Do cities need a PMO?

3 min read

Cities are growing more and more complex, and it is increasingly important that large scale projects - like construction or infrastructure development - are coordinated to limit disruption.

Zoe Madams, Mace's PMO Services Director, explores whether a city-wide programme management office is the way forward. 

In the early 2000s, a beer company showed us how to do infrastructure planning the right way…

Heineken brought out an advert showing utilities labourers digging up a busy road. Another worker then shows up and says;

“Hey I’ve got an idea. While you’ve got that open we could lay our new gas main in it.”

“What a good idea.  That would save digging the road up again and causing the public more inconvenience. This could save the public weeks of disruption.”

Eventually there’s a whole gang of men there in the trench, carrying out their work at the same time.

Almost 20 years on, this utopia will often still feel out of reach. Whether it’s coordinating works on a local high street or across an entire city, the challenge of cooperation and collaboration between local and national bodies, utilities, businesses and other stakeholders, remains a challenge.

But we know that for a city to truly qualify as a “smart city”, activity needs to be synchronised and directed in order for activity to run smoothly. We’re seeing more and more cities moving towards a more coordinated approach; in Singapore, for example, the Building and Construction Authority’ (BCA) is responsible for developing and regulating Singapore’s building and construction industry. 

Accreditation such as ‘Green Mark’ focused on the energy efficiency and environmental impact of buildings, or the Construction Quality Assessment System (CONQUAS) has assisted in systematically raising the quality of Singapore’s built environment over time.

But while every city will have a plan, the question then becomes: how do you monitor the plan and ensure that it’s being efficiently and effectively implemented?

That’s where the PMO steps in, by providing mature solutions which encompass the governance, people, processes and tools required to plan, manage and mitigate cost and schedule issues and any risks that may impact delivery.  

A PMO facilitates data gathering, management and analytical processes used to predict, understand and constructively influence the time and cost outcomes of a project or programme; through the communication of information in formats that assist effective governance, management and decision making. Ensuring that “one version of the truth” is maintained throughout the programme. 

No longer simply the proviso of major projects, the PMO provides a baseline to monitor what’s happening at any given time – otherwise how do you know that you have achieved your outcomes and benefits unless you manage the performance? 

PMOs traditionally sit centrally as a point of reporting and assurance to demonstrate that the PMO and projects are performing to schedule, budget and at an acceptable level of risk.

But if you take it one step further, there is far more that can be done with a more  encompassing, integrated, pro-active and innovative PMO (even with perhaps a series of local PMOs covering growth areas/major development sites) that can act as a true powerhouse that does more than report and assure. 

London is now moving in this direction as City Hall sees the benefits that can come from taking a more coordinated approach, both to those developing and delivering construction projects, and to people who live, work in and visit London. Indeed, the benefits of this approach have already been seen in London when benefits were achieved on a massive scale at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Direct benefits could include better information, such as a central portal housing planning application statuses and associated construction programmes for all London boroughs, through to improved traffic flows, noise/nuisance, and associated health and productivity benefits, to improved sharing of trainee/skilled labour.

Indeed Manchester’s combined authorities are already leading the way in the UK as the 10 Greater Manchester councils and directly elected Mayor are working together with local services, businesses and communities to improve the city region. They’ve already seen a number of successes in terms of securing funding from central government – there’s no doubt a united voice is stronger and has more impact. 

London’s learned that lesson since the inception of the Greater London Authority; the challenge now is to better coordinate activity for everyone’s benefit. By consolidating and collaborating, savings can be generated while making works more efficient and money can be redeployed – that’s the dream that London and other cities need to aspire to.

How refreshing.

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