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Support is a set of specialist and administrative services carried out on behalf of project, programme or portfolio managers. A support infrastructure can be constituted in many different ways with many different roles within the realm of P3 management. A definitive set of goals for support is impractical but they are generally drawn from the broad list shown below:
- provide administrative support to P3 managers;
- support the governance of P3 management;
- provide specialist technical support;
- conduct assurance.
Routine administration is required on all projects, programmes and portfolios. On small projects this may be performed by the project manager, but on medium to large projects and all programmes and portfolios, a P3 manager needs support in handling day-to-day administration.
Some projects and most programmes and portfolios also require specialist skills in areas such as risk, quality or finance.
An administrative support function can operate at different levels depending upon how it is constituted. It may provide:
the secretariat for meetings and logistical services for members of the management team;
technical support including collecting, analysing and presenting progress information, managing interdependencies and handling communications with stakeholders;
assurance of governance structures and standard P3 management practices through audits, health checks and phase end reviews.
A more sophisticated support function may also cover:
- provision of subject matter expertise to ensure that there is access to all necessary tools and techniques;
- training, coaching and mentoring for the project, programme or portfolio management team;
- maintaining the infrastructure, momentum and drive to support communities of practice;
- improving, embedding and measuring capabilities to achieve higher levels of maturity;
- owning and deploying standard tools and techniques.
The P3 support infrastructure may range from a single person to a large team containing many different roles and specialists including, among others:
- planners and schedulers;
- cost engineers;
- subject matter experts;
- assurance staff;
- configuration managers.
The overall infrastructure may be divided into multiple offices, some temporary and some permanent. For example, a support office might provide administrative support to a specific project or programme. This is then disbanded once the work is complete. In contrast, an organisation wide support office has a permanent support role independent of the creation and completion of any individual piece of work.
The shape of the infrastructure will reflect its context, but its component groups must always have a clearly defined purpose and scope. The roles and levels of authority of these groups must be communicated to the delivery team(s) and reinforced periodically.
Projects, programmes and portfolios
Where a project is part of a programme or portfolio, the project support function will usually be provided by the programme or portfolio office.
On smaller, stand-alone projects that cannot justify the overhead of a support organisation, the administration work will fall on the project manager’s shoulders. This can lead to a reaction against ‘bureaucracy’ when the project manager is asked to spend a lot of time producing standard documentation. Some organisations will have central functions for planning, financial management, procurement etc., that may be able to provide assistance in these circumstances.
With the support of the sponsor, the project manager of a small, stand-alone project should seek as much help with day-to-day administration as possible. Taking shortcuts in the administration of even the smallest project is often a cause of failure.
Beyond day-to-day management of the project, the project manager should be provided with other types of support. This may include CPD through communities of practice, career advice or managing the transition between one project and the next. It is this broad support for the profession and discipline of project management that is provided by the governance infrastructure.
Programmes or large complex projects are large enough to carry the overhead of a support function and may also have access to a central support function. Programme support functions must have the expertise to cover the additional services required. These typically include supporting change management, benefits management and project interfaces.
The programme management team decide how to constitute the support organisation across the programme, e.g. whether one support function will serve the programme and all its component projects, or whether some, or all, projects will have separate project support functions.
Some organisations will have multiple departmental or regional portfolios, while others might have a single, organisation-wide portfolio. In the latter case, the portfolio and the governance infrastructure are effectively the same thing. This is often referred to as a PMO and is a permanent organisational structure with its remit being decided by whether the portfolio is standard or structured.