Over the last decade, organizations have been facing increasing challenges of external competition that requires product and process innovation and quality service. To meet these needs, the project management office (PMO) gains its acceptance and significance as a new organizational entity to improve organizational performance in terms of its effectiveness and efficiency in both the private and public sectors. The Government of Canada manages a wide range of projects each year in order to deliver priority programs and quality services to the public and thus issues corresponding policies to lay emphasis on the effective management of projects.

The PMBOK Guide defines the project management office as “an organizational unit to centralize and coordinate the management of projects under its domain.” (PMI, 2004, 32) “The PMO focuses on the coordinated planning, prioritization and execution of projects and subprojects that are tied to the parent organization’s or client’s overall business objectives.” (PMI, 2004, 32)  All this complies with the mandate of the Government of Canada with regard to its policies on management of projects and programs.

PMO has been addressed increasingly in the professional literature to reflect its existence and practice in the business world, yet little empirical or theoretical research has been conducted on this topic. And up till now no research has been done regarding how the PMO functions in the setting of the Government of Canada and what constitutes its new framework in this particular setting, which makes this study a pioneer in the research area, endowing it with far-reaching meanings and significance.

Research problem

Project management research work has for a long time given little attention to the desired insight on the complex but practical nature of the establishment of a project management office. An organization seeking to improve overall performance in its projects must start with a snapshot of the current negative state of affairs of its project. A long other factors that may contribute to such a negative state of affairs in project, the absence of a project management office will emerge as the key factor from which the rest are precipitated. With this as a benchmark, future gains in any organization can be measured and trends can be plotted to show results of project initiatives. It is important to view the total organization in terms of projects as a system consisting of drivers, results, and measures for correction and improvement. While many states may have had their own share of problems that come with failed projects, Canada is in the league of states whose losses due to this deficiency can only be understated. However for her, all is not lost since this punctual and well-intended project will go a long way in ensuring that project related failures and problems are put under, once and for all.

Research Questions

General Question: How does the project management office (PMO) function in Government of Canada and what constitutes its new framework in this particular setting?

Specific Questions:

1) As a/an reform/innovation in the Government of Canada, how does the project management office (PMO) help to achieve strategic planning, enterprise-wide portfolio management and collaborations in order to improve the organizational performance and excellence?

2)What governance of the PMO has been put in place to assist in decision-making, guide, direct and control to accomplish the organizational objectives by taking into account the interaction of key factors such as policies, roles, responsibilities, processes, politics, power, organizational cultures in the complex bureaucracy of the Government setting?

Objectives

I. To present a portrait of the  PMO in the Government of Canada and to identify its key components mainly by case studies of PMOs in the Government of Canada

II.To observe the possible strategic portfolio management models, stakeholder communication frameworks and PMO governance models exiting in PMOs in depending on the maturity of the PMO by analysis of the case studies to capture the existing situation of the actual practice in the PMO of the Government of Canada

III.To supplement the case studies by some in-depth interviews with project managers/directors in the PMOs if necessary to obtain more information or perception

IV. To interpret the findings and results and to verify the validity and  reliability by means of feedback discussions with project managers/directors in the PMOs and or peer briefing to check the questionnaire design of the in-depth interview

V. To propose and make recommendations on how to apply the results of the qualitative analysis to the establishment of new framework of PMO in the Government of Canada  and to help with the decision-making and policy guidance process in the Government of Canada    

Purpose

The purpose of the study is to investigate how the project management office (PMO) functions in the Government of Canada by presenting a portrait of the PMOs and by identifying its key components in its new framework so as to provide management and policy guidance for the application of PMO in the Government of Canada.

Contribution to the advancement of knowledge

Harvey (1999) says that project management unit controls the planning, organizing, directing and controlling activities in addition to motivating what usually is the most expensive resource on the project – the people. Locke (2003) observes that the purpose of project management office’s framework is to foresee or predict as many of the dangers and problems as possible and to plan, organize and control activities so that projects are completed as successfully as possible in spite of all the risks.

Thus PMO can be seen as the process, within a definite and physical unit, of setting and subsequently attaining objectives through planning, organizing, directing and controlling the investment of available resources in conformity with triple constraint principle so as to transform peoples’ livelihood positively. It can also be seen as the process of planning, executing and controlling work that is temporary to produce unique goods / services that positively transform the livelihoods of beneficiaries.

The basic importance of a framework in a project management office is manifested in the paradigmatic change in organizations towards output (product /service) delivery. Over the years, this was based on routine operations and the concern of management teams was on how to do the same thing better so as to increase productivity.

