How can you ensure that your projects, programmes and portfolios are useful for your organisation? In this interview with Ward Salen from Woningfonds, we speak about the viability of a project for the PMO.
What is your role and what is it that you actually do?
I am currently Project Manager Officer (PMO) at Woningfonds van het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest (Brussels-Capital Region Housing Fund). Our organisation aims to promote access to housing and living for all by offering a range of services to people looking for a home in Brussels.
As PMO, I centralize all information about the projects and oversee the methodology that is used for these projects. To this end, I regularly meet with the sponsors and Project Managers to report, and help them think about the best way to approach each project. I am also their point of contact, and provide training and coaching where necessary. In addition to these responsibilities, I also lead some projects myself, which I find useful so that I retain the same frame of reference as the Project Managers with whom I work.
How did you arrive at your current position?
10 years ago, I started as a social worker at Woningfonds. A few years ago, when I had grown tired of the routine of my work, I got the opportunity to retrain as a Project Manager. My first project was a success, and I got the chance to streamline the methodology that I applied with the help of the PMBoK to all projects in the role of PMO.
What Best Practices do you use within your organization? Why is this important?
All projects are included in a portfolio that we review quarterly with the Portfolio Management Board (PMB), all sponsors of the projects. Projects are only added to this portfolio according to the stage gate principle. For example, the approval of a Project Initiation Document (PID) by a sponsor is required so that the project is clearly defined and linked to an objective of our organisation. By applying this principle, we always maintain consensus on the project’s reason for existence.
How can you create value through Project and/or Programme Management in your industry? Is there a special use case that you would like to tell us about?
The added value of a project is not assessed by the Project Manager or sponsor. It is the beneficiaries, the users, the stakeholders who must give an assessment. Therefore, it is important to keep close contact with this group of people throughout the project. Flexibility as a Project Manager is crucial here and, in many cases, takes precedence over the original project plan. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value”.
Do you apply Agile principles in your work? If so, can you tell us when and how?
Since my AgilePM training with QRP, I have the 8 DSDM principles (Dynamic Systems Development Methodology) hanging at my desk. I believe that focus on these principles can be an asset to all projects. Depending on the project, our focus can be shifted. On the one hand, digital projects benefit more from regular delivery and iterative development. On the other hand, for example in projects aimed at organizational change, we focus more on communication and cooperation.
What are the biggest challenges for a PMO working in your industry? Are there any fundamental skills or personal traits that a successful PMO should be aware of?
The biggest challenge is to keep all projects within a framework. By this I mean that projects can very easily be started, changed, and also die a quiet death if there is no clear framework in which these projects exist. Keeping Project Managers and sponsors convinced of its usefulness, is a challenge. Therefore, it is crucial to demonstrate what the added value of a PMO is within this project framework. For these reasons, a PMO is preferably proactive and a good communicator.
What advice can you give to other Project and/or Programme Management professionals?
Think carefully when initiating each project. The roles of sponsor, Project Manager and possibly a user must be filled. Regularly discuss the project in a structured manner. For projects that have been in the portfolio for a long time but have little or no progress; ask yourself why they are still there. If this question cannot be answered clearly, or if there is no longer a sponsor who supports this project, the project can be closed. You better save your energy for viable projects.
On a more personal note, can you name three concepts you would like to learn in the near future to develop as a professional?
No. For the simple reason that when I want to learn something, I work on it quickly. As a result, I never make it to a list of 3.