that supports the temporary organisational structures of projects, programmes and portfolios.
Many different names are given to the structures that ‘own’ P3 management within an organisation. The terms EPMO (Enterprise Project Management Office), PSO (Project, Programme or Portfolio Support Office), Project Services or Centre of Excellence are all in common use.
The name often reflects the scope of responsibilities. For example, a Project Support Office will provide predominantly administrative support to a project, while a Centre of Excellence will often be responsible for improving P3 management maturity.
Routine administration is required on all projects, programmes and portfolios. On small projects this may be performed by the project manager, but on medium to large projects and all programmes and portfolios, a P3 manager needs support in handling day-to-day administration.
Some projects and most programmes and portfolios also require specialist skills in areas such as risk, quality or finance.
An administrative support function can operate at different levels depending upon how it is constituted. It may provide:
- administrative help in areas such as planning, risk management, change control etc.;
- the secretariat for meetings and logistical services for members of the management team;
- technical support including collecting, analysing and presenting progress information, managing interdependencies and handling communications with stakeholders;
- assurance of governance structures and standard project management practices through audits, health checks and phase end reviews.
A sophisticated infrastructure may also cover:
- provision of subject matter expertise to ensure that there is access to all necessary tools and techniques;
- training, coaching and mentoring for the project, programme or portfolio management team;
- maintaining the infrastructure, momentum and drive to support communities of practice;
- improving, embedding and measuring capabilities to achieve higher levels of maturity;
- owning and deploying standard tools and techniques.
The P3 management infrastructure may range from a single person to a large team containing many different roles and specialists including, among others:
- planners and schedulers;
- cost engineers;
- subject matter experts;
- assurance staff;
- configuration managers.
The overall infrastructure may be divided into multiple offices, some temporary and some permanent. For example, a support office might provide administrative support to a specific project or programme. This is then disbanded once the work is complete. In contrast, a community of practice, or centre of excellence, has a permanent support role independent of the creation and completion of any individual piece of work.
The shape of the infrastructure will reflect its environment, but its component groups must always have a clearly defined purpose and scope. The roles and levels of authority of these groups must be communicated to the delivery team(s) and reinforced periodically.
In the project dimension, the main focus is on administrative and technical support. Where a project is part of a programme or portfolio, the project support function will be provided by the programme or portfolio office.
On smaller, stand-alone projects that cannot justify the overhead of a support function, the support work will fall on the project manager’s shoulders. This can lead to a reaction against ‘bureaucracy’ when the project manager is asked to spend a lot of time producing standard documentation. Some organisations will have central functions for planning, cost management, procurement etc., that may be able to provide assistance in these circumstances.
With the support of the sponsor, the project manager of a small, stand-alone project should seek as much help with day-to-day administration as possible. Taking shortcuts in the administration of even the smallest project is often a cause of failure.
Beyond day-to-day management of the project, the project manager should be provided with other types of support. This may include continuing professional development (CPD) through communities of practice, career advice or managing the transition between one project and the next. It is this broad support for the profession and discipline of project management that is provided by the governance infrastructure.
Programmes are large enough to carry the overhead of a support function and may also have access to a central support function.
Programme support functions must have the expertise to cover the additional services required by programmes. These typically include supporting change management, benefits realisation and project interfaces.
The programme management team decide how to constitute the support organisation across the programme, e.g. whether one support function will serve the programme and all its component projects, or whether some, or all, projects will have separate project support functions.
Some organisations will have multiple departmental or regional portfolios, while others might have a single, organisation-wide portfolio. In the latter case, the portfolio and the governance infrastructure are effectively the same thing. This is often referred to as an EPMO and is a permanent organisational structure.