Gartner Offers New View of Project Management

Used properly, project management offices can help CIOs make better decisions about how and where to spend their IT dollars

The best way to meet challenging new business demands isn't always putting one's nose to the grindstone -- or boosting one's productivity. Hard work, in other words, can only go so far.

That's the conclusion of recent research from market watcher Gartner Inc., which argues that -- in addition to working hard and tackling challenges -- IT should think about establishing project management offices (PMO) and embracing cutting-edge project management technologies and methodologies. The logic of doing so, Gartner says, is compelling: PMOs can do a better job of identifying and addressing changing business demands -- chiefly, an expected uptick in the number and variety of IT assets (both human and non-human) that will require retirement or replacement over the next seven years.

Gartner frames its PMO wake-up call as part of a larger focus on what it calls IT modernization. Modernization, a la Gartner, doesn't just involve retiring aging assets or resources (or retrofitting others, for that matter).

In Gartner's vision, IT modernization actually describes a "complete overhaul of the culture of IT." The goal is to engineer processes that enable IT to "close the gap on accelerating business demands."

The impetus to modernize is clear, says Gartner, anticipating what it calls "the greatest shift in IT technology skills … in the history of computing." To wit: the Baby Boom generation is poised to retire, even as a new Connected Generation – i.e., users who've been raised on computers and IT -- slowly takes its place. Although the impetus to modernize might be clear, the means for doing so seem elusive. Sadly, Gartner claims, IT has made a "disorganized mess" of many so-called "IT modernization" efforts.

There's a reason for that, according to Dale Vecchio, a Gartner research vice-president. "Most IT organizations seem to be engaged in a never-ending task of IT renewal, similar to painting San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which legend says takes so long that by the time the crew reaches the far side, it is time to start over again," wrote Vecchio in a research bulletin published this spring.

"This never-ending cycle of renewal would not be an issue if it was achieving the goals set for IT by the business: simple, effective solutions delivered at an acceptable cost that can be quickly modified to meet changing business demands," Vecchio observed. Unfortunately, he lamented, the opposite seems to be the case: "Far from achieving these business objectives, however, common IT practice seems to be getting farther away from these goals."

This leads to an overwhelming question, at least in Gartner's reckoning: Can IT address these issues by rolling up its sleeves and working harder while using the same methods employed in the past? For Vecchio, the answer is no. "Effective IT modernization requires organization, and we believe that the concept of a … [PMO] or multiple project management offices is crucial to organize for, and facilitate IT modernization," he concluded, in a statement.

More to the point, Vecchio suggested, investment in a PMO -- along with the development of sound project and portfolio management (PPM) skills -- will give IT decision-makers more insight into their network, server, and storage assets, which will in turn help them make better decisions about how and where to spend IT budgeted dollars. The goal, Gartner analysts say, is that PMOs (and the PPM practices that enable them) will not only help CIOs make effective decisions about IT modernization, but enable them to steer money into strategic IT projects.

"A PMO can provide a common planning process with artifacts, a common reporting process and oversight and a common IT modernization process," said Daniel Stang, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a statement. "It brings structure and support to evaluating, justifying, defining, planning, tracking and executing IT modernization efforts. It also encourages more business-side participation in IT modernization efforts and in the resolution of conflicts caused by limited resources and other constraints."

Before you create your PMO, however, consider how it's going to fit into your organizational hierarchy. One best practice, according to Gartner, is to pursue PMOs that aren't embedded in, or which otherwise aren't under the jurisdiction of, IT. This not only helps counter perceptions of bias or conflicts of interest – e.g., IT greenlights only the projects that IT wants to greenlight -- but also encourages IT to pursue enterprise modernization projects which benefit the business as a whole.

On top of PMOs, Gartner advocates the creation of enterprise project management offices (EPMO), which functions as a project management ombudsman. It's a meta-management organ that doesn't actually have any direct project management responsibilities but which focuses on oversight and monitoring.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.