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How a project management office can steer data initiatives to success

There is a general misconception that the project management office’s primary responsibility or major function is to provide reporting support to the organization. In reality, what organizations and teams are realizing is that a well-established PMO provides critical data governance capabilities for successfully executing key initiatives and programs and providing essential visibility and recognition to the teams.

When done right, the PMO is the driving force for coalescing all of the data resources needed within an organization to implement major strategic initiatives, such as bringing a new product to market on time or making internal structural changes. Accomplishing these goals requires clearly identified and understood organizational governance—revolving in large part around effective communication, clearly-defined policies and assembling the talent required to complete the task ahead.

Establishing governance

One of the core foundations that is essential for the success of an organization is the establishment of a data governance strategy. That means addressing how a project or a program should be run, who the key players are, the cadence required to execute the project or program, and how progress (to whom, at what levels and how often) should be reported.

Without proper governance in place, it can be a struggle for the organization to provide clarity surrounding a specific project or program to understand how the task fits into the overall mission and vision. Often, a lack of governance can lead to miscommunication, which is a major nightmare that corporations, large and small, want to avoid.

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Programmers at Reactive Inc. David Malkin, data scientist, from left, Philip Irri, core engineer, Joseph Bullard, core engineer, and Philippe Remy, research engineer, work at Tenoha Lab share office in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The four programmers at the 18-month-old startup in Tokyo came up with an application that recognizes scrawled-out Japanese with 98.66 percent accuracy. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** David Malkin; Philip Irri; Joseph Bullard; Philippe Remy

In this context, the PMO plays a critical role in developing and establishing overall data governance for the organization. That includes laying out a map of how projects and programs should move forward, quantifying the expected benefits, demonstrating clarity of purpose, and helping to erase any doubts about the mission. From key stakeholders on the front end to the end user taking delivery (which may all be within the same organization), establishing timelines, accountability, a communications structure and the mission statement helps bring everyone onboard and enables success.

The four pillars

There are “four pillars” the PMO office needs to address in order to create an effective governance. They are: 1) policies and procedures; 2) tools and templates; 3) communication framework; and 4) resource strategy.

1. Policies and procedures: Policies and procedures are an essential component of any data governance. It is the role of the PMO to establish the governance so that all project and program teams follow the guidelines clearly, thus minimizing compliance or audit issues for the organization.

The policies and procedures layout clear guidelines of how projects and programs will be executed within the organization and what framework will be used to manage them. Once they are established, teams can leverage the guidelines not only to perform feasibility studies to determine if a project should be done, but also to use those guidelines to define project scope. That way, an early course correction can be made when necessary.

Second is to establish the procedures moving forward based on the results of the feasibility study. It’s becomes the job of the PMO to identify clearly the benefits of this new product or organizational structure change and to make sure the key players involved truly understand what is trying to be achieved.

2. Tools and templates: Tools and templates are the bedrock of a PMO. Without them, data quality, brand value and brand recall suffer. Imagine a scenario where an organization fails to consistently produce standard documents and artifacts in a defined format, style or structure. The result is likely to be miscommunication, inconsistent messaging, incoherent narratives and presentations and low confidence among stakeholders, management and teams.

A well-established PMO can strategically leverage the office to develop and propagate standardized tools and templates across the organization, provide adoption guidelines on how the tools and templates are to be used, manage the consistent production of work products and ultimately perform continuous improvement to keep the tools and templates relevant to the organization’s needs and demands.

3. Communication framework: Conveying information and status updates is essential to any data project. Having a well-constructed communications plan is the linchpin that connects stakeholders with the initiatives identified by the PMO.

Establishing a communication framework, including what type of information needs to be shared and how often it should be provided up and down an organizational structure or to external stakeholders, is one of the most important functions of a PMO office. At a high level, the first step in creating a framework is to identify people and teams that need to be included in the communication plan.

Once all the teams and groups including key stakeholders are identified, the next step is to determine and agree upon what type of information needs to be shared.

Finally, make sure that there is a clear acceptance on the frequency and distribution of reports and updates. Once a reporting framework is established, the PMO can leverage it to manage and report on the status of any project.

4. Resource strategy: While secured funding is an imperative to support any project before it gets off the ground, a well-established resource strategy is critical to the success of any project. It is important for the PMO to work with project teams to identify upfront how many people will be involved, what type of talent is critical and what levels of experience are required. This includes subject matter experts (SME) who have been identified as well as back-up personnel who are waiting in the wings should a key person leave the project..

Governance is an evolution

One of the quickest ways to alienate the PMO from the organization is for it to become stagnant or reactive, not proactive. If the PMO doesn’t learn to adapt along the way and remains rigid to the initial guidelines set forth in the four pillars that establish governance, it can have a negative impact throughout the organization.

To avoid this predicament, sift through the feedback received from key players at all levels to see what changes might be required. The best way to make everyone realize the value of the PMO and its role within an organization is to have all of the players involved as true stakeholders in getting the project off the ground, setting the ground rules upfront and agreeing on the course corrections where needed.

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