What is a programme management office? Leigh Cantero outlines the work of a department designed to put impact and power into organisational goals, and how it can bring positive outcomes in performance.

The programme management office is, for many organisations, the new language for leading the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention drive and lean programmes. A PMO is a group or department within an organisation that defines and maintains the organisation’s standards for project management.

The goal of the group is to achieve benefits from standardising and following project management policies, processes and methods.

A five step approach can support the strategic vision to drive sustainable projects, which realise savings and maintain quality.

Step one: create impact – it lasts

The board and management teams must decide how they want to manage their project schemes and overall savings programmes in the organisation.

The impact created by knowing what the vision is and identifying a team to support that vision will create endurance throughout the organisation on how projects, standardisation, and cost improvement plans are managed.

Developing a unified vision is not easy in a complex environment. Priorities need to be listed and communicated to standardise the approach taken throughout a strategic five-year plan. When priorities are agreed, a plan must be put in place to understand how the vision will be maintained and delivered.

Questions to begin this discussion:

1. What short term and long term impact is desired for the organisation?

2. Is the PMO only about cost improvement plans, turnaround, and/or recovery?

  • Is the PMO about project delivery, tracking, monitoring and reporting?
  • What processes will support the desired impact?

3. Are the priorities of the organisation clearly defined? Are the project schemes put into themes such as reduction of length of stay, ward closures, transformation, sustainability, patient experience, and/or quality?

  • Are there cross service themes, so there is no service isolation towards delivery?

4. What PMO team is needed to support the vision?

  • Is it about service planning, or risk?
  • Is it about process or project management delivery?
  • How will there be clinical input?

5. What escalation governance will the PMO maintain?

  • What incentives and consequences will support this initiative?

6. Will the PMO incorporate business planning, business development, service redesign, risk, governance, communication, project management, or all of the above?

7. What is the post implementation impact?

An impact meeting is the first step in scoping out exactly why there is a need for the PMO, and what team will support the sustainability and the governance processes which will enable all the work to be delivered.

To begin unpacking questions such as those listed above, a facilitator must be able to start the process of inviting key stakeholders, engage the directorates or services from the beginning and support everyone to make informed decisions.

Step two: be owned

To be owned and acknowledged within a structure is an essential part of the steps. The PMO must be owned and that leader must escalate to the agreed parties according to the impact desired in step one.

Being owned means to understand who the direct report is. There should be no PMO duplication in services within the organisation. The PMO ownership should not be shared between services, because this lessens the effect of decisions.

Questions to begin this discussion:

1. Who will be the sponsor of this programme? For example, operations, finance, strategy or IT? Why is this department chosen? Understand the positives and gaps of each.

Deciding which service will own the PMO and be accountable for the actions, and inputs and outputs of this programme, is a vital step 
to making this a functional entity.

Service redesign or restructure may be necessary to make the PMO “sit” in a better place and executives must understand the limitations and success factors of placing the PMO within this agreed structure.

Step three: centralise or decentralise

Centralising all projects of the organisation into the PMO is a decision which can standardise processes, the impact may have a greater affect but the team may need to be larger.

Decentralising a PMO means having project delivery people out in each of the services, reporting administratively to look like a hub and spoke model.

Questions to begin this discussion:

1. What impact will centralising or decentralising the PMO mean to the organisation?

2. Do key stakeholders understand the implication of the decision agreed?

Step four: get buy-in from the start

The impact of the PMO is managed through the continual support of key stakeholders.

Questions to begin this discussion:

1. Who are the key stakeholders to support the PMO?

2. How can the PMO obtain the buy-in necessary? (see steps one to three)

3. How can the PMO continue to build professional identity?

Step five: continue to build status

The impact of the PMO will be supported by a clear escalation governance plan building the necessary status to support all the above steps.

Questions to begin this discussion:

1. What is the escalation process for risk, slippage and non-delivery?

2. What are the consequences for each? 

3. Who will be part of the escalation process?

Following the five steps will deliver results and manage the organisation’s QIPP agenda into a streamlined cash releasing efficiency system.

Even if a PMO has already been developed and is not working efficiently, then the five steps can add value if worked through methodically.

Each step is linked to form a matrix which in the end is a powerful tool for the organisation to drive not only QIPP, but if the process is rolled out properly it can support commissioning for quality and innovation (CQUIN) payments, key performance indicators and other performance metrics within the organisation for better performance and increased efficiency.