The Money Files

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts.

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How To Manage A Project Audit

Categories: PMO, reports

So your project is being audited? Lucky you! There’s quite a lot to think about if this is happening to your project, whether the audit is a formal thing or whether you’ve been selected as the project that’s being scrutinised by the PMO this month as part of an informal ongoing review process.

But auditing isn’t that big of a deal if you know what to expect. Every audit process is going to be slightly different but here are some common things that you can prepare for.

project audit process

Provide The Information

The first step is that you’ll have to provide a whole pile of information to the people doing the audit. Whether that’s your best mate from the PMO or a scary-looking external auditor, they’ll give you a list of the kind of things they want to see. This will include:

  • Your plans and project initiation document
  • Latest project reports and budget spreadsheet
  • Risk, issue and change logs
  • Process documents
  • Test scenarios
  • Access control information or policies
  • Strategies that relate to your project such as your approach for data consolidation, cleansing or validation or coding quality approaches.

The auditor (or audit team) will then take some time to go through all of this. It’s likely to be around two weeks as there’s a lot to digest, and they’ll want to understand it so they might come back to you with follow up questions.

They’re preparing to dig deep into the material and establishing what else they might need to know.

First Meeting

Once the audit team has reviewed your paperwork, they’ll start digging more deeply into the project. At your first meeting (for which there should be an agenda so you can prepare adequately in advance), expect to be taken through a list of points. Consider this the orientation meeting.

It can help if you provide an overview of the project and the objectives as part of the scene setting so be prepared to do that on the spot if asked.

Use the time to really understand what is expected of you and what the process is going forward. For example, what are the reporting expectations during the audit period? If they are asking you for updates, how long will you have to put those together and send them over? In what format?

And if you are expected to make changes to the way you are doing things (which might not be at the request of the auditors but by your manager or the PMO perhaps) then how long will you have for doing that?

Try to establish what the outcome of the audit process will be – they should be able to tell you, and should be able to explain what input you will have to the format and content of the final report. There should be a process by which you can comment on a draft and put your points across before anything is published to senior management.

Find out what your management team or project sponsor intends to use the audit output for, so you can better prepare for any action that is coming your way at the end of the audit.

Follow Up

Following the first meeting you should expect lots of emails! The auditors may want to speak to people in your team or subject matter experts, so make the right people available. If you are submitting follow up or additional documentation you may need to upload this to a secure online repository (if they are external) or provide it over email. There are lots of documents whizzing around in a formal audit situation so try to keep track of what you’ve sent to whom and when.

You might find that after a flurry of activity it all goes quiet for a while. This is the time when the report is being written up. Try to find out when the draft will be coming to you for review so you can block out some time to look at it and add your comments. Be honest in your commentary back but be prepared to challenge anything that you don’t think is accurately representative of your project or the processes being used to manage it.

All that sounds quite daunting but taking part in a project audit shouldn’t be scary – it’s just time consuming and a drain on your team’s resources while you are also trying to get work done. Make sure that your stakeholders and project sponsor know what is going on so that they can give you a bit of grace when it comes to short deadlines and the like during the audit period.

Audits like this won’t take more than about 8 weeks start to end as a maximum, from finalising commercial terms and the engagement letter that kicks off the audit process with an external group to the submission of the final report. However, that time can drag when you are trying to hit project milestones and keep all the plates spinning as well!

Remember that audits are supposed to be highly useful, informative exercises, whether that’s a formal external review or an informal assessment by your PMO peers. The outputs are going to help you manage the project more effectively and get better results for the business, so don’t take the recommendations personally and work together with your team to put the advice into action. Not everyone is lucky enough to go through an audit and what you learn can be invaluable to helping you manage future projects more effectively.

Posted on: September 08, 2017 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

How To Keep PMO Costs Down

Categories: PMO, video

In this video I talk about how to keep the costs of your Project Management Office down - or at least under consideration!

Posted on: May 26, 2016 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Future of Your PMO is Safe…

Categories: PMO, research

…At least, that’s what a survey by ESI would have you believe.

The funding for PMOs has historically been a bit iffy. That’s not a technical term, by the way. PMOs have struggled to prove their value and there is a cyclic effect when times are hard in business: PMOs start to lose their funding and get scaled back or cut completely. That, according to ESI, is finally changing.

