By: Jessica Heine
Traditionally in our industry, project managers tend to be the project engineers themselves; rather than being trained project managers who focus on coordination and communication, they’re trained engineers running projects. There are certainly benefits to this traditional approach. For example, with the engineer, also acting as a project manager, acting as a single point of contact, they can provide not only answers to any technical questions a customer may have but also provide updates with regards to budget, schedule, and overall progress with the project. The inverse of this, however, is that the engineer is essentially performing several roles at once, being pulled in multiple directions and left with less time to focus on executing the technical aspects of a project – which can create inefficiency and productivity challenges that impact delivery. Several years ago, Williams Engineering decided to change the way we look at project management. The solution: a designated Project Management Office (PMO).
A PMO “is defined as a permanent organizational unit responsible for the centralized and coordinated management of all projects.” In most companies, the PMO oversees all projects while ensuring that they’re run in keeping with the company’s strategy. With the right team and the right support from other departments, PMOs offer a consistent approach to project management on every project and have the potential to provide the following benefits:
- A company-wide approach to project execution and methodology.
- Dedicated project engineers who can focus on technical tasks without worrying about project management tasks.
- Improved communication both internally and externally.
- Improved knowledge transfers from the project manager to project team members and vice versa.
- Improved efficiency, better quality, and reduced risk.
While PMOs often function as the go-to on standards and methodologies and are less hands-on, the PMO’s role is flexible with three distinctive structures: supportive (acting in a consultative role), controlling (acting in a governance capacity), or directive (acting as the project managers). The PMO ensures that “the right decisions are being made by the right people based on the right information. This can also include auditing and peer reviews, developing project structure and making sure there’s accountability.” As a department of its own, the PMO maintains a library of lessons learned, shares templates and best practices, facilitates project teams, and manages documentation and project history.
How Our Project Management Office Works
At Williams Engineering, we believe that innovative solutions stem from diversity, agility, and collaboration – from ensuring that every team member is doing what they’re best at, which is why our PMO is directive. We’ve created a dedicated team of multi-disciplinary experts in technical engineering, construction, and administration whose purpose isn’t to design your project, but to manage your project from start to finish. In practice, our PMO allows us to pair the right project manager with the right project and the right team.
Every project we undertake has its own project manager who acts as the client’s primary contact and is intentionally selected and assigned to each project based on skill set, expertise, and project parameters – but even though we assign only one project manager to a project, our project management team works collaboratively to support each other. Not only does each project manager liaise with clients and keep them in the loop, but he or she also manages the project’s moving parts (e.g. team, budget, schedule, coordination, and communication). This approach allows our technical engineers to focus on design without worrying about administration. And throughout every phase, the project manager is readily available and accessible to the team and the client, ensuring that the project is running smoothly.
The Project Management Process
We begin assembling our teams during project initiation when we’re putting together a proposal. Each project manager is assigned by the branch manager and/or the project management service line director. This is either at the proposal stage or upon project award. Once assigned to a project, the project manager confirms the project team with the engineering managers and team leads. Following this, the project manager holds an internal project meeting to perform basic planning and resource allocation before any kick-off meetings with the client and the full project team.
To start off on the right foot, kick-off meetings begin by introducing team members, discussing and assigning roles and responsibilities, reviewing client objectives and goals, discussing potential challenges, explaining our approach (both methodology and communication), clarifying our assumptions, and agreeing upon the schedule and budget. By listening first, we’re able to advise and establish expectations upfront, ensuring that our vision aligns with the clients. The respective project plan, which includes scope, costs, quality, schedule, and milestones, is a living document that guides our activities from start-up to closeout – and as it evolves and changes, we keep our clients informed and updated.
Guided by the project plan, the project manager coordinates and communicates with both the client and the team continually, delivering scope items such as schematic design and design development reports, making revisions, and submitting new drafts and drawings per the project schedule. Collaborating with every team member, the project manager is readily informed and aware of the project’s daily progress and coordinates and manages all administrative tasks: monitoring the budget, managing the schedule, overseeing the team, tracking documents, responding to RFIs, and acting as a consistent point of contact for the project. Again, the project manager is available to review the budget and schedule and to listen to and address any client concerns throughout the project’s life cycle, including once the project has been completed.
Ultimately, at Williams, our PMO’s purpose is to streamline the engineering process and build trusting relationships by ensuring that communication is open, transparent, effective, and constant. Because our project managers collaborate with our engineers while also coordinating administrative tasks and keeping clients apprised of progress and changes, we’re able to execute your project successfully.