The CPO, bringing the strength of the project manager into the executive boardroom
By Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group
A common lament from project managers is that they are responsible, held accountable, and yet hold no authority, says Yolandi Nortje, executive of Intuate Group. The introduction of a chief project officer (CPO) - an individual at the executive level, who is responsible for providing governance over the organisation's internal project portfolio - is a trend taking on greater significance in the project management industry as it has a direct impact on this area of the business.
The introduction of a CPO brings, for the first time, the strength of the project manager into the executive boardroom. A CPO can be the voice for the potentially critical information that flows from a project management office (PMO) at the highest level of the organisation.
While still a relatively new concept, it is one that might be the catalyst for a change in how organisations structure lines of accountability and chains of authority in making projects work.
Execution and accountability
Given the current economic climate, organisations have been forced to improve the alignment of strategic priorities with the projects that are undertaken, and ensure that project budgets are tied to initiatives that will deliver the best return for the organisation. For many, this has meant rolling out project portfolio management (PPM) into the existing PMO. However, a large number of PMOs are still viewed as IT functions and as a solution to drive efficiency in project execution, rather than a function that drives business strategy. Organisations therefore find themselves with an investment in portfolio management that is designed to help the organisation improve its performance against the corporate goals and objectives, but without an executive-level owner directly accountable for the success of that investment. To address that, there needs to be a meaningful strategic accountability.
Enter the CPO
By creating an executive role responsible for project execution, an executive committee sends a very strong message to the organisation. It is a tangible commitment to the importance of portfolio management as a tool to deliver corporate results. It also removes any perception that portfolio management is limited to "just" an IT or other departmental level. While it may take a while to roll the concept out across all areas of an organisation, the commitment to doing so is there for all to see.
CPOs need to be experts in communication and understand the right language and protocols to use at different levels of the organisation to tie the project, programme and portfolio management processes to the creation of value for the business.
At the portfolio management level, deciding which projects and programmes to start, continue, or even cancel, can be critical to the success of an organisation. At this level the CPO should be the person with the knowledge to facilitate effective decision making. In this way, they advise the executive committee as they formulate their strategic business and operational plans and balance high-risk, high-reward projects that may define the future of the organisation with safer projects that keep the business ticking over and growing. The capability and capacity of the organisation's programme and project delivery systems are the key enablers and constraints on this process, and the CPO should have this information at their fingertips.
The efficient co-ordination of multiple projects to deliver business benefit is the focus of programme management. Each programme must be focused on delivering vital parts of the organisation's overall strategy. The CPO should be actively engaged in ensuring that all programmes meet their businesses objectives. Project management, on the other hand, focuses on meeting the deliverables defined in the project charter. As we all know, projects are most effective when their objectives are clearly defined and unnecessary change is minimised. Whilst project managers manage the quotidian running of the project, the CPO will rigorously manage changes to project scope, budget, schedule, and requirements.
This need for governance at the executive level is a result of the need to ensure that project teams and internal investment capital are used strategically. Only someone at the highest level has the authority and faculty to link projects with strategic goals, reach horizontally across departments to review expenditures and schedules, leverage economies of scale, regulate resource utilisation and ensure that every project has an effective manager or leader in charge, and to implement and maintain an appropriate PM methodology across the organisation.
Beyond these tangible and practical reasons for appointing a CPO, there are a number of additional business benefits. From a perception perspective, project execution and management will be promoted to a level of importance where they can no longer be viewed as "optional" by areas of the business that have historically found their own ways to getting work done.
Project managers often bemoan that their career options are limited, either because there is no clear advancement path within the organisation, or because they feel that the company does not value project management sufficiently. While only one person can be the CPO at any given time, the commitment to the role helps to reinforce the importance of project management to the organisation, as well as showing that career paths do exist.