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Everything you wanted to know about PMOs and assurance, but were too afraid to ask

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The SWWE Branch was very pleased to have worked with the PMO and Assurance SIGs on this joint one day Seminar looking at the practice and latest thinking around PMO’s and Assurance.
The BAWA Ballroom was the venue for this event, with over 90 delegates enjoying a highly informative day.

SWWE branch Chair, Martin Gosden, opened the event and set out the agenda. The aim of the day was to explore the role of PMO’s and Assurance in helping to deliver successful projects, programmes and portfolios, looking at current practice, latest thinking and challenges as well as lessons from actual case studies.

Our first speaker, Chris Mills, PMO SIG, works for BMT HiQ Sigma. Chris looked at PMOs, people, styles and life cycles. He started with brief history of the development of the PMO concept, which started in the 1970’s with more of a technical focus, up to the present day with distinctions between portfolio, programme and project management offices.  Chris preferred the term P3O, rather than PMO to clarify some of the confusion that surround the term. Which type to use depends on your objectives: Portfolio MOs are generally permanent and focus on delivering organisational strategies; Programme and Project MOs are temporary and focus on benefits and outcomes, and outputs respectively.

Chris described the typical roles of PMOs, based on research the SIG had conducted. These can include: defining and owning the PM methodology, common language and standards, a communications centre, supporting benefits delivery, a centre of excellence to improve an organisations project management maturity and capability, independent assurance of project delivery.  The key lesson is that one size does not fit all: an organisation must decide what is required to meet its business needs.

Chris explained that the SIG had worked on defining typical roles required in a PMO and that role profiles are to be published shortly in the revised APM competence framework. Chris's presentation can be seen here.

Our next speaker, Roy Millard, Chairman of the Assurance SIG, works for Transport for London , (TfL). Roy’s presentation looked at assurance, what it is and is not and some latest thinking.  Roy explained that there are many definitions of assurance, but the essence is about providing confidence that a project will deliver. He quoted Demming: ‘in God we trust, all others bring data!’  Decision makers need quality information to aid decision making.

Roy discussed the characteristics of good assurance, including: the need for it to be proportionate to the risk and above all independent. The APM guide to integrated assurance provides more depth.  Often the main challenge is to convince PM staff of the benefits of assurance.  Roy provided some approaches to ‘sell’ it, including the integrated assurance approach, which improves efficiency and effectiveness and reduces any perceived additional burden on the project as assurance activities are included in project plans from the start.

Roy explained that PMOs do have a role in assurance, despite the need for independence: they need to help projects plan for integrated assurance.

Roy discussed two tools: the 3 Lines of Defence Model, which includes organisational controls, compliance checks and finally independent review; and Assurance Mapping, where risks are mapped against sources of assurance to build a picture of the level of confidence that assurance activities are in place to address key risk areas. Roy's presentation can be seen below.

Our third speaker, Ewan Glen, PMC SIG, works for BMT Hi-Q Sigma. Ewan looked at the role of Integrated Baseline Reviews, (IBR), as a tool in assurance. The aim of an IBR is to assure both the customer and supplier’s PM team that they have a common understanding of what is to be delivered and how.

Ewan outlined the objectives of an IBR, which include: that assumptions are reasonable, that the WBS captures all of the requirements, that there is a single point of responsibility for delivery and that the project organisation is suitable, and that the necessary resources are in place. IBRs can be undertaken at several points of the project life cycle, with the key point being at the start of the development phase.  IBRs should be scaled appropriately to the size and complexity of the project. IBRs provide independent assurance for decision makers to proceed and to the project team that their plans are robust.

Ewan outlined the IBR process, which starts with planning 1-2 months before hand, by the independent review team supported by the PMO, with a review typically taking around a week.  Following the review, typically a PMO works with the project team on the action plan, any root cause analysis, and capturing any lessons for the organisation.

Ewan explained that the PMC SIG were working on updating IBR guidance to make it more generic and that it was planned to publish this in the Autumn. The presentation given by Ewan can be seen below.

Our fourth speaker, Adrian Pyne, Prog M SIG, is an independent consultant.  Adrian discussed agile project management and the challenges of assurance.  Adrian kicked off with a challenge to the audience that there is no such thing as agile project management, rather that agile is about a state of mind and behaviours.

