The current COVID-19 health emergency is testing the capacity of government and business to manage the front-line, respond to disruption and maintain vital services. A programme management office (PMO) can free-up management teams to focus on essential decision-making and leadership, and supply expertise and information to effectively manage emerging pressures. Our ability to implement PMOs quickly – in as little as 72 hours – allows us to provide immediate crisis support and specialist advice to our clients, releasing their time to focus on business-critical activity.
“A PMO has the ability to provide additional capacity and capability at a time when an organisation is under exceptional pressure,” says Rob Hilton, global practice leader for project, programme and commercial management.
Among the challenges that our clients are grappling with are:
- temporary loss of key people in leadership and management due to illness, opening up potential risks around operational, project, programme and service delivery
- need to focus time and attention on crisis management, calling either for specialists to address the crisis or to cover for staff whose attention is diverted
- exceptional projects, outside the core capabilities of the client organisation
- and in the longer-term, managing risks as operations, projects and programmes ramp up post-pandemic.
An important characteristic of a ‘crisis’ PMO is diversity and multidisciplinary reach. Among the ways that we help are:
- instant access to expertise spanning technical engineering, IT/digital and information management, project management, social (health, education, social care) safety and communications – providing the bandwidth to deal with nearly any situation that arises
- digital and technical knowhow – knowing what data it is valuable to gather and how to use it in order to achieve the best outcomes for the client
- robust systems for team integration, collaboration, data management and document sharing – giving our clients and partners a secure working platform, if it’s needed
- procurement, commercial and contractual support – preventing corporate systems from being overloaded by the demands of exceptional activities
- strongly collaborative culture – enabling diverse organisations to be brought together into integrated teams focused on solving the problems at hand; where required we can bring in trusted partners – specialist consultants, suppliers and contractors – who offer additional expertise, innovation and capacity
“The most crucial first step in a PMO’s crisis management role is gathering essential data that managers need to plan and co-ordinate activities, and make rapid decisions during an evolving situation,” Rob says. Increasingly, data are digital, but photographs, printed plans and paper-based information are all useful for understanding a situation and how best to respond. Something is better than nothing.
By establishing rapid governance requirements and a feedback loop with strong information-sharing processes, a PMO team can equip managers with vital data. This enables them to identify emerging pressures before they become unmanageable issues, understand the impact of decisions on the ground, and on the outcomes achieved, and to measure performance trends against key metrics.
Better data, better decisions
“At times of crisis, it’s more important than ever that senior management teams have a window into how their business or organisation is performing,” says project director Dan Phillips. Part of the skill in creating an effective PMO is to enable key people – in some cases just one individual – to see the big picture. This means giving others responsibility for detail and the delivery of specific task orders, so that they can view the situation in balanced and holistic way.
A PMO can leave lasting benefits such as corporate systems that aid long-term efficiency, software and technical solutions that enable ongoing performance measurement and risk monitoring, and skills that make the organisation more capable long-term.
The benefits of a digital PMO
“One of the biggest challenges facing executives right now is maintaining a comprehensive and coherent management decision-making process in the absence of good, up-to-date and relevant data,” Dan says. “A PMO can bridge this information gap. If set up and run correctly, it will collect, collate and analyse data, giving instant access to what is happening across an organisation, enabling management to make informed and timely decisions.
“The more robust data you have at your disposal, and the better the analysis and forecasting of this data so it is clear what it means, the more quickly you will be able to make these decisions and improve performance.
“In the current crisis, having access to good data will enable organisations in the public sector to maintain delivery of frontline services. For a business, it could be the differentiator for survival.”
Digitalisation can greatly amplify the benefits of a PMO when managing a crisis. A digital PMO is one that operates within and is guided by data, in addition to process and guidelines.
Head of PMO Andrew Eagle says: “Powered by the accuracy and velocity of this data, a digital PMO goes beyond traditional reporting and uses real-time data to guide decision making and support scenario planning and thus predictive action. In the future digital PMOs will have artificial intelligence at their core, giving project leaders the ability to adopt a ‘mission control’ approach, and so act strategically rather than the usual firefighting.”
