Why the human element is key to an effective PMO

3 min read

Delivering programmes that transform businesses? The answer lies in people.

Effectively supporting clients takes a Programme, Project or Portfolio Management Office (PMO) that doesn’t just look at processes but understands that people and digital solutions are integral to success.

Lockdown taught us a lot about productivity, as working relationships formed virtually and collaboration took on a new dimension. In the blink of an eye, barriers that had been in place for decades due to physical geography were broken down with a change in behaviour empowered by digital technology. Just like that. The pandemic showed us that things can be simplified quickly when they have to be.

Now there is a sense of urgency to make sure that these relationships are maintained and to create cultural alignment in the name of productivity and wellbeing. Business leaders in all sectors, from corporate real estate to infrastructure, are putting ‘behaviour’ under the looking glass. Why? Because positive, collaborative and inclusive behaviours breed success.

As programme managers, we know that the PMO paves the way for on-time delivery, but the focus can’t be on fixing processes in isolation. To achieve a complete organisational transformation, people and digital solutions need to underpin the PMO approach. No matter how lauded a best practice process may be, business leaders must obtain the necessary buy-in from all stakeholders, including people on the ground. The ‘single source of truth’ is only worth its weight in salt if everyone accepts and embraces it. Thus, the cultural piece is crucial for the PMO to work.

So, how do we help programme managers influence behaviours?

One of the tools that has been used with great success to create resilience in the PMO is POPIT (People, Organisation, Processes, Information and Technology) – a tried and tested methodology which has been used with great success across the world including on programmes by National Highways, Network Rail and with the Authority for Reconstruction with Changes (ARCC) in Lima, Peru.

The POPIT methodology is as a holistic framework that breaks down the core components within any successful PMO. It creates a structured approach, on an even platform. When everyone buys into a common goal, a cohesive team with common practices and culture can be formed, keeping programmes on track.

  • People is the first ‘P’ in the POPIT model, and the central element to creating PMO excellence. On any delivery team, people need to be well-trained with a rigorous and analytical approach to the full range of PMO activities. They must have a wide range of expertise from organisational governance and processes to knowledge sharing and reporting. Perhaps most importantly, they must be culturally sensitive and understand that behavioural excellence means different things to different people, in different parts of the world.

  • The Organisation section of the framework focuses on maximising outputs from the systems in place, with additional insights on governance, assurance, sponsorship and structure across the project team, including stakeholder communications.

  • The Process component covers a wealth of activities, including planning and scheduling, change, cost and risk management, procurement and document management. Ultimately, these actions ensure predictable outcomes for the project, as well as consistency across the sector with outputs that are fit for purpose and appropriate for the task.

  • The Information section covers reporting and templates, in addition to knowledge-sharing, which is imperative for continuing to replicate success across future projects. This piece of the methodology also incorporates master data architecture to allow for integrated and structured digital outputs

  • The final part of the framework, Technology, propels the PMO forward to enable decision-making and create a ‘one source of truth’. Any PMO needs to be at the forefront of innovation and constantly evolving its digital capabilities. It’s fair to say that the first element, People, and the last element, Technology, bookend each other. Ultimately, people will harness the relevant technology to deliver the optimal solution for the client. 

With ARCC, we have seen the transformation that can be brought about by using the POPIT approach, whether that’s rigorous and standardised processes across the more than 120 projects; using Power BI for consistent, accessible data capture; or a programme of knowledge transfer and upskilling based on a mix of formal, social and workplace experiences.

The need for behavioural excellence is nothing new, but the trend towards people and digital is accelerating. At the end of the day, it’s people who make a project unique and who implement the right processes and technology to ensure a programme’s success. POPIT is one way to help us do it.