The Strategic Project Office

Authors: J. Kent Crawford
Publisher: CRC Press

The author is the former president and chair of the PMI. He founded PM Solutions in 1996 and remains president and CEO. The book is one of a number of publications under the label of PM Solutions Research including others by the same author.

PM Solutions and the PMI are American based organisation. I am not suggesting that this undermines its value to an audience outside of the states, quite the contrary. While it does mean some of the terminology and vocabulary may not be so familiar to those whose focus is more UK centric it is a reminder we should not see the OGC as the only source of best practice information and we can benefit from referencing a wider base of learning.

This is the second edition of the book, the first, as far as I can tell was published in 2001 though I admit to not being familiar with it and I have made no attempt to contrast this with it, other than through the notes that are included within this edition. Looking at what the differences are and the reasons the author gives to republish this as a second edition may be a good place to start to try and understand what changes have taken place in the arena over this period. In the preface the author suggests, I would say rightly that sound project management of individual projects is no longer enough. An organisation needs to be able to identify all the projects it is undertaking and manage them strategically, making intelligent and informed decisions on resource allocation. This edition adds new information on the role of the Strategic Project Office to aligning projects and corporate strategy in chapter one and includes a new chapter on project portfolio management. The update also reflects changes included in the latest version of the PMI PMBOK.

The book identifies as its target audience a wide range of stakeholders – executive management, project office directors, managers of project managers and project managers themselves. This may be a little optimistic, it is not a light read, with 288 pages mainly of condensed text in a hardback cover.

Though the author recognises the myriad of acronyms used for the Project Office function it uses PMO or SPMO (Strategic PMO) throughout the book which does seem slightly at odds with the title.

The book is structured in ten chapters and claims to cover 4 primary areas of PMO knowledge and practice, namely governance & portfolio management, resource optimisation, organisational change and performance measurement. From an ease of reading, understanding and referencing I would have preferred to see the content structured around these areas as by comparison the chapter sequencing  and organisation is somewhat disjointed, highlighted by the new input on portfolio management appearing as chapter 6 while corporate strategy and project alignment is chapter 1.

A journey through the book starts in the introduction with a brief look at the history and evolution of project management and how its role in many organisations has changed and evolved, often challenging the organisation structure itself. It suggests as project management has moved into new areas of organisations the role of the PMO has moved out of the back office and become mission critical. The author uses some potentially dubious statistics and reasons for project failure to support this.

The book includes a CD with a set of templates in MS Office formats. While those in MS Word show their origin through the PM Solutions logo and those in MS Excel include the same corporate orange colouring they do appear to provide a good base for anyone looking for a starting point. The notes included in the contents file explain the usage of them through the PMI PM BOK process stages. They are equally as appropriate for use with other methodologies such as Prince 2. It is positive that they are provided in an electronic format rather than having the contents of each of them listed in a table in a book, we do after all, all like to get something that we can practically use.

In summary, it packs a lot of good material with some thoughtful use of understandable analogies and good reference in most cases to real organisational contexts. I think the structuring of the contents lets it down and reduces the readability of it. It is more of a book to read than to use as a reference. I don’t think it can be regarded as a PMO handbook and I don’t think it pertains to be one. While reading I found it stimulating and thought provoking and have several pages of notes to follow up and take action on, that itself must make it a worthwhile read and addition to the library.

Reviewed by guest contributor Stuart Cranfield. May 2011
Open Positions

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