Adrian used the DSDM ‘agile manifesto’ to explain what being agile means.  The prime focus is on satisfying the customer and the outcomes that produce customer benefits. It is about providing an environment for success, both simple, flexible. Agile is a state of mind.  There are two levels to be considered: the people and the organisation. People’s behaviours, attitude and culture, are at the heart of project and programme management.  Organisations provide the environment in which a project can be successful or not.  An agile PM stands back and delegates, trusting others to know what they are doing, but provides purpose and timeframes. Collaborative behaviours are essential both in the project team and also with client and suppliers.  Adrian emphasised that agile was not about not controlling or leaving things out.  Organisation’s need to recognise that agile projects do not necessary fit in with their standard processes such as funding and approvals which can stop an agile project in its tracks. Organisations need to create the correct environment and culture, including the less visible issues below the water line of the cultural iceberg.  The PMO have a role in identifying and addressing the cultural issues.

Assurance techniques for agile projects need to be adapted to consider the overall objective of providing confidence, whilst minimising command and control. The focus is on confirming  that there is collaboration and trust, with sufficient measures in place to track progress within pre-given windows of authority.Adrians presentation can be seen below.

Our first case study was presented by Tim Warren and Emily Hall-Strutt. Tim works for BMT Hi-Q Sigma and Emily for the Government’s Valuation Office Agency.  Tim and Emily’s presentation outlined 10 lessons from setting up a portfolio management office, (PfMO).

They started with busting a few misconceptions about PfMOs: which are not another layer of management, and do not duplicate Programme MOs. They provide an internal assurance platform which allows the Board to make informed strategic decisions based on robust information, and allows projects to focus on delivery.

Lesson 1 is the need to secure senior management buy-in, and to have an executive sponsor. Lesson 2 is about engaging all the stakeholders, PfMO can often be seen as a threat, and it is important to understand who is currently undertaking key roles and to get them on board. 
Lesson 3 is to design for steady state and that transition plans are needed from the current state to the desired state. Manage it as a project and understand the requirement for a PfMO.
Lesson 4 is to understand the current capability of your organisation. Who is in the PM community, what are their skills, what is the current culture.  Transition plans need to include any required up-skilling.
Lesson 5 is to delegate decision making authority. The Board must delegate decision making authority with appropriate thresholds to PgM and PjMs.  Morale will suffer if this is not done: bottle necks are always at the top of the bottle!
Lesson 6 is not to be afraid to pause, stop or say no. The PfMO needs to categorise and prioritise the portfolio against its contribution towards strategic objectives and help the Board make any tough decisions.
Lesson 7 is that there needs to be one decision making body, preferably the Board. This provides coherence in investment decisions.
Lesson 8 is to maintain focus on delivery. The PfMO should categorise and prioritise projects against mandatory/legal, strategic, through to discretionary. This allows the projects and programmes to focus on delivery.
Lesson 9 is to enable the Board to make strategic decisions, which is linked to lesson 5.  The Board does not need the detail: only what they need to know, not what they would like to see. But to do so they must have trust in the PfMO.
Lesson 10 is that the principle focus is on coherence, resilience and realism. The portfolio is the main vehicle to provide coherence and consistency across all the change initiatives in an organisation. Resilience is through trust built on structured governance. Realism can be achieved through simplifying, tailoring, setting expectations early and allowing time for any change of culture. The case study presentation can be seen below.

The second case study was presented by Mark Woodhouse, TfL. Mark’s case study looked at why Transport for London set up a PMO.  Mark explained the history of TfL which started in 2000 with the first Mayor for London who had a vision to bring responsibility for all modes of transport together to keep London moving. The strategic focus is on putting the customer first, consulting with the public, safety and value for money. Since inception, TfL have taken responsibility for more transport modes, including Taxis, DLR, underground, buses, coaches, river, dial a ride, and even the Emirates cable car.  The challenge is how to manage all of this and the Mayor’s whims, such as the idea for an Airport in the Thames Estuary?  In 2012 TfL set up a single PMO to manage across the portfolio and to initially separate out operational expenditure from £1.8Bn capital expenditure.  Multiple PMO’s could not achieve the strategic objectives. The PMO provides standardised information to investors to give them confidence about delivery, and consistency in measuring performance.

The TfL PMO provides 4 elements: A Centre of Excellence to establish a PM methodology, an assurance function of internal and external reviews, a compliance function for performance and controls, and a business change function.  TfL are aligning project management good practice with APM, moving from Prince2 and MSP.  TfL’s methodology is known as Pathway and is used for all capital projects. It is a single portal which assumes competent people can use it and includes a knowledge hub of lessons, hand books, interest groups, etc.  It defines the levels of governance and approvals. Integrated assurance reviews are mandatory and take place at stage gates or annually. They are tailored to the size, complexity and risk profile of a project.

Mark explained that work continues on maturing the PMO and outlined the major projects being planned, including cross rail, 24 hr tubes, a new tunnel and HS2. The final presentation and case study can be viewed below.


The day finished with a Q&A session.  Martin Gosden summed up the day and thanked the presenters for their excellent presentations.





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