The rise of PPM and ePMO

How technology and teams are bringing efficiency and transparency to organisations of every size

Modern project management tools and methodologies have existed for more than a century. But in the last five years we’ve seen a leap forward in the evolution of these capabilities, giving more and more organisations access to solutions for securing better project outcomes. With the growing popularity of Project Management Platforms (PPMs), and the Project Management Offices (PMOs) who support them, we’re now in a golden age for project management technology and practice.

Mike McColl – Principal Consultant

Thanks to a wave of project management inventions throughout the 20th century, from the Gantt chart in 1917 and to the launch of Scrum in 1986, every 21st century worker employed today, from boomers to gen alpha is immersed in the age of the project. Even a more recent addition to the methodology canon, the Agile Manifesto published in 2001, has now passed its 20th birthday.

PPM and ePMO graphic

Alongside these tools, methodologies and concepts, technology has also evolved to support advances in project management. Project management software companies Artemis, Oracle, and Scitor Corporation sprang up in the 1970s, but it was today’s global giant Microsoft that brought a product to market that would stand the test of time. Decades later, MS Project still has a strong presence in the market, along with their Power BI (Business Intelligence) tools and dashboards. In 2022, they’re up against some pretty stiff competition from Planview, who are dominating the PPM landscape with their acquisition of Changepoint and Clarizen in 2021, according to industry analysts.

Countries and industries leading the way

So where did all these advances in project management methodologies, technologies and tooling come from? As with the birth of the internet, the military played an important role in moving project management forward in leaps and bounds. The US Navy was looking for a way to monitor the many unknown variables involved in developing their Polaris missiles for submarine launch in the 50s and 60s. Along with the Apollo mission to land a man on the moon, it’s this project that’s credited with paving the way for modern project management practices.

In the commercial world, it was aircraft and car manufacturers who first grasped the importance of bringing greater discipline to the development and production of new models. Getting on board with project management methodologies was essential for companies to experiment with new materials and manufacturing techniques and bring products to market faster, without cost blowouts. And it’s in these industries that we’ve seen the earliest adoption of more recent developments like PPMs and PMOs.

The role of globalisation

“Two vectors shape the world—technology and globalization. The first helps determine human preferences; the second, economic realities. Regardless of how much preferences evolve and diverge, they also gradually converge and form markets where economies of scale lead to reduction of costs and prices.”

The Globalization of Markets, Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business Review, May 1983

It’s been almost four decades since economist Theodore Levitt published this prescient article on globalisation in the Harvard Business Review. When ecommerce took hold in the mid-1990s, the global marketplace Levitt had described became a reality for any consumer with access to an internet connection and digital device. This introduced new challenges for project management, as companies, both global and local, scrambled to harness the commercial potential of a digitally connected global economy.

Just as consumers jumped at the chance to use eCommerce to shop anything from anywhere, the financial sector seized upon connected computer systems as a way to transact around the clock and across time zones. Big banks were also among the first to see the benefits of using these same systems to run projects across their global offices and independently of the siloes of product lines. Before this, taking one project plan and running with it was pretty standard.

The human factor

As projects grew to global proportions so did their budgets and boards started paying a lot more attention to these project costs and outcomes as a result. This is how the earliest PMOs came into being – to provide some degree of accountability, transparency and governance for large-scale projects. These usually consisted of a fairly loose system of project worksheets, issue and risk registers along with weekly sit-downs and conference calls to bring together project leads to report and troubleshoot. They may have been ad hoc and primitive compared with the ePMOs we see now, but they introduced some vital principles of collaboration, communication and reporting that were surprisingly novel at the time.

Bigger project budgets also generated demand for better-qualified project managers, trained in the methodologies designed to keep costs and schedules under control. They, in turn, would start their new role with a major multinational asking what tooling they have to work with. They often found themselves leading teams used to spreadsheets and post-it notes rather than the digital dashboards and workflows we’re seeing today thanks to the likes of Planview and other competitors.

Access for all

As PMOs became a thing from around 2010, this created fresh demand from major global companies for PPM technologies to support the oversight, reporting and governance roles of these entities. But it’s really only in the last five years that our team at Hummingbird have started to see these tools being taken up by smaller-scale organisations and enterprises.

Of course, Hummingbird only came into existence at the beginning of this decade, but the combined project management experience of our team adds up to over 200 years. And we’re delighted to see how popular PMOs and PPM solutions are becoming with up and coming organisations in the corporate, public sector and not-for-profit worlds. Running scores of projects in tandem have been something that’s long been the preserve of global giants of the industry. When smaller organisations have tried in the past to ramp up their project capacity, they’ve ended up with a higher rate of failure, leading them to cap their project count accordingly.

Lowering project failure rates and increasing both visibility and efficient use of project resources are perhaps the most immediate benefits for companies of any size when making an investment in PPM and a PMO function. But the longer-term payoff is in the strategic insights these frameworks can provide.

“We know the importance of strategy and vision within the organization. But the question that always arises is: How do we execute? How do we make that strategy actionable? It is through the vehicles of projects and programs that we’re able to execute and make that strategy actionable. So one of the big trends that we’re seeing right now is a focus on program and portfolio management, and how that is a mechanism for us executing the strategy and managing the strategy in an organization.”

Six Project Management Trends Emerging in 2022, Tim Stobierski, Northeastern University

With organisations of all sizes able to access the tools they need to make strategically informed decisions on standing up and prioritising projects, we can expect to see less time, budget and resources squandered. This can only be a good thing for businesses trying to do more with less for their customers and employees, community and environment, as well as for-profits and shareholders.