The Project Office and What It Is Not

The key to establishing and maintaining a successful Project Office is in knowing what the responsibilities of the Project Office are, working within those boundaries and providing support for the project team members and particularly for the project manager.

A Project Office is not set up merely to do all the paperwork and administrative tasks for a project. If that was the case you could simply employ an administrator but, in fact, the most successful Project Offices employ members who have project experience themselves and have often been involved in establishing an organisation’s project management framework.

Neither are these team members simply people who produce reports to send to senior management – they have an overview of a project that is impossible to achieve when you are closely involved in the detail. They will not lose sight of the original business objectives because they will not get bogged down in the minutiae of the daily tasks involved in being a team member or indeed, the project manager.

The Project Office has little involvement in planning the project (except perhaps to provide useful templates) or in controlling the tasks, but is likely to become involved in analysing some of the budget and time reports supplied by the project manager in order to present to senior management the broad overview that they require. They are often more adept at doing this than the manager simply because they are farther removed from the coal-face. However, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the reports presented to senior management do accurately represent the status of all tasks and activities. Sometimes numbers and graphs alone cannot portray a full picture of what is really going on.

The project office should not be merely a bureaucratic group nagging over-worked managers to submit their reports, but rather they should strive to be seen as (and actually be) a supportive group that assists the project manager to report the information that will enable them to accurately provide a representative image of the project. Good reports often take a long time to prepare and a Project Office that work collaboratively with managers will find that the good working relationships built up will ensure that teams appreciate their efforts in easing their workload.

So it is not the Project Office’s responsibility to ensure team members report hours worked, tasks completed etc each week. Nor is it their responsibility to analyse the status of the project or suggest any actions to resolve issues. These are the responsibilities of the project manager, as is the plan – keeping it up-to-date and altering it when necessary. Alterations to a plan are not an administrative job as they require a detailed knowledge of all tasks in the project, both complete and incomplete, and the skill and experience to determine what can be changed and how.

No Project Office should be required to discuss the status of tasks with senior management – they will certainly have been involved in producing reports based on information supplied but it is the project manager who is ultimately responsible for justifying the status of the project, the actions taken to resolve issues and any changes made to the schedule. The project manager makes the decisions and the Project Office document the decisions. They then ensure all project documentation is available to anyone who requires it from both current and past projects.

This is an important task – complex projects may have hundreds of documents (all with a number of different versions) which need to be controlled and made easily accessible so the knowledge contained within them can be shared to improve future project delivery. A project office does not consist simply of good administrators but also individuals who have completed professional training, such as APMP or PMP Certification and use the knowledge and skills gained on these project management courses to support the whole project team.

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