From huge data centers and the growth of electric vehicle usage to renewable integration and distributed energy storage, the demand and operating dynamics for delivering sufficient and reliable electricity have never been greater. Utilities that embrace strategic project management principles tame this complexity and pave the way to achieve program goals with greater efficiency and reduced risk.

Powerful Project Benefits

It’s a vibrant time for utility funding and investment with federal incentives, state clean energy policies and smart grid initiatives. As capital spending programs are unveiled, utilities are not only committing to specific infrastructure investment programs but are also pledging to implement multimillion-dollar projects and take on the risk of getting these programs done.

The complex nature of utility infrastructure programs is ideally suited to realize the benefits a project management office (PMO) offers.

  • Budget and schedule control. Using the right tools and processes, utilities can secure real-time insight in every aspect of a capital project. This level of control, which is designed to be intuitive and accessible across PMO disciplines, provides the necessary access to track schedules, budgets and metrics to make decisions that keep projects moving toward a predictable outcome.
  • Project visibility. The right processes and project tools provide crucial visibility not only on upcoming work and who will do this work, but a wider view of all internal and external resources involved. This visibility allows for better forecasting, improved workflow, faster decisions and limited risk to keep projects on track.
  • Standards and alignment. Establishing a PMO strategy delivers not only immediate project-specific advantages but can be relied upon to create common standards and practices that can be used for longer-term operational efficiency. Developing and enforcing the use of shared methods and tools can improve communications and focus expectations in even the most complex initiatives.

Successfully Steering Change

The value of in-house project management principles and capabilities can’t be understated for utilities facing capital and infrastructure improvement programs. While the benefits may be clear, the journey to getting there can be daunting.

Utilities should begin by taking stock of where the organization stands in terms of the main resources that would propel its PMO success. This maturity assessment is based on exploring four key areas:

  • Are the organization’s priorities in alignment so that success can be achieved?
  • Are the people or available skills and experience available to develop and drive a PMO?
  • Is the right process in place to develop and monitor the status of critical activities?
  • What tools and technologies are needed to monitor and measure project success?

Understanding what the wider electric utility industry is doing in terms of project management is a good way to benchmark a utility’s existing capabilities and identify gaps. Don’t be afraid to seek external guidance in defining the right PMO model. Leveraging PMO knowledge, especially with experience in the field of utilities, is a great way to gain objective insight and streamline the setup of an internal PMO.

Accelerate to Excellence

Every utility is unique in what will make an effective PMO strategy. Once a baseline of capabilities and gaps has been identified, utilities will want to achieve stakeholder buy-in and gather input while beginning to identify overarching goals.

While utilities will have different requirements to reach project management objectives, each successful PMO shares a set of common responsibilities that will need to be defined and addressed. Some examples include:

  • Portfolio management
  • Organizational change management
  • Risk management
  • Stakeholder management
  • Contract management
  • Performance management
  • Asset optimization
  • Closeout

Assessing available resources, defining the broader project management goals and breaking down the areas needed within the new initiative provides a solid foundation for utilities to get underway in realizing the benefits of an internal PMO.


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Bob Wolfe is director of program management at Burns & McDonnell. He helps lead large-scale programs across the AEC industry.