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What is enterprise project management?
Enterprise project management (EPM) is the discipline of managing projects within a large-scale organization where numerous projects happen simultaneously and with overlapping schedules.
EPM is project management, but at scale. It includes disparate projects that may not seem like they interact or overlap, but that still have to be managed in a streamlined, holistic way.
EPM is a different, though related, discipline from traditional project management. In the latter, a single project manager oversees an entire project (and, of course, there may be dozens of project managers doing so on various projects).
But EPM oversees all projects at a higher and less detailed level. Instead of focusing on individual projects, EPM focuses on the organization’s overarching goals and company strategic objectives.
The 7 components of enterprise project management
We can explain enterprise project management by breaking it down into seven component parts, originally defined in 2000 by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
While other responsibilities may be assigned (depending on the organization's structure and the industries in which it operates), enterprise project managers and the enterprise project management office (EPMO) will engage in at least these seven areas.
1. Risk analysis
Analyzing risk is far more complex at the enterprise level than at small to midsize businesses. While individual project managers engage in risk analysis for their distinct projects,
PMOs perform risk management at an organization-wide scale. They look at the risks of individual projects as well as how those projects might interact. They look at the broader impacts of those risks and make recommendations or decisions on the worthiness of projects from a risk management perspective.
They may also advise teams and PMs on making changes that reduce risk — either within a project or within the broader enterprise.
2. Project estimation
Project estimation is typically the responsibility of the individual project manager. However, in an enterprise with dozens, even hundreds, of project managers, processes and standards cannot be left to individual PMs’ discretion.
The EPM or the EPMO sets guidelines and approaches for project estimation and budgeting that the PMs must then follow. The EPMO also typically reviews and approves project estimates, ensuring they align with the enterprise’s established criteria and guidelines.
3. Project reviews
EPMs don’t handle day-to-day project management because their focus is elsewhere. However, they must still maintain a level of project understanding.
For this reason, most EPMOs conduct periodic project reviews, evaluating project metrics, ensuring that various projects (and project managers) continue on time and on budget.
Where scope creep and other classic project management process problems may pop up, the project review provides an opportunity for the EPM to intervene.
4. Project management coaching
Enterprise project management also handles coaching and training for project management personnel. This can take a number of forms:
Some project managers may come to the enterprise with significant project management skills and experience but little understanding of working in an enterprise organization or as part of a larger project management team.
Other junior staffers might come into the organization without a project management professional (PMP) or other credential and need coaching or guidance as they pursue further training.
All project managers will need training on new project management software systems or new methodologies as they arise.
5. Escalated issue management
Individual project managers are often called upon to be problem-solvers and argument-deciders. In smaller organizations, team conflicts that a PM cannot solve tend to escalate to department managers. If there’s no resolution, the conflict moves progressively higher until an executive makes the call.
At some point between startup and enterprise, that model stops working. Complex projects deal with too many layers and too many competing priorities. An EPM office can serve as the decision-making body for certain types of issues and as a mediator or channel for others, interfacing with executives and C-suite personnel on behalf of project managers and project teams.
6. Time tracking
Time tracking is a well-established method of tracking, planning, and managing projects. It has value on the individual project level as well as organization-wide.
Often, enterprise project management is tasked with developing or implementing a time-tracking system that achieves an organization’s goals. EPMO might also be in charge of analyzing the data collected through time-tracking software and may share this data with other relevant business units.
7. Information system (EPM software)
The seventh and final component of enterprise project management is developing, selecting, or implementing an EPM system or enterprise project management tool that can store, share, and manage all the data coming in and going out of the EPMO.
These days, we call this element “enterprise project management software,” or EPM software.
Some enterprise organizations develop their own proprietary EPM software, while others use available products such as Teamwork.com.
Methodologies commonly used in enterprise project management
Project management methodologies have varying levels of utility at the enterprise scale.
The EPM will generally set a single methodology that serves as the default across the enterprise. While exceptions can be and certainly are made for individual specific projects (especially one-off or disconnected ones) where a different methodology will yield better results, an enterprise often adopts a sort of default “project management language.”
These are the most common project management methodologies used in the enterprise:
Agile project management
Critical path method (CPM)
eXtreme Programming (XP)
Key benefits of EPM
Organizations of sufficient size that haven’t yet implemented EPM or an EPMO can enjoy these benefits by adopting the model.