This is to say that they were involved in repetitive operations or activities. Today management in most organizations is more involved in one –time shots (Verzuh, 2003). This approach to output delivery gives an individual /team only one chance to do something, hence the need for framework in the project management offices.

Regrettably, while the this significant issue of PMO has for the last few years won an increasing academic acclamation, no meaningful research work has been done on it in Canada. As late as the year 2000, scholars in the project management discipline were in an agreement that the idea of a project management office was based on implicit and narrow theory which needed development, expansion and enrichment. This poverty in informed research work in this branch of project management has led to frequent project failures, lack of commitment towards project management methods and slow rate of methodological renewal.

In the view of the research deficit adequately mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, conducting an empirical research work on PMO becomes the only remedy. And it is to this tune that this eagerly awaited research work dances. It is reckoned by this project’s would-be researcher that a relevant study of the establishment of framework in the project management offices in Canada should focus on how action contributes to the goal of the project and on the processes that take place in the life of a viable project.

The setting up of a framework in the PMOs in Canada will have the following positive effects;

  1. It will help Canadian government’s departments to identify desirable projects for the stakeholders/clients. Through the proposed framework, projects will be established which address the most felt need of the stakeholders especially the beneficiaries. This is well catered for through identification phase of project management cycle whose detailed coverage will be done in the final thesis. In a nutshell though, in this phase, the most felt problem and need of the beneficiaries is established. Subsequently, this forms the overall goal of the project.
  1. It will guide in establishing an appropriate strategy for project execution. After establishing the most felt need/the goal of the project, various objectives will be developed to help attain this goal. Based on the established objectives, a framework (strategy) will be put in place to enable their attainment.
  1. PMO will help in the attainment of outputs as per the established goal and through the outlined strategies. The execution of a given strategy demands the carrying out of some activities.  Thus unit will help plan what should be done, by whom when, where, and by use of what resources.
  1. The PMO staff and experts will help keep track of project execution process. During implementation, monitoring and periodic review will be undertaken to ensure everything conforms to the principle of triple constraint of the project as well as to the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework as established under the project’s formulation phase.
  1. Ultimately, the revelation if whether the projects have produced meaningful impact to the beneficiaries as well as any learning experiences will be enhanced. Project evaluation is a core phase through which this importance is achieved. Here, an assessment will be undertaken to measure if the outputs of a project had the desired impact or change in the livelihood of the beneficiaries. Subsequently, any learning experiences will also be catalogued for consideration during future project management.

This research, based on the in-depth and exhausted study of all the previous research on this broad topic and some related fields, goes far beyond them by focusing on the aspects of the PMO most insufficiently explored and difficult to develop yet with great significance such as strategic planning and project portfolio management in the public administration sector.

Theoretical framework

Grounded theory will be applied to interpret and analyze the results from the data collected through the in-depth interviews to identify the key components of the framework of the PMOs in the Government of Canada. A constructivist epistemology will be applied to view PMO as part of a historical development process of an organization characterized by its specific features located in the public administration context of Canada.

In its nature the grounded theory explores a case instead of a variable; however the difference is almost impossible to draw. This is a pointer to the fact that in part the research in this project will take different situations in project management to be wholes, in which the variables relate as a unit to towards achieving certain anticipated results. Admittedly, a case-oriented perspective like one intended by this research appears to take for granted that variables relate in an abnormal manner that generates suspicion towards the use of simple additive models. The grounded theory concerns itself with (and is largely dictated by) epic understandings of the world: it relies on categories gotten from respondents and aims to make systems of implicit belief explicit.

A comparative orientation to be employed here is indeed an integral part of case-orientation since cases in the Canadian government project management similar on several variables but with diverging results will be compared to unravel the sources of relevant major sources of the differences. This is approach is propounded by John Stuart Mills' in his 1843 model, A system of logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive that employs the natural design of experimentation. Furthermore, cases that posse’s similar outcome qualities will be used to test the conditions shared and ultimately unearthing the key causes and possible remedies.

The grounded theory approach intended for this project’s use, in Strauss’ own imagination, embraces a set of steps whose informed explorations is believed by many scholars to make the outcome of a research project of this nature automated. A surefire theory, as Strauss would say, must satisfy the objectives of the processes that enhanced its inception. Going rather scientific, how a theory is generated- whether through analogies or luck- is inconsequential and what counts is its ability to accurately explain new data. And for this project grounded theory becomes that perfect theory to analyze and test the data.

