In different organisations it might be called the Project Office, Project Support Office or Project Management Office but whatever the term used this is essentially the same team or department with the same fundamental role – to ensure projects are run efficiently, reported accurately and deliver a measurable business benefit.
It is important in understanding the role of the Project Office to distinguish between their responsibilities for certain aspects of the project and the overall responsibility of the project manager, particularly when it comes to scheduling and reporting. The Project Office is not responsible for planning and scheduling the project or even for adjusting the schedule and, whilst they might be responsible for preparing reports in an appropriate format, the actual data present on the reports must be supplied by the project manager.
What the project office is responsible for is providing real value as a supportive team that ensures best practices are followed; that good, useful templates are available and that the project manager can be relieved of some of the tedious tasks to get on with the job of running the project. A project manager does not relinquish any responsibilities to the Project Office, but they can help projects to be executed more consistently and delivered more successfully.
Many project managers and teams view the Project Office as providing a purely administrative function and simply adding an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. Sometimes on the surface of it, this is the function they provide, but they also provide (or should provide) easy access to all versions of your documentation and, perhaps more importantly, to the documentation from other projects in your organisation. The best project offices will make these data readily available where they see that some particular lessons can be learned from previous projects with respect to efficiency in the planning, implementation and control of the project.
Perhaps the key to a good relationship between the project office and the project managers is that the project office has a flexible approach to project execution and delivery. Not all projects are the same and sticking rigidly to one set of documentation, templates and procedures, even when they are clearly not relevant to certain projects, will just lead to resentment from the project manager and the project office failing to achieve their goal of adding value to the project.
On the other hand a project office that can deliver insightful reports with the right level of detail for senior management, yet still presenting an accurate picture of the status of the project, are freeing up the project manager for tasks to which he/she is better suited. This establishes a good link between project manager and senior management which is vital when the project manager needs to request additional resources or when senior management need to inform the project manager of changes in priorities and business objectives.
So learn to love your Project Office – they can help teams to learn from each other by providing an easily accessible central repository of useful documentation. And, by doing so, help you to improve your own projects. They also help to build good relationships with senior management and prepare and deliver meaningful reports showing project progress from both strategic and detailed levels. And they also minimise duplication of effort by providing tried and tested project templates. A Project Office usually includes team members who have undertaken formal project management training so they understand projects from the perspective of the project manager and the project team as well as from a management perspective. They are likely to provide many other functions but these alone are enough to help you appreciate the support that a Project Office can provide.