Project Assurance and a New Role for PMOs

Provision of good assurance within and around projects is a complex business. In anything other than a small organisation, one that does projects is likely to have at least a few assurance providers and people who want assurance. Large project organisations, and individual large projects, may have project assurance landscapes containing many tens, or even hundreds, of providers and receivers.

What’s more, the landscape is complicated by other factors, like: types of assurance, governance arrangements, complexity of supply chains, timing demands for assurance, duplications and possibly conflicts, etc. This landscape needs clarity and organising, otherwise at best it simply won’t be effective and efficient, and at worst can be disruptive to the projects.

I recall several years ago, in the early stages of the project, the then Chairman and Chief Executive of Crossrail saying to me that he saw the demands for assurance as a significant risk to the smooth delivery of the project.

A process-based answer to this is ‘Integrated Assurance’, the principles and tools for which provide a framework for organising assurance. But making Integrated Assurance work in practice is really difficult; one challenge is that assurance provision tends to be distributed over a number of functions with different reporting lines. Organisations rarely (if ever) have a single ownership of project assurance. This is where I believe PMOs can have a larger role than they have traditionally had.

An obvious role that PMOs already often have is in carrying out reviews of projects, typically in support of project decision gates. By no means do all PMOs do this, but it is certainly one of the activities they can do depending on the ‘flavour’ of the PMO and how it fits into the organisation’s governance arrangements. There are some arguments that although PMOs typically have some independence from project delivery, they may not always be sufficiently independent for their reviews to be seen as truly authoritative. Add to that I suspect most PMOs have stretched resources, particularly ones with appropriate skills, knowledge, and experience to review projects, and it’s a role that can be challenging to fulfil.

A less obvious existing role of PMOs is the provision, operation and monitoring of systems and processes used for project delivery. Procedures and standards; planning tools; reporting systems; they all not only support project delivery they also tend to make project delivery be done in a predictable tried-and-tested way, thereby increasing the likelihood of project success. Arguably, in its broadest sense, project assurance is anything that provides (and ideally improves) confidence of project success, so this is a second assurance role.

The new role I envisage is that of being a ‘home’ for project assurance. As I said above, typically organisations do not have a single owner of project assurance, so there is no-one to take a wider view of what the ideal project assurance arrangements should be. Sometimes, especially at times of organisational change, someone may have responsibility for taking an overview of assurance (such as a CFO), but they will typically not have much or any experience of project delivery. There is an opportunity here for PMOs to step in to help.

I believe that PMOs need to be ready to advise organisations on their project assurance arrangements. They can be the driver behind making Integrated Assurance work. They are not independent enough to take full ownership, but they are uniquely placed, and staffed, to be an authoritative voice to those who do have ownership. They can also be supportive in doing things like drawing up Integrated Assurance Frameworks and Plans, developing assurance maps, formulating collaboration protocols, and consolidating assurance outputs.

Currently, I think that most PMOs are probably a long way from having enough knowledge about assurance generally, and project assurance specifically, to fulfil this new role. But I believe the potential is there.

If you are interested in finding out how you can help your PMO increase its role in project assurance, please take a look at the new Assurance for the PMO Professionals course being launched in February by PMO Learning. It will provide you with everything you need know and understand to start making your PMO the centre of project assurance in your organisation.

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