City of Cape Town is South Africa’s Best Project Management Office (PMO) for 2020

In a competition that saw the project management offices (PMOs) of ten different South African businesses pitted against one another – a record number of local entrants – the official winner of the SA PMO Awards for 2020 has been announced as the City of Cape Town.

With all entrants undergoing a process involving 15 judges, five mentors, 16 hours of interviews, 36 evaluations and 54 hours of deliberations, the City of Cape Town triumphed against runners-up, Old Mutual, as well as two other semi-finalists, the South African Revenue Services (SARS) and DirectAxis.

The City of Cape Town does SA PMOs proud

As winners of the annual competition to help identify and recognise leading PMOs that are delivering serious value within their businesses in South Africa, the City of Cape Town will now be entered into the annual PMO Global Awards. This is the world’s largest professional award for PMOs, their organisations and leaders, and includes entrants from Africa, Europe and the Americas, as well as the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the City of Cape Town’s Director of Corporate Project, Programme and Portfolio Management, Ben Peters, despite being involved in the COVID response for the City at the time, entering the SA PMO Awards for 2020 was an easy decision for the organisation’s project office.

“We believe that there are multiple benefits to be gained through award recognition and saw in particular an excellent opportunity for the City’s PMO to stand back and reflect on its growth and development.”

The PMO had never formally mapped out its journey from inception in 2011, said Peters, and it was a very interesting process.

“One could even say that it was overwhelming at times, when we were able to see what has been achieved over the past decade. Our PMO started off with an initial team of six consultants, growing over the next three years to a head count of 40. Today, the PMO includes a project portfolio management unit, a project management unit, a programme management unit, an engineering services unit, and, more recently the contract management unit, swelling its number to 75 strong.”

Growth over time

“As it grows, it’s possible that the PMO can lose sight of who its customers are, and how they are affected,” Peters said. “At the end of the day, we must remember that our PMO executes projects for the entire City of Cape Town, not just for residents but also for taxpayers.”

Mark Cawood, Manager of the Project Management Unit at the City of Cape Town, agreed. “For the City’s PMO, everything is complex due to the sheer size of the organisation. You’re dealing with around 35,000 people and a R60 billion budget, which means that any change to be made within the organisation, no matter how small, becomes complex.

“Add to this the breadth of the service deliveries. Because the City is such a diverse and extensive organisation, what has emerged in this PMO is an incredibly broad set of service delivery options, and such a wide set of stakeholders.”

Since the City of Cape Town’s PMO was established, Peters noted, it has surmounted several challenges, overcoming resistance within the organisation, correcting poor practices and more, becoming what is it today – a custodian and the division in the greatest demand within the organisation when it comes to projects, contracts and engineering services.

“Over the PMO’s 10-year journey, the changes that have been adopted by the organisation are truly remarkable just because of how difficult it is to create systemic and lasting change within the organisation,” Cawood continued. “Visionary leadership from our Executive Director, Craig Kesson, who was there from the start, was at the heart of this transformation, and Craig is still incredibly actively involved in the work of the PMO and continues to be an inspiration in terms of its future.”

Peters added that the PMO plans to continue to capture its story and journey moving forward, as this has been an enormous value-add to the team.

“Before you start mapping the journey and testing yourself against the objectives, you don’t always realise what has actually been achieved over the years. The awards provided a perfect opportunity for reflection, and we would encourage other local PMOs to enter the 2021 competition for this reason.

“In addition, the mentor we were assigned for the awards, Christopher Worsley, was an amazing resource. He was incredibly helpful, hugely supportive and very thorough, providing invaluable feedback. We hope to make South Africa and the African continent proud at the international awards,” Peters added.

Old Mutual highlights support across Africa

As the runner-up in the South African PMO awards for 2020, Old Mutual Rest of Africa (RoA) Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) exemplifies how having the right structures and experienced team members in place make for excellent service delivery, well beyond physical border constraints.

