Insight # 65 : Innovation: The Sky's the Limit!

Building a PMO that Helps Vendors Work Together

By Pranav Pratel

Complex government initiatives increasingly require multiple delivery and supplier partners to join forces to deliver the needed change. Recently, I was involved in a new programme at the UK Ministry of Justice Programme Management Office (PMO) as the manager of "Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Decisions" (RAID). In that role I saw up close the importance of engaging all participants in the journey from the beginning to increase overall support and momentum for the change. That included participants from the supplier side too.


The phenomenon of partnering is something the UK government wants to make sure its agencies get right. As a report from the Office of Government Commerce noted, "Effective partnership working has become an increasingly important issue. For example, the broad, outcome-based nature of Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets has emphasised the need to work in partnership with other organisations -- PSAs very often cannot be delivered by one organisation alone. The increased focus on delivery has emphasised the need for effective relationships."

Partnership in Action

At the Ministry of Justice, Pcubed and CMC Partnership were successful in deploying and establishing a PMO in addition to providing project managers to support the a new programme. As explained in this publicly available report, the purpose of the initiative was to change the way offenders are managed in the community to reduce the levels of reoffending rates while continuing to protect the public. That encompassed several areas of reform:

  • Opening up the provision of probation services to a diverse range of new rehabilitation providers;
  • Creating a new National Probation Service as part of the National Offender Management Service;
  • Extending supervision after release to nearly all offenders leaving custody; and
  • Implementing a new "through the prison gate" resettlement service across England and Wales.

The majority of probation services are currently delivered by 35 probation trusts under contract to the National Offender Management Service on behalf of the Secretary of State for Justice. Once the reforms are fully implemented, these will be replaced with 21 community rehabilitation companies and seven government-owned entities. These will be owned by private and voluntary sector providers and the newly formed National Probation Service, which will be in the public sector and part of the National Offender Management Service.

So the PMO, which is at the heart of any programme, needs to position itself to understand the network of stakeholders and ensure they work together to eliminate as much complexity as possible in the environment. Too often a common failure for not achieving programme objectives comes down to suppliers demonstrating a lack of communication and engagement with other delivery partners while working in rapidly changing environments.

When the PMO itself is being run by a supplier, is it possible to achieve the goal of bringing partners together to instill programme maturity and ensure the service being delivered is of optimal value to the client? I believe so, as long as a few crucial elements are present.

Intangible Behaviors

The typical artefacts the PMO generates -- stakeholder mapping, stakeholder assessments, organisation charts, and the like -- can be useful in understanding the environment. However, to ensure that the PMO is seen as the catalyst behind programme success, it needs to exhibit constructive, intangible behavior that allows for calmness and unity across the coalition.

This intangible behavior takes many forms:

  • Fostering and maintaining stronger supplier and client relationships. Even in the hustle and bustle of a vigorous delivery commitment to the client, all delivery partner teams need to make time to schedule regular team meetings to discuss lessons and ensure full visibility of information during the programme.
  • Collaboration and partnering. Working together is often overlooked when each partner organization is concentrating on pleasing the client; however, building strong relationships with all client stakeholders and becoming immersed into the client culture will only bring positive results.
  • Exhibiting teamwork, honesty and a culture of openness. Working in a reactive industry calls for stronger team work, honesty and openness to ensure that the PMO is truly seen as the centre of excellence.
  • Establishing and sustaining communication and clarity. Setting the framework for communication and how information is to be shared is critical. Rolling out a communication plan is vital for client stakeholders; but it's also useful for keeping the flow of information open among vendor members of the "coalition" as well.
  • Sharing lessons learned. I have found that adopting Managing Successful Programs (MSP) in a programme like this brings many advantages. An important one is the separation of activities into "tranches." By instilling this approach lessons learned can be undertaken and shared with the programme team after the delivery of a set package of work. This allows improvements to be documented and taken forward into the next tranche of the programme. (To learn more about MSP, read "The Basics of Managing Successful Programs," here.)

When demonstrated well these behaviors give back more to the programme and allow the focus to remain on delivery rather than inter-entity differences. They also allow for better buy-in from project managers who are often adversarial to adhering to PMO processes.

Working to Benefit the Client

The recipe for success involves dedicating time to foster stronger relationships with various entities. By working in a complex programme among multiple delivery partners at the Ministry of Justice, I could immerse myself into this challenge, managing important relationships and "embedding" myself with senior stakeholders and project managers. Doing that showed programme stakeholders how to collaborate and work towards a "single team approach."

Often I hear people ask, "What is the value add for the client?" or "How do we go the extra mile?" The ability to foster a network of relationships among individuals from rival companies working on the same initiative is critical to realizing programme benefits for the mutual client. The elimination of the organization-specific "tag" and the viewing of all participants in the programme as a unified team ultimately deliver better investment of time and overall cost savings. How does this work? First, through their cooperation, the various partners showcase strong project and change management behavior. Second, they demonstrate how to adjust to change and how to build new kinds of relationships and new modes of working together. As an important by-product, by joining forces on a programme, arch-rivals can form an instant community of practice that acts as the backbone for enabling PMO success.

For further information on this article and Pcubed, please email .