Standardized project planning
When each project manager does what’s right in their own eyes, the work gets done. But it doesn’t get done consistently. And when something goes wrong, no one’s quite sure where to look or what to do to get the project back on track.
EPM applies standardized approaches to project planning and project management, bringing all project managers together into a single definable, repeatable process.
Improves project efficiency
By analyzing data organization-wide and applying the most efficient practices and workflows at scale, EPM can improve individual project efficiency. Better resource management and standardized planning help to do the same.
Better resource utilization
With a stronger high-level view of the state of operations and a clearer sense of what resources are needed where, EPM unlocks better levels of resource utilization, lessening under-work and overload.
As organizations grow in complexity, the perspective of one project manager becomes less and less representative of the entire organization. This can lead to a myopia that prioritizes the here and now (the individual project) over what’s best for the organization as a whole.
Setting up an EPMO minimizes risk by designating a group or team to keep the entire organization (including its goals, direction, and current risks) in view.
What are the responsibilities involved in enterprise project management?
Large organizations typically have some form of enterprise project management office. This could be in the form of a Delivery Manager (DM) supported by junior staff, or it could be some other configuration of team members with ownership of EPM.
EPM does not involve the detailed management of any particular project. Instead, it is concerned with managing an organization’s projects together. That means directing projects to align with top-level goals, managing the dependencies between projects, and helping each project to make it over the finish line — on time and on budget.
To accomplish this, the EPM office needs a high-level view of all the projects underway within the organization. For example, it might receive regular reporting from each project’s PM on factors such as:
Issues currently affecting delivery
Risks that may affect the project in future
Project progress and contribution to the organization’s KPIs
Using feedback on these and other areas, the EPM office can help each project in various ways. It can provide counsel to help resolve issues, offer solutions to guard against risks, and, in some cases, allocate extra resources to push a struggling project toward completion.
All the while, the EPM office must have the organization’s main goals in mind. The projects doing the most to advance these objectives should get priority assistance so they can keep succeeding. Meanwhile, projects veering away from corporate best interests may need to be refocused or even wound down.
Another aspect of EPM is ensuring consistent project management across an organization and its project managers. This may involve establishing project management best practices and leading on professional development — such as general project management training, enterprise project management certification, or training on project management software — for the organization’s project managers.
What makes enterprise project management successful?
Implementing EPM within an organization of sufficient size is generally a smart move — but that’s not to say it will be an automatic success.
Just like projects don’t automatically succeed because they’re project-managed, organizations need to do more than open an enterprise project management office. They need that office to be successful.
While no single recipe guarantees success, you’ll find these common attributes among successful EPMOs.
1. (Re)define responsibilities
Going from no EPM to successful EPM is an exercise in change management: your organization will be actively taking responsibility away from one unit, group, or management level and placing that responsibility into a unit that didn’t exist before. There will be disruption.
In the best case scenario, those overworked and overwhelmed people will thank you for taking this load from them. But often, you’ll face territorial disputes and power dynamics when making the change.
These can be mitigated somewhat by clearly redefining responsibilities so that no one is confused about what the EPMO does and doesn’t handle.
2. Enlist support
Make sure you have the support and understanding of senior stakeholders, including C-level executives or board members. This is a wide-ranging change, and you need to have backup should you need it.
3. Implement change gradually
There will be many elements to change and initiatives to champion. Don’t try to change everything in one shot. Instead, implement change gradually. Not only does this lessen the change management load, it also gives organizations ample opportunity to assess whether the EPM implementation is working.
How does enterprise project management differ from traditional project management?
As we’ve discussed throughout, enterprise project management and traditional (individual project) project management have much in common. Both disciplines deal with similar types of work, including resource allocation, time tracking, issue management, conflict resolution, project estimation, and risk analysis.
The primary difference is one of scope or scale.
Enterprise project management engages with each of these (and other elements) from the perspective of the entire organization: its goals, risks, opportunities, objectives, and so forth.
On the other hand, traditional project managers engage with each of these (and other elements) within the context of one or more distinct projects. The result is a markedly different set of day-to-day responsibilities, where they spend their time planning project schedules, managing project resources, and shepherding project work through its various project workflows.
The fact that “project” was in each of those items is not an accident: Project orientation is the primary distinguishing factor.
In reality, both traditional project management and enterprise project management work together toward the same goal: organizational success. They just do it with different focuses, with EPM focusing on the broader organization and all the projects going on within it.