The use of grounded theory in this project will put emphasis on the Axial coding which relates categories and properties as codes, through inductive and deductive thinking. Grounded theorists have simplified the process to avoid tendencies of putting irrelevant categories and properties into consideration. They have put emphasis on casual relationships and fitting issues into normal frame of generic relations. The frame to be employed in this study will have the following elements;

Element

Description

Phenomenon

This is the concept that motivates the entire study, in this case the success and failure of projects in Canadian Government’s department. In grounded theory phenomenon can also refer to the results of interest.

Causal conditions

These include all activities and situations or variables that enhance the realization of the phenomenon. In this study, it is the set of factors that can lead to meaningful project management.

Context

There is no clear cut between context and causal conditions. Context refers the designated locations of background variables. In this study it can refer to a set of conditions acting upon project management action/strategy. The researcher will make a charming distinction the between the causes (active variables) and the Context (background variables). Context has everything to do with what interests the researcher towards the research objectives.

Intervening conditions

Shares characteristics with the context. In this study the researcher will relate moderating variables with context while the mediating variables will be related with intervening conditions.

Action strategies

This is the objective, result-oriented activities that respondents will perform as a reaction to the phenomenon and intervening conditions.

Consequences

These refer to the effects (both negative and positive) of the project management strategies, conscious or otherwise.

It is worth noting that the fallacy of grounded theory work is in its inherent idea of taking respondent's thinking of what causes what to be gospel truth. The point is, grounded theory approach takes the respondent as an insider expert, and the resulting model is an informant's folk model. 

Research methodologies

Since the researcher has carried out projects in the PMO in the Government of Canada before, the documentation review in the Government department, participant observation and action research are made possible, for this research. Documentation review will include project documents such as feasibility study, business requirement documents, project charter, project plan, risk management plan, risk, decision and issue logs, project change request, deployment plan, evaluation report, status reports, meeting minutes, intranet pages, review reports, primary impact analysis and etc. The researcher will observe and record the process and progress of what takes place in a number of projects’ work settings and analyze the information in more depth and detail with first hand material. Observation, in this case, will be better conducted by making notes of conversations with other managers, project staff and project managers, daily meetings, emails and readings of documents. The full approach of action research and writing process of thesis, which has been overlooked in many research works of this kind despite its importance, will be called to mind.

In-depth interviews will be conducted with directors or project managers in various PMOs from different departments of the Government of Canada to identify the key components in the framework of the PMOs in the Government of Canada and to refine and complement the findings in the literature review. The in-depth interview in the form of semi-structured interviews will allow the researcher to ask questions related to the pre-determined research topic and questions on the one hand and on the other hand to probe far beyond the answers to their prepared standardized questions so as to solicit more open-minded opinions and insight. The researcher will play a creative role and utilize a two–way communication channel for information exchange, which make the interview a “meaning-making occasion”.

In the reflexivity’s sake, the researcher will reflect on the manner which in which the establishment of the PMO will be easily and meaningfully carried out and the understanding how the strategies and actions of its implementation will ultimately be of sustainable project management framework in Canada. An evaluation of the technical aspects of the PMO in Canada to ensure it conforms to the underlying meta-theoretical approaches that justify it, will be inevitable.  That is, taking informed moves to better the state of affairs in Canada’s project management rather than reflecting on the poor state of failed projects or failed government approaches.  

An important function of reflexive analysis is to expose the underlying assumptions on which arguments and stances are built’ (Holland, 1999)

The study will use the in-depth interviews to make the study consciously reflexive by making respondents think about their own thinking, by realizing and criticizing their own epistemological pre-understandings of project management office’s framework and thus exploring possible purposive commitments towards the PMO. The resulting epistemological assumptions will act as a mirror in which the researcher’s own reflect devotion in particular philosophical beliefs will be reflected.

While each approach in academics has its own weaknesses, reflexivity’s critical appraisal, independent analyses and progress to be reviewed in this study are justified as a process a long a continuum. Reflexivity is always likened to the pursuit after the illusory mirage; it can never be a destination

Diffusion of results and knowledge transfer

The researcher will give detailed project report to various stakeholders like the Canadian government project management officials. This report will also be availed to many experts and scholars to act as a reference point for future sophisticated researches in project management. The researcher will hold as many conferences and discussion forums as time will allow to share the findings of this research project. 

It is proposed that upon the government’s approval, sensitization on the complex but practical nature the PMO be carried out across all the departments through media and constant training. The new staff in the unit will be put to training in period not exceeding three months. The researcher will lead the sensitization exercise and all activities surrounding information gathering and presentation of new proposals and project modifications.

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