Project Administration Service

The Project Administration Service consists of one more full time dedicated project management software tool specialists, Project Administrators (PA's), using a project management software tool to help project managers build their project plans, providing tracking services, and generating reports for both project teams and management. For example, in Figure 1 of the Implementation Alternatives page (repeated here) a single dedicated full time PA, reporting at a peer level with the project managers or above, supports the project management tool needs of 6 project teams and the project executive. 

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The PA provides planning, tracking, and reporting advice and services to the project managers in much the same way a lawyer provides advice and counsel or an accountant provides tax advice and services to a client.  In a series of interviews the PA works with each project team to build the plan they will own.  When the team and the project manager have no further changes the plan passes through 2 reconciliation phases, first to reconcile cross project dependencies and resource conflicts, then to reconcile the plan's cost and schedule projections with management's or the sponsor's expectations.  

The result of the planning process is a detailed executable baselined project plan that everyone agrees to containing the dates every task will be performed based on their predecessor and successor relationships and resources assigned.  This plan is a contract between the project team, the sponsor, and the resource owners.  The physical plan file is maintained by the PA and should reside on a data warehouse accessible in read only mode by all interested parties.

Next the PA establishes a tracking mechanism for the team to report progress against the plan.  When the plan is executing the PA collects weekly tracking information and generates reports that both the project team and the project executive can use to understand whether the project is on schedule and what must be done to recover when behind.  All changes to the plan are under the supervision or with the concurrence of the project manager and project executive.

For a more detailed description of the project administration process visit our Project Administration Process page.

Overhead is Reduced and Project Administration is Improved

The Project Administration Service should be viewed as a consolidation of function rather than an addition of headcount.  The project administration function performed by each project manager or by someone on their project team is reassigned to the PA (Figure 1) allowing the team more time to complete their work.

Without a Project Administration Service someone on every project team will need to do project administration.  They will therefore require project management software tool training, a license for the tool, must keep current with the software and the state of the art, and must learn and maintain currency on the project organization's planning and reporting standards.  Having all the project teams report on time in the standard organization format is often problematic. 

The use of a single full time PA in the above example with 10 project teams reduces these costs by a factor of 10 and eliminates timeliness and reporting consistency issues.  Furthermore, because the PA does nothing but project administration they become far more proficient in the use of the software than a project manager or team member using it 10% of their time.  Because the dedicated PA has responsibility for multiple projects they are also better positioned to resolve cross project issues like resource conflicts and project interdependencies. 

Finally, in the example with 10 project teams doing their own PA work, the project office (PO) would have someone assigned to collect status information from the teams and roll it up for status reporting.  With a dedicated PA the PA already has the data and is doing rollup status reporting, so the extra PO job is eliminated.

Better Project Executive Support

Project executives need to understand as early as possible what activities in their projects are sewing the seeds of future cost and schedule overruns and ensure remedial action is taken now.  As a result they often attend long weekly status meetings or wade through inches of paper to get the information they need.  The PA Service extracts information from commonly used project management software (i.e. MS-Project, ABT Project Workbench...) to provide executives with a weekly report that summarizes the magnitude of every threat to their portfolio of projects, no matter how large the portfolio, into a single line of numeric values indicating the overall level of concern, with drill down capability by project and organization in decreasing threat sequence.  The project executive can quickly identify the hot spots, what project they are in, where in the project, and who owns them.  Lengthy status meetings and reports can be replaced by a few informational or problem solving phone calls or short meetings with the owners of the most critical situations.

For more on the benefits of the project administration service visit our Summary of Benefits page.

Who Should be a PA?

Although almost anyone can be trained to be a PA experienced (even burned out) former project managers make the best PA's.  This approach is particularly beneficial to organizations with less mature project managers where the more experienced PA will raise the quality of the planning and reporting and provide mentoring to many project managers at the same time.

How Many PA's do I Need?

