PMO – an essential support for large-scale projects

PMO – an essential support for large-scale projects

22 June 2018
PMO project ProjectManagement
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All business and industry sectors – including pharmaceuticals, banking, defence, energy transport and civil engineering to name but a few – now rely on project management tools, methods and processes, especially for complex projects. Project management is the only way to monitor each stage of a project and ensure it is successfully completed.  

This new function, which was born out of a theory developed in the late 1950s, has become vital for successfully performing industrial and infrastructure projects, for which the regulatory framework has become tighter and transparency requirements and cost and deadline pressures are constantly increasing.

Assystem’s project management expertise has grown significantly since it first started out. To partner its key clients in their projects, the Group has of course invested and innovated and it has always used project management methods and tools when providing its services. Until the end of the 2000s we kept this expertise in-house, but in early 2010 we set up a dedicated project management department in order to meet market demand and broaden our prospects. We first trialled the Assystem PMO offering with one of our long-standing clients, EDF, and over the last two years we have consolidated our experience through the acquisitions of Onyx Promavi (a 50-person company) and, more recently, ECP, which has 250 employees. Altogether, Assystem now has a 350-person team working on its PMO offering, which makes it France’s second-largest PMO service-provider.

A dynamic, 360° view of projects

At Assystem we firmly believe that project management is essential for successfully carrying out large-scale projects. And yet it is often difficult to implement a real project management approach in companies as it requires major organisation, significant transparency and extensive oversight, which go above and beyond established environments.

The Group draws on its expertise to help clients set up a Project Management Office to oversee their major projects.

Three well-known skills lie at the core of PMO – time management, cost management and risk management. But PMO’s added value goes even further. The Project Management Institute (PMI) – an international organisation that has standardised and unified a number of project management practices – has identified nine areas on which project management knowledge draws. These include time, cost and risk management as mentioned above, but also integration of the content and quality, as well as procurement, human resources, communications and stakeholder management. All of these areas enable PMOs to have a real 360°view of a project in real time.

This means that a PMO is typically able to provide an answer to the eternal question of “What is the project’s stage of completion?” This may seem basic but when projects are huge and involve the interaction of several hundred or even thousand people, it gives a considerable advantage.

Project management is also about helping project leaders to anticipate upcoming challenges. In other words, it is a support function for project leadership. For example, the EVM (Earned Value Management) technique can be used to enable project leaders to see the difference between the valuation of planned work (“planned value”) and the actual costs of a project based on the project’s specific stage of completion. This “earned value” enables project leaders to decide if adjustments need to be made in terms of cost, quality or deadlines in order to deliver the project as contractually agreed.

A profession that needs both hard and soft skills

The major challenge for PMOs is to have both hard and soft skills. In terms of hard skills – i.e. expertise and know-how – they need to be able to structure and control costs, timings and risks, plan and map out work, forward think, solve problems and master the related tools. In this respect, as in all sectors, the digital revolution has totally transformed and added value to the profession. Today’s large-scale projects involve massive volumes of data that it would be impossible to handle without digital tools. But that means companies need solid interfaces between their information systems and project management tools. In addition, project management tools are increasingly being used in conjunction with digital modelling systems, such as BIM or PLM. Going forward, Big Data will undoubtedly enable us to obtain constructive feedback on previous projects but there’s still a long way to go in this area.

As well as these methodology-based hard skills, PMOs need a high level of soft skills in order to effectively communicate, provide visibility, federate, empower teams and be drivers of consensus. It is up to the PMO to reach out to every participant or group of participants in a project in order to collect key information and ask challenging questions about what has been done and what work remains to be completed. Knowing how to interact with people, being open to their questions and being able to create a network of internal and external contacts are all qualities that a good PMO needs to have.

A great career opportunity for young engineers

The job of PMO is like being in charge of a watchtower overlooking a project from a great height. It’s particularly suited to people who have sharp analytical skills and are strong communicators.

It’s a job for engineers because a PMO needs to ask other engineers and technical experts challenging questions about projects – and understand their answers. But above all, the complex organisational aspects of today’s projects require the rigour and control that engineers are trained to have.

That being said, a PMO doesn’t necessarily have to be a nuclear, automotive or aeronautical specialist– general engineers also have all the right skills to do the job.

For young applicants embarking on their careers, it is a profession that offers many opportunities. PMOs work on assignments in a wide variety of industrial sectors, which is a significant plus. This means that juniors can explore different sectors and businesses from the inside before choosing to specialise in a particular area after three or five years. Consequently, the profession of PMO allows young engineers to find their career paths without locking themselves into one specific domain from the outset.

Twenty years ago, careers as planners, cost controllers and risk managers did of course exist. But what didn’t exist was a job that co-ordinated all of those different functions. The role of PMO today has changed that, allowing a whole set of highly sought-after skills to be brought together. It has become an engineering discipline in itself, along the same lines as safety engineering and civil engineering.

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Gérard Rousseau

SVP Project Management Assystem

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