The 'Top Down' vs 'Bottom Up' Approach to the Program Management Office

Author: Ian Needs

Our 20 years of implementing PMO solutions in large organizations has shown us the need for a more practical, pragmatic approach to the PMO that gives companies a better chance for success when new practices are put into place. One of the key roles of the PMO is to ensure that teams stay focused on business outcomes—always with an eye to the strategic guideposts that answer the “Why?” of a project.

Unfortunately, many programs become bogged down or take on a life of their own when middle and lower layers (execution-level) become mired in the complexity of the project tools. On its face, the execution-led (or “bottom up”) approach makes wonderful sense, but it carries with it a dangerous assumption: that everyone will use the system consistently and that they will update it in a timely manner. Experience has shown us that few organizations ever achieve this level of compliance and virtually none of them can sustain this approach.

Top Down Approach to Program Management

Managers and project teams revert to using technology that they are most comfortable with, resulting in chaos. As the PMO attempts to capture and distill activity for leadership, a huge reporting overhead is created. Threats to delivery aren’t spotted in time. Additional resources and expenses are incurred to get things back on track.

The Top-Down Approach

Part of the problem can be traced to highly complex and expensive project management solutions that ultimately fail to deliver, creating some of the pitfalls outlined above. This is why we encourage our clients to employ a top-down approach that puts in place only those solutions that make sense and which are easy to implement. In short, put the focus on business outcomes first, with technology as the enabler of progress and a means to identify troublesome issues that jeopardize PMO and organizational success:

  • Focus on the business objectives and desired outcomes of a project & program delivery solution
  • Specify the information you require to manage your business and avoid the practice of managers volunteering ad hoc and unstructured information
  • Avoid taking on unnecessary and impossible challenges –the most obvious one is that we need to recognize that different managers have different styles and it is folly to try to compel each manager to manage their projects in the same way.

If you are ready to free your program management practice of unrealistic execution schemes that put more emphasis on the tools than the outcome, KeyedIn Projects offers you a way to easily deploy the right tools and framework for reducing chaos, improving project delivery, morale, customer relationships and profit. Learn more here.