The number of PA's required by a project organization is a function of the number of participants working on projects and reporting status each week rather than the number of projects.  A single PA can support the project administration needs of up to 150 active project participants either on a single project or divided among multiple projects (like the 6 projects in Figure 1).  For project organizations that are not an even multiple of 150 participants the fraction of a PA's time not required for project administration may be used in other project office activities such as running and documenting status meetings, tracking issues and action items, creating or maintaining project documentation, etc.

Organizational Considerations

In Figure 1 at the top of this page the green lines show the PA and the project managers on a peer level, all reporting to the project executive.  The yellow lines between the PA and the project managers represent the PA's support relationship to the project managers, not a reporting relationship.   There are several reasons for the PA to be at or above the level of the project managers: 

  1. If the project manager is also the PA (as in Figure 2) or the PA reports to the project manager (as in Figure 3) there is a temptation to withhold negative information from the project executive in order to show their project in a favorable light at status meetings.  The project manager in these instances hopes to recover any interim lateness before a milestone slip becomes inevitable.  This practice preempts management's opportunity to assist the project team before it is too late to recover and results in last minute unanticipated unrecoverable missed milestone dates.

    A Project Administration Service PA reporting to the project executive will provide a more independent view of project status including interim lateness threatening milestones.
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  2. Where the project executive is not a former project professional but rather an executive from another part of the business, the executive will usually rely on their project managers to advise them on such issues as whether they would benefit from the use of a Project Administration Service, or how to review project status. 

    In order to best control the information that goes to the project executive some project managers will advise against the use of the Project Administration Service, and to keep the project executive from asking the tough questions such as interim lateness threatening milestones at status review time project managers may advise the executive to conduct only "high level" reviews, and only once a month.  A favorite status reporting tool for this purpose is the traffic light chart which indicates only the status of upcoming milestones in red, green, and amber and ignores interim warning signs.  Milestones far in the future appear green, those that are already too late to recover will be in red.  With status reviews far apart and information only at the milestone level, the executive receives no early warning of pending slippage that he/she might have responded to.

    An experienced Project Administrator will ensure that reviews are held weekly and that all parties see the signs of future slippage in the metrics provided.

The Project Administration Service supports both the project executive and the project teams.  The PA ensures that proper plans are built and producing information that both need to perform their respective roles. 

The Project Administration Service as part of the Project Office

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Most project organizations today use a Project Office (PO) to interface with the outside world and to ensure that legal, communication, and administrative functions are performed by their project teams according to the organization's standards. 

Service Mode vs. Support Mode

Companies that do projects for a living (i.e. construction, engineering, defense) focus a good deal of effort on making their project management processes as efficient as possible.  They have found that projects are most efficient when their PO operates in service mode rather than support mode.  In service mode they provide specialists who do as much of the administrative work as possible for their project teams.  For example, they provide the Project Administration Service described above.  This allows the project teams more time for their project work and ensures consistency and quality.

Companies that do projects for themselves to preserve or enhance the profitability of their products and services (i.e. manufacturing, distribution, financial services) tend to have less efficient project organizations because project management is not the central focus of their business, and they can be profitable even while doing it inefficiently.  Most of these companies have PO's that operate in support mode, that is, they provide guidelines and education to their project teams and expect the teams to use the information to perform their administrative functions themselves.  For example, they support the project administration function by providing each of their project managers with a project management tool, education in its use, a project management process, plan templates, report formats, and written standards and training to ensure consistency. 

Optimizing the Project Office

With the increase in globalization and its resulting competition companies that do projects for themselves have found their profit margins shrinking and have had to do more projects to optimize their operations. The efficiency of their project management is having a greater impact on the bottom line, and they are moving in the direction of companies that do projects for a living, from the support mode PO to the service mode PO, to improve their efficiency.

For more information on the trend toward the service mode project office see the Project Administration Library items (1), (3) and (4)

For more information on the effects of various organization structures on project control see the Project Administration Library item (8).

To see how PAI can help your PO migrate to a service mode Project Administration Service see our PAI Services & Training page and/or contact us.

Updated 11/20/07