The study of over 900 respondents held earlier this year reports that 49% of PMOs are funded as a corporate overhead. Even the word ‘overhead’ doesn’t do the PMO any favours. I know PMOs aren’t exactly revenue generating but they should be a governance and cost control centre rather than a bottomless black hole of overheads. In fact, where a project is done for a client, and a PMO is part of the deal, 40% of them are funded by the project. So you could argue that the PMO is a revenue centre in those situations. However, the study does not make it clear whether those costs are passed to the client or not. I digress…

Corporate i.e. central funding is a good thing for PMOs. ESI believes that corporately-funded PMOs have a far greater opportunity to mature and to provide a wider range of benefits and services both to projects and the business as a whole.

Funding increases on the way

Enterprise PMOs are optimistic. The report concludes that around 30% of enterprise PMOs thought they would be seeing increased funding in the next financial year, so they must think they are doing a good enough job, growing enough and gaining enough recognition to be worth the extra investment. The ESI pundits report that enterprise PMOs typically have a wider influence and higher visibility than those PMOs set up to support an individual project or programme.

PMOs that are supporting individual initiatives are less optimistic about their future and their funding. This is hardly surprising: if your department has been set up to support a project and then that project finishes, your future is uncertain. You can foresee the end of the project from Day 1 so it is no shock that project level PMOs are a bit more reticent about their future.

The challenge of resource management

Another interesting statistic from the ESI study is that resource management is perceived to be the thing that the PMO is worst at by the people who actually do the job.

About half of respondents reported that their PMO has been ‘very ineffective’, ‘ineffective’ or ‘neither effective nor ineffective’ at resource management across projects and programmes.

This is a shame (and a surprise). I thought one of the main benefits of a PMO was to handle resource management and make sure that the right people were working on the right projects at the right time. They certainly have the tools and the remit to do that, if they want. Resource management is tough because it’s probably the part of project planning that deals with the vagaries of your people more than any other. There are just so many variables and things that might change. Keeping track of who is doing what when is more than a full-time job and relies heavily on the support and input from the team members themselves. Plus more and more of what project managers do is knowledge work which makes it very difficult to estimate. This is going to continue to be a challenge for project managers and PMOs.

Another resourcing point flagged by the study is the lack of access to team members trained in Agile working practices. More and more teams are adopting Agile but the training and change management aspects of embedding this in the organisation seem to be lagging behind.

And the challenge of recognition

The survey invited participants to say what other people thought the PMO struggled with as well as giving their own assessment. Inability to effectively manage resources was not something that made the top list of reasons why people challenged the PMO.

The main reason for ‘challenging’ (for which I would read ‘complaining about’) the PMO was about the value that it added to the organisation. In other words, people saying that it didn’t add any value to the business. That’s not really a surprise. Executives have struggled to see the value of the PMO for some time and it’s only when you have a programme of quick wins and a high profile about the work that you do that the value of a PMO is clear. And even then you won’t always win over the detractors. There will always be someone who says project managers should just get on with it.

PMOs provide a valuable role within a company and the regular ESI studies show the changing landscape of the global PMO. It will be interesting to see if we are still hearing the same complaints and complements about PMOs in a few years.

Posted on: August 13, 2015 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The budget challenge for PMOs

Categories: PMO, research

ESI International, a large project management training company, released the findings of its latest annual benchmarking survey this month. “The State of the Project Management Office: On the Road to the Next Generation” survey investigates the current role of the Project/Programme Management Office (PMO), its development to full-blown maturity and value for the overall business.

Based on responses from over 3,000 respondents in more than 17 industries on six continents, the research revealed that budgets have been the biggest challenge for PMOs over the last year.

The survey respondents also said that in order to measure success, they relied on the standard definitions of the triple constraint: namely on time, to-budget project delivery. This is one way of defining success, and perhaps one of the easiest to measure but not the most effective (or modern) way of thinking about project success results. Maybe that’s why around 55% of respondents said that the value of their PMO was questioned by key stakeholders.

Why might budget constraints be a top problem?

Here are some reasons why budgets make the top of the list for PMO challenges:

  • Budgets are tight – we’re still in very difficult economic times
  • PMOs are not traditionally a profit centre – they don’t make any money themselves, although they do facilitate making money through the delivery of projects
  • PMO resources are typically expensive, so they need to justify their worth
  • PMO core activities like training could be being squeezed by less money available to spend on these activities, giving rise to challenges balancing the department’s books

Like all departments, PMOs are having to come up with new ways to do more with less. Maybe this is just a symptom that all departments are suffering from and is not a specific research finding related to PMOs.

Is budget the top challenge for your PMO in 2012? If not, what is?

Posted on: May 25, 2012 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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