How to set up a project management office

30 March 2020
Saudi Arabia is showing increased appetite for project management office organisational structures, writes Matt Austin of Faithful+Gould

Last year, there was a return to heavy investment in megaprojects and associated infrastructure in Saudi Arabia as Vision 2030 developments accelerated. 

Many rapidly evolving organisations are looking to develop governance structures, processes and procedures that will help them deliver their objectives effectively. As a result, project management offices (PMOs) are becoming the mainstream organisational structure for embedding global best practice into the delivery of ambitious capital projects and programmes. 

The PMO supports the business – not just programmes and projects, but looks inward to the organisation’s goals, processes and procedures, and outwards to its supporting ecosystem, analysing information, identifying risks and proposing solutions. Importantly, the PMO also manages dependencies and conflicts between programmes.

As the kingdom’s built environment market evolves, the PMO has become a more recognised entity, offering potential for long-term business transformation. The scale of today’s programmes demands a collaborative approach, for maximum benefits and added value. 

So, how can organisations ensure a successful and collaborative PMO set-up and delivery? Here are the eight key steps:

1. Act promptly  

A prompt start with a balanced senior team is essential. The sooner the PMO team starts to analyse the programme and gain a better understanding of existing business structures and systems, the more effective its influence will be.  

2. Review governance structures

The PMO is intended to operate at programme level, providing strategic solutions that reflect the scale and complexity of the programme. Governance is programme-focused rather than project-focused, with a work breakdown structure that aligns with the programme’s demands. This is a multi-layered approach, supporting the scale of the programme and resolving the contracts, payment certificates and variations requiring signed approval. 

3. Scrutinise critical processes

Robust processes are defined and developed as part of the programme management plan, and their place in the schedule determined. Some processes, such as procurement, have greater priority in the early stages. Critical processes can be monitored and used for further analysis against the programme schedule, to highlight potential problems or support development of key performance indicators.

4. Prepare documents

Key documents are essential, not only for recording and measuring the programme as it progresses, but also for providing data for analysis. Typically, these include a programme management plan, baseline programme, cost plans, budget, cash flows and commitments.

5. Develop a procurement roadmap

Procurement is one of the challenging factors in ensuring on-time and on-budget delivery. Part of the challenge is aligning with key stakeholders on the procurement roadmap, monitoring and planning. Putting robust processes and resources in place is key to a successful procurement exercise and a much more effective outcome. In addition, well-defined procurement supports intelligent vendor management and makes best use of tools such as framework agreements.  

6. Integrate effectively

An effective PMO hinges on a close and collaborative relationship with the client, whereby the PMO is integrated into, accepted by and invested in the organisation. The PMO’s intent needs to understand the client’s business requirements, identify risks, conduct careful analysis and demonstrate robust evidence of best practice. The client organisation will develop alongside the programme, and both the PMO consultancy and client body can collaborate to promote a culture change as well as strategic and operational change.

7. Focus on data management

The opportunity for digital transformation is an area Faithful+Gould encourages its clients to explore. Traditional programmes create an unwieldy volume of data and reports, which is typically difficult for the client body to absorb and use. From the outset, a successful PMO creates efficient systems for data collection and reporting, together with standardised forms and templates for use by the supply chain, providing the client with accurate and timely reports. Easily accessible programme-wide information will support the client in its interactions with its board of directors. 

8. Invest in training 

When properly considered, the programme can support the aims of Vision 2030 in providing employment opportunities for Saudi nationals. As the PMO matures, in-programme training can support the future transfer of the PMO roles into the client organisation, creating a legacy with far-reaching benefits. With a well-qualified and skilled team, the PMO can disseminate knowledge to provide continuing professional development and support training programmes for graduate staff within the client team. Faithful+Gould has supported clients across the Middle East through knowledge exchange and project management professional training courses. Additionally, wider opportunities within the programme can be identified, such as investment in training academies to develop a skilled local workforce to fulfil needed roles. 

About the author

Matt Austin is regional delivery director, Middle East at Faithful+Gould, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group


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