P3O Guidance launched

OGC launched guidance last week on managing Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (that’s P3O® for short). It was a low-key launch event at a great venue south of the river, just along from Tate Britain, which looks beautiful lit up at night. Frances Scarff, head of best management practice for OGC did the introductions, including what to do in case of a bomb threat. She told us to stay put, as the room we were in was a designated safe haven, whatever that means. It reminded me of the toilets at Denver International Airport, which all have ‘Tornado Shelter’ signs on.

Sue Vowler, the lead author of P3O® and director of Project Angels, then explained more about the guidance and what they had set out to achieve when the project kicked off in October 2006. The initial conversations held then were to sound out if there was a market for this kind of guidance, and she got her mandate to go ahead mid-2007. Sue confessed to being glad to see the back of it, now the book is actually out.

The P3O® guidance is designed to be very practical and a reference for what good practice looks like. Sue and her co-author Anthony Close, who is based in Brisbane, have done a good job of including case studies to help people see how the approach to running a Portfolio, Programme or Project Office.

Although the book has come from the OGC stable, it’s not tied to any particular methodology or standard, and in fact Sue is working with one company now to implement it in an Agile project environment. Having said that, it does complete the jigsaw and fill a gap:  it’s also aligned in language terms at least to the OGC Gateway, Management of Risk, Managing Successful Programmes and ITIL®. The P3O® work has also been future-proofed in that it’s compatible with the next version of PRINCE2®, which is due out soon.

Sue said that working in a project support office used to be considered a stepping stone to becoming a project manager. This function was filled by junior staff doing admin tasks. That’s no longer the case. A good P3O® needs to provide oversight, challenge and scrutiny and some of the best people to do that are ex-project managers, at the top of their career. Portfolio management is an emerging skill that involves juggling a lot of elements, and given the economic downturn I think there is going to be even more focus on the value that comes from doing the right projects.

After Sue’s presentation we filed out to look at the framed copies of Private Eye on the walls and drink a glass of wine. The OGC team had brought along a few PCs where we could try out the Foundation P3O® exam. I whizzed through the sample questions and passed – just. While I don’t pretend to be a P3O® manager, I can’t help thinking that the wine must have impeded my performance…