The Project Management Institute's PM Network publication is the source of much useful information on our subject. A series of articles about the project office concept, written by Thomas R. Block, appeared during 1998 and 1999. I would like to use this page to share with you some excerpts from an article entitled "The Seven Secrets of a Successful Project Office" that appeared in the April 1999 issue.

"The project office's long-term vision is to transfer project management knowledge throughout the organization so that it becomes part of the culture. Once the project office is established, senior management often wants immediate results, although it has taken years of neglect and denial to arrive at this dire situation. Reality demands that the project office be highly responsive to the organization's needs; however, a quick-fix approach doesn't last long, and soon the organization is back in the same mess. Although the project office is the stabilizing force, it must get quick results while still maintaining a long-term vision. How do you do this?"

Mr. Block goes on to list his seven steps to putting the project office into operation.

"Rein in Runaway Projects. Getting a runaway project back on track can enhance the reputation of the project office. Given the green light to proceed, the project office can help a runaway project in a number of ways. First, the project office can conduct an assessment and provide the results to the project manager for implementation. Although appealing and less threatening, this solution seldom works because the project team is already overtaxed. Secondly, the project office can provide consultants or mentors to work with the project team to develop a recovery plan and assist in implementation of that plan. However, the recovery plan must be scheduled along with other project tasks ... often the project may have to be stopped ... to regroup, possibly restructure and replan.

"Assist Project Startups and Establish an Estimating and Risk Process. 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure': The project office must focus on projects that are starting, to avoid failures and the need for recovery. Initially the project management office must install a simple project management process for all new projects, including estimating and risk management. The key to success is an emphasis on simplicity and minimum essential tools to control the project.

"Review and Manage the Project Portfolio. As the focal point of multiple project management, it makes sense to involve the project office from the inception of a project through completion. The area of project selection and review is often very political, so the project office has to approach this challenge with caution.

"Conduct Project Review and Audits. The project office is the proponent of project reviews and audits as ways to improve project performance. The project office also provides early warning of potential disasters. Project reviews should begin during the planning stage and continue throughout the project. Project reviews are conducted more frequently during the vulnerable early stages of the project. (They) are not witch-hunts, but are directed at helping the project manager.

"Organize and Manage Resource Pool. Many organizations have a shortage of personnel resources while a great number of the resources they have are working on projects that will not provide value to the organization. These facts indicate a need for greater control. Getting control of all the resources that may be available is a challenging task. Corporate politics can blur the real issue, and turf battles can erupt.

"Identify and Develop Project Managers. The identification and development of project managers is a long-term vision that has to get underway early. Many organizations are becoming aware that accidental project managers are too costly to the company's financial stability. There is a gap between their (project managers) training and workplace reality. To fill that gap more companies are turning to mentoring to help project managers achieve the steep project management learning curve in a shorter time. The project office is ideally suited to provide mentors.

"Establish and Enforce a Project Management Environment. An effective process overseen by the project office anchors the organization's project management environment. Project managers don't need a 400 page process guide. Most project management tools and techniques are simple; making them too complex will cause non acceptance. These are simple tools for complex people. Enforcing the process is more difficult ... requires senior management support to create a project management environment. The project office must insist on the use of the process, with a sharp eye on process improvement."

(Block, Thomas R. "The Seven Secrets of a Successful Project Office", PM Network, April 1999, pp. 43-48.)