Established in September 2015, the team decided early on that it was imperative to create a strong experienced central team in South Africa that could not only set up, lead and develop resources in country throughout the rest of the continent, but would also be able to help set up structure and intervene as necessary on projects, particularly within the smaller countries.

“Not all of our represented African countries have the capacity on ground to cater for the delivery of larger projects in country,” explained Sonja van Rooyen, Head of Enterprise Portfolio Management Office at Old Mutual. “For instance, in Tanzania, the entire head office staff complement is 35 people, but there is also the need to implement a new policy administration system, which is a significant undertaking. This could then be managed by our central South African PMO.

“With this in mind, we set up early on with a portfolio view, even though at that point we didn’t quite have the maturity in place. However, right from the start of our journey, the aim was to create an appropriate, fit-for-purpose structure to service all of the organisation’s local markets. At the same time however, we had to bear in mind that what works within the corporate is not necessarily applicable or appropriate for all countries within the rest of Africa.

“Based on this approach, we knew all along that capacity planning was critical, as was the establishment of basic disciplines and governance, and also strong support behind in-country resources.”

The Old Mutual central core team in Johannesburg is fairly small, with only five members, Van Rooyen added. “In country, head count varies, based on the portfolio size and complexity. For example, up to a year ago, the biggest PMO was in East Africa, with four members, and now the Zimbabwe office exceeds seven team members. Interesting, eighty percent of our resource pool are not professional project managers or business analysts at all; they came from a business background and have grown into the role of project manager.”

Taking stock: are you doing the right projects?

“The Old Mutual RoA EPMO team felt that the timing was right to look at the journey the project office has been on for the past five years, taking stock and ensuring that we’re doing the right projects,” disclosed Victor Chidongo, Portfolio Programme Manager at Old Mutual. “We also wanted to grab the opportunity to showcase what has been achieved over this time while learning from our peers and sharing experiences.

“One important piece of advice we’d like to give to other potential PMO Award entrants is to keep it honest. Tell it like it is, include the ups and the downs, and talk about the battles you have experienced – and overcome – up to now. This is how you learn, and it’s important in order to acknowledge how far you’ve come.”

PMOs tend to get very caught up in whatever the crisis of the moment is, and, as such can be very inwardly focused, Van Rooyen said. “This was the first time that the Old Mutual EPMO had requested official feedback from exco members, as this input was necessary to tell our story. We hadn’t previously realised the impact that we’ve had on different areas of the business, and overall this was a very positive experience for Old Mutual Rest of Africa’s EPMO.”

Said Farhana Sayed, Portfolio Programme Manager at Old Mutual: “We would strongly recommend other PMOs undergo this process, as it has helped us to understand clearly where we were versus where we are now. Not only this, but our award entry provided us with an opportunity to work collaboratively and allowed us to learn a great deal about how other PMOs operate. It has been a real learning experience.”

Pride in local PMOs

“We could not be prouder of our South African entrants in this year’s annual SA PMO Awards,” said Guy Jelley, CEO and co-founder of Project Portfolio Office, the supporting company behind the awards from 2020 and beyond, and a PPM service and solution provider that helps organisations achieve greater project success.

“This was the first year that Project Portfolio Office assisted with the award process, creating a simpler mechanism for submissions, implementing a local interview process between the organisation’s PMO and judging committee, and provide a mentor to coach and guide PMOs through the process.

“We feel that the awards process is more collaborative, but there is still so much more we want to achieve moving forward, as this presents an excellent entrant’s reflection and also for our PMOs to plan ahead for the next two to three years.

“We would like to congratulate the City of Cape Town, Old Mutual and all other applicants. Our local PMOs are of an extremely high calibre, and we believe that the City of Cape Town stands a very good chance of recognition, both within the African subcategory of PMO awards and internationally.”

PMOs of South Africa, do the City of Cape Town and Old Mutual’s stories inspire you? It’s time to take stock of how far you’ve come, and share your experiences and lessons learned with the greater industry. The 2021 SA PMO Awards nomination process is now officially open, so click here to make your submission, and get ready for your PMO to be recognised on the global stage.

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