Key steps for setting up an effective PMO, quickly
- Establish what key data you need to support management decisions.
- Decide what technology platforms you are going to use to collect, collate and analyse data.
- Agree who needs to see the information, and make sure they understand the decisions they are expected to make based on that data.
- Make sure the PMO team have the right skillsets to analyse data and are focused on the delivery of the organisation’s desired business outputs and outcomes.
- Develop and maintain a rhythm so that you are continually gathering collecting, analysing and presenting data to support decision making.
NHS Nightingale Hospital, London, UK
On Friday 20 March 2020 we wrote to the Department of Health & Social Care and the NHS offering our support in responding to the surge in demand for hospital capacity, required to treat people infected by COVID-19. We took part in an assessment of London’s Excel exhibition centre on Monday 23 March and began work on converting it into the Nightingale Hospital – with 4000 beds, the world’s largest intensive care unit – on Wednesday 25th. The hospital opened on Wednesday 8 April.
The clinical team was focused on patient treatment – their priority was beds and medical facilities. But a hospital can’t operate without a very extensive network of supporting infrastructure. That’s where we stepped in, providing
- Auxiliary buildings – ambulance stations, vehicle washdown, mortuary, storage and staff canteens and welfare
- Staff accommodation in 25 nearby hotels
- Auxiliary and backup power supply, water supply and wastewater disposal
- Transport planning, on and off site – access, egress, parking and marshalling for construction traffic, ambulances, delivery vehicles, staff vehicles, public transport, private shuttle buses between the site and staff accommodation, and for general and clinical waste removal
Site security and perimeter fencing
General and clinical waste management
Drainage and civil engineering
Signage and wayfinding
A team was created to support on-site activity by integrating diverse organisations and co-ordinating their activities. The integration team started with the London Nightingale Hospital and is now providing integration and programme management for all four ongoing surge capacity programmes at Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow – sharing knowledge and the benefits of lessons learned. It is a central resource capable of supporting many UK and international programmes simultaneously. The integration team assists by:
- Responding to requests from on-site technical leads, reaching into Mott MacDonald and partner organisations for the right skills and support
- Providing an integrated common data environment for collaboration, information management, communication and document control between multiple parties and technical leads, reaching into Mott MacDonald and partner organisations for the right skills and support
- Enabling project leads from different programmes to share and learn, through three calls a week
- Building knowledge for all in an ever-expanding, Microsoft Teams site that captures and curates information providing an ever-expanding FAQ sheet
- Cutting through bureaucracy when contracting with suppliers and contractors
- Scheduling and co-ordinating discipline activities and interfaces
- Ensuring everyone is paid on time
- Providing safety oversight and governance for site activities during high-speed and potentially high-risk programmes
Infrastructure Recovery Programme, Cumbria, UK
In the aftermath of Storm Desmond in December 2015, Cumbria County Council, UK faced a herculean task to rebuild shattered infrastructure. Nearly 800 bridges and 300km of roads were damaged. The council required support to plan and manage what would become known as the Infrastructure Recovery Programme (IRP).
“The first task was the creation of an integrated team, working out of a single hub, to deliver the programme,” says David Brown, IRP programme director. “All the IRP’s personnel were appointed on a ‘best athlete’ basis, regardless of whether they worked for Cumbria County Council or Mott MacDonald. We knitted together into a seamless team working as one unit.”
Rumaila Oil Field Operating Base, Iraq
BP commissioned us to deliver a major operating base from scratch and accommodation for the first 100 personnel was required in just six weeks. Within hours of being awarded the contract, we had mobilised a design team to manage its construction. The overall base, with power and sanitation infrastructure plus offices, leisure and canteen facilities, would eventually house 1500 workers and was completed in under six months.
“Even in a pressurised situation, when time is of the essence, it’s really important you plan and set up the PMO correctly,” says development director Gordon Turley. “This involves establishing robust processes, making sure IT systems are functional and compatible, and identifying and mobilising the right personnel with the right skills.”