SA PMO Award runner-up sees cost savings, a boost in project delivery and automation of manual capabilities in the PMO

The project management office (PMO) of leading financial services group, PSG, has driven tremendous value across the group since it centralised project management delivery across its three operating divisions, namely PSG Wealth, PSG Asset Management and PSG Insure.

The establishment of a centralised PMO has allowed the business to manage its portfolio of work more accurately, enabling serious cost savings within the organisation, an increase in new business, the automation of most manual tasks and more, with the support of Project Portfolio Office’s cloud-based project and portfolio management (PPM) tool, PPO.

The organisation was also recently named as runner-up in the 2021 South African PMO Awards, an annual competition that has been managed since 2020 by Project Portfolio Office.

Successful project delivery in one area leads to more

According to Zach Fuchs, chief project officer of PSG’s group PMO, the project management function was initially introduced in one area of the business, PSG Insure, back in 2015. “We successfully carried out a number of key initiatives within the Insure area of the business, underscoring the value to be found in having a unique, project-related structure in place. Based on these positive results, our MANCO took the decision to establish a formal PMO function to ensure – from a group perspective – that focus was given to the right work and that it was being undertaken in the right way.”

This move precipitated a shift within the organisation to ensure greater transparency around work being done, which consequently sparked further discussion on how the business’ culture should be changed to introduce a more consistent way of embarking on new projects.

“Essentially the central PMO would see to it that the correct work was selected and the proper processes were followed, allowing for standardised, more accurate prioritisation and demand management.”

Alignment to business strategy critical

PSG wanted a PMO that was business-led, rather than IT-led, Fuchs explains, and that could assist with consistency and simplification around the execution of projects.

“We worked closely with management and key leadership within the organisation to align the PMO’s planned achievements with business objectives, while putting in place a project management framework and related processes. These were the key first steps in our PMO journey.

“In order to empower our resources within the PMO structure, we needed to understand how we could make their lives easier from an efficiency point of view. This included both reporting and measurement against key performance indicators (KPIs). It was at this point that we crossed paths with Project Portfolio Office.”

In order to align the PMO with PSG’s strategic goal of becoming a highly respected, advice-led financial technology firm, the company then set up a roadmap for the PMO function, identifying key areas of focus, including people, governance, technology and processes.

“From a people perspective, it was important for us to establish a proper community of practice. This would allow our project managers to be transparent with one other in relation to interdependencies within the different areas of the business from a project execution perspective.

“We also wanted to establish a platform for all resources to be able to share knowledge, such as lessons learned from projects as well as project research and development information or innovation points. This created a safe environment within which team members could support one another, encouraging open, consistent collaboration.”

Another important part of the ‘people’ component was making sure that each person has a proper career development path to follow and upskilling opportunities, Fuchs adds.

Getting the governance right

“When it comes to governance, PPO has played a fundamental role in establishing how our projects are executed. Here, we chose a hybrid approach, using a combination of waterfall and agile methodologies, and the SaaS tool has been particularly helpful in assisting us to manage our governance process. For example, when we’re transitioning from one phase to another, it helps us to make sure that the correct processes are in place as well as the right documentation.

“This provides us with great insight from a portfolio perspective on what is happening within our projects, while also identifying which areas do not adhere to governance practices or where the correct documentation is lacking. Additionally, it provides great benefit in terms of quality assurance.

“On the governance side, we’ve done an excellent job. Currently, our governance is measured at between 75 and 80 percent on any given day, where previously we had nothing in place with which to measure it. Moving forward, we are comfortable that future audits will be more accurately measured.”

Reporting and stakeholder management

In terms of the process component, PSG recognised that it was important to align reporting with processes from a governance perspective. “Within the PSG environment there are three layers on which the PMO must report: a portfolio management committee; steerco meetings; and then biweekly project management meetings.

“Our aim was to align the reporting framework to the PPO tool, and we’re definitely seeing an uptick in data quality in our bi-weekly reports. We’ve progressed from a zero base to around 20 to 30 percent a few years ago, through to a data quality figure today of 62 percent. To reach over 60 percent has taken a lot of effort, between the hard work of the PMO team and the assistance of PPO, and we’re aiming to get to the 80 percent data quality mark over time.

“Having this PMO foundation in place also allows us to have proper portfolio management within each one of the business units too, giving a holistic view. This is essential to provide visibility to the different stakeholders within the four key areas within the business. These include direct clients, advisors and independent financial advisors, as well as internal stakeholders.

“All of these very diverse stakeholders must be managed in a consistent way in terms of our processes. With our PMO framework in place, we are able to execute on our work in more effective way, providing the right governance to these stakeholders on how they should execute on projects from an ownership perspective. We also provide accurate reporting to them to allow for the correct decisions to be made in steerco meetings, for example.

“A key learning for us was to get this early buy-in from a service perspective and to have a continued change management process with our stakeholders.”

For now, the PSG PMO is predominantly focused on strategic technology-related initiatives, such as the centralisation of all data across the organisation and also moving all of the company’s applications and its data centre to the cloud.

“Both of these initiatives are sizeable and have taken a lot of capacity within the PMO environment. There is also a strong emphasis currently around digitisation of our different platforms within the various business units, in particular manual versus automated work, as well as mobile initiatives focusing on omnichannel client interaction.”

Clear value generation achieved

From a PMO journey perspective there is a lot of detail to share, continues Fuchs, but what has been key to PSG has been the value generation within the organisation over the past two years.

“An important point, and one that has spoken to the success of this journey, the maturity of our environment and the work that has been put in place, is the delivery of more than 19 strategic projects over the last 12 to 18 months. We believe that this showcases the fact that, with the proper structure in place and by following a rigorous process and doing the proper planning upfront, you can seamlessly execute on your planned projects and initiatives.

“In some of our business areas we have been able to automate our manual transactions. Our proper upfront planning has also helped deliver savings within the business due to certain initiatives. Savings are due to embedding new technologies from an onboarding perspective, as well as process improvement initiatives.”

Says Fuchs: “PPO’s centralised environment has allowed us to manage all projects across the organisation, with the biggest benefit, aside from cost effectiveness and licensing flexibility, being its reporting capabilities across our various organisational layers. The PPM tool’s ability to integrate with other systems has also been a stand-out for PSG.

“We have a true partnership with Project Portfolio Office. The company is more than a service provider; the team has gone to great heights to assist us on our journey, with many workshops and alignment sessions. Project Portfolio Office provided instrumental guidance in our PMO success,” he adds.

PSG’s PMO is an excellent example of the high calibre of South African project offices, says Guy Jelley, CEO and co-founder of Project Portfolio Office. “PSG’s PMO has put in the hard work to get the right project management foundations in place and achieve what they have within the business. Being named recently as the runner up in the 2021 South African PMO Awards was richly deserved and highlights PSG’s client-centric, purpose-driven approach.”