Assurance and its relationship with the PMO - reflection of the day

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Posted by APM on 16th Mar 2014

Having just written up the outputs from the conference last week I am beginning to see some clear patterns of thought emerging. So let’s recap on the learning points from the day.

Eileen Roden kicked off proceedings with a short exercise to gauge our understanding of assurance and looking at the output there was strong agreement that assurance covered a wide area of PMO related governance, management and delivery questions. What struck me about the list was that there were very clear PMO heartland areas such as process compliance, best practice standards and templates, and performance reporting. These are all areas where we can build hard metrics and use tools and techniques to manage. There was also another strain of assurance that featured strongly, this was however, harder to measure or quantify. Aspects such as capability assessments and development, benefits validation, and strategic alignment. Finally, there was a strain of assurance which was very active, and reflected PMOs that hold a very hands on and involved position. This may be a reflection on PMO maturity and seemed to present the PMO in a much more of an involved and business minded role than perhaps the remote and policeman focused PMOs we often hear about.

Roy Millard opened proceedings with a presentation on the APM Assurance SIG’s latest thinking on integrated assurance. Roy showed a nice way of mapping assurance needs to evidential response – I was immediately drawn to this as from a PMO perspective this was something I could see being easily incorporated into the PMOs tool kit and service catalogue as it was a tangible process and output.

Caitlin Davidson and Gary Perkins from the Skills Funding Agency then gave a presentation on their PMO and its assurance role. This was an insightful presentation for me on the use of both embedded Programme Support Officers (PSOs) close to their programmes offering continual assurance on SFAs best practice use of governance, standards, templates, and a more central and independent assurance service which conducted more in depth health check and gateway style reviews. This seemed to cater for the strands revealed earlier in Eileen’s session as there were both active assurance through the regular involvement of PSOs and the use of checklists and the more traditional independent review, report and recommend style assurance.

After lunch, Tom Pritt gave a brief outline of assurance from a supplier perspective, and again gave a different view of how assurance can be conducted. I particularly liked the idea of surveillance spot checks!. This presentation struck a chord for me as it showed the multi layered assurance activities involved in the delivery supply chain. Not only will the programme/project be subject to audits and reviews but its supply chain will have their own audit and reviews as per their own Quality Management System (QMS). From my PMO standpoint this reminded me how my PMO had worked closely with a number of suppliers to ensure our schedule and risks and issue management processes needed to be adapted to ‘plug in’ to the suppliers. We developed critical governing interfaces which meant that health checks could trace a projects workload through the organisation and its suppliers management information.

Jon Street followed up with a presentation on how his PMO had used Management Information (MI) to generate an almost ‘ninja’ style PMO resource who would take the MI and actively engage with project managers to build a contextual understanding of what the MI facts were telling them. They would then propose solutions for the project manager or highlight systemic issues that could be addressed programmatically or even at portfolio level. This session proved lively as comments about the use of MI and turning it into Business Intelligence (BI) gathered interest. There are many enterprise level tools on the market which can provide PMOs with extremely powerful MI and BI with the ability to develop insights from trends and scenario modelling. Some PMOs, especially less well established ones, may not have this capability, however, developing simple but consistent and trusted ‘naive’ MI (i.e. without delivery context) can still be turned into a powerful tool for PMOs through active involvement with project managers.

Matt Burley and Hannah Maycock completed the day’s presentations by going back to more of an overview and retracing Roy’s steps from the morning. Hannah relayed the complexity of some project deliveries where integration with multiple projects is required. Matt highlighted the softer side aspects such as international culture, politics, and personalities. They outlined how consultancies offer tools and methods for assurance and I was reminded of Roy’s earlier presentation. PMOs can utilise these different approaches for their own ends building up their own brand of assurance service.

Finally, we conducted a short exercise on putting ourselves in the shoes of a business sponsor and a programme assurance manager and tried to understand what they would want assurance on. I have included the write up of this. Again what strikes me is the amount of compliance style assurance our PMOs can offer and the more business needs assurance of someone like our programme/project sponsors. Their needs focus not so much on doing things the right way (standards, process, etc) but more on doing the right things (strategic alignment) and managing their business impact.

There is much to consider in here, notably what type of PMO assurance can you offer at this time and what do you want to deliver in the future, this may help map out your own PMO strategy and its capabilities.

Gary Mitchell
PMO SIG Committee member

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