One of the core functions for a PMO is to get involved with how new projects are started.
In businesses without a PMO, this process is often haphazard. It can feel chaotic, because no one has a clear view of what initiatives the company is working on. And worse, it’s almost impossible to find out because everyone is managing their flow of work slightly differently. Forecasting is an issue and you’re never quite sure what your team will be working on next.
A PMO can prevent all those challenges. But how do you identify if you have an issue with project initiation? Whether you call it project activation, project on boarding or something else, this is the step when an idea becomes a project – something that the business is now committed to funding, resourcing and seeing through to completion (unless something drastic changes).
Below, we list some of the symptoms of poor project initiation, which are the things to look out for. If you spot any of these in your business, you probably have an issue with how projects get started. Then we go on to discuss how you can address these with a clear process for starting projects.
Symptoms of Poor Project Initiation
Here are 8 symptoms of poor project initiation.
- There is no clear definition of what a project is and what should be done as business as usual activity. Some activities that should be managed as a project are being managed as business as usual and vice versa.
- There is no single list of projects or a single place to register new projects. This makes it hard for managers and teams to know what is going on.
- Projects are approved without any formal process, which leads to issues with resourcing. No one knows what is in the pipeline or when senior management will say another project is now on their To Do lists.
- Projects don’t have effective project sponsorship, especially in their early days.
- PMOs can resolve these issues as they get to grips with the organization and implement new processes. However, it can take time to make a real difference. Here are some of the challenges facing newly established PMOs.
- There is the expectation that the PMO holds a single, consolidated list of all the projects, but the PMO team still hear about projects that they weren’t aware of. Some projects still get initiated without the involvement or knowledge of the PMO.
- There is a formal process for approving projects but not all departments or teams are following that process.
- Prioritization is only done at a very basic level. There are still resource conflicts and challenges when there are too many projects considered top priority.
- So how do you address these challenges and get on top of your project initiation? Here are 3 steps to sorting out how projects begin in your organization.
Step 1: Define a Project
First, you have to set the boundaries for what a project actually is. There are many definitions for what is a project, but they all have the same things in common: a project is a unique activity with a start, a middle and an end, with the objective of carrying out a specific piece of work. It is not a repeatable activity, such as end of month reporting or a weekly sales review, for example.
However, a definition that simple will not help you assess whether or not the PMO should be involved with projects. By this definition, even organizing a special team lunch or corporate away day would be considered a project, and you wouldn’t expect the PMO to be involved in that.
Think about the parameters for the type of project that you want the PMO to manage. For example:
- Projects over a certain budget
- Projects over a certain amount of people days
- Projects over a certain duration
- Projects that span multiple projects and require resources from more than one team.
These are the kinds of projects where the PMO should be getting involved and providing support and governance. Your definition should also specifically include what is not a project, so that everyone is clear on the work that falls outside of the PMO’s scope.
With your definition in place, you can start to build out a list of all the initiatives that meet that definition. This is the current scope of the work the PMO is interested in.
Step 2: Build the Process
Next, you need to create a project approval process.
This does not need to be time-consuming and bureaucratic – and will be better if it is not. The process should cover things like:
- Who can suggest a project
- How they are going to suggest it, for example on a new project initiation form, via an intranet page or portal, or through an enterprise project management software system
- What executive management sponsorship needs to be in place before a project can be approved
- What types of project require a business case, and what the process is for writing one (provide a template, it will make this step much faster)
- Who gets to make the decision on whether the project should be taken forward or not
- How new projects will be considered in relation to existing projects and what the prioritization approach will look like.
Documenting the process for getting new projects approved will help ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them. Once the process is written, and you have support for it, you can then move to set up your project approval committee and put in place the steps required to ensure new work goes through a robust assessment before business resources start working on it.
Step 3: Mature Project Initiation
Once you have been operating a project initiation process for some time, and have it embedded in the way the organization starts new work, we would expect to see something like the following:
- Projects are initiated only if they align to the strategic objectives of the company.
- Projects demonstrate clear benefits at the point of being initiated or in their business cases.
- A single point of entry for all new projects and a consolidated list of all pipeline and ‘in flight’ work.
- Projects being put on hold or even cancelled if higher priority work comes along.
- Project sponsors supporting each project, right from the beginning.
Getting to this step might seem like a lot of work, but once you have it in hand, and have management support, you will find that you can make progress quickly. Now you can start projects right!