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enterprise project management (EPM)

What is enterprise project management?

Enterprise project management (EPM) represents the professional practices, processes and tools involved in managing multiple projects taking place simultaneously across the enterprise.

Where traditional project management typically involves one specific project with narrowly defined goals, EPM embraces all individual projects. It provides uniform strategies and processes intended to enhance project management efficiency, while ensuring that all projects collectively meet business goals.

EPM is fundamentally a means of organizing and tracking multiple complex projects. Traditional projects are often approached as silos with unique teams and resources. This can lead to duplication of effort, repeated mistakes (due to lack of communication among project managers), inconsistent decision-making and overlooked opportunities.

EPM attempts to provide an umbrella of consistent project management to avoid the potential pitfalls of individual project management while keeping projects focused on overall business strategies.

Enterprise project management office roles.
A variety of important roles make up an enterprise project management office (EMPO).

What do enterprise project managers do?

The role of an enterprise project manager is to manage the entire scope of a project. A common analogy is that if each project manager is the captain of a ship, the enterprise project manager would be the admiral of the fleet. The range of enterprise project manager responsibilities varies between organizations and activities can be broad, frequently including the following:

  • Provide common business guidelines for projects and project management practices.
  • Oversee the activities of individual project managers.
  • Review projects and ensure project adherence to schedules and budgets.
  • Help with resource management and conflicts.
  • Align project goals and value with overall business goals.
  • Train and mentor project managers and project teams.

An enterprise project manager is typically part of a high-level strategic team or organizational department, which is sometimes called an enterprise project management office (EPMO). The EPMO reports to C-suite leadership such as a COO, CIO or CEO.

Elements of enterprise project management

Enterprise project management involves a wide range of responsibilities for the enterprise project manager and EPMO. While actual activities can vary between organizations, there are six fundamental elements involved in EPM. As a minimum, an EPMO will do the following:

  • Analyze risk. All projects involve some level of material and financial risk to the business. The enterprise project manager will perform a risk analysis to identify risks and propose steps to avoid or mitigate them. Metrics can be used to quantify risk and improve risk management, but risk analysis will also involve identifying contingencies and establishing fallback plans to address any potential problems. Projects with excessive or unacceptable risk may need to be deferred, altered or canceled.
  • Perform estimates. Project estimates typically involve costs, resource needs and time requirements. Although estimating is the responsibility of individual project managers, the enterprise project manager will establish standard processes and criteria for estimates, such as the standardized cost of labor or standard estimating strategies (such as top-down or bottom-up), and then review the estimates before the project begins.
  • Perform project reviews. A project manager is responsible for keeping a project on schedule and on budget, but the enterprise project manager will conduct various project reviews throughout the project's lifecycle. Reviews ensure that the project status adheres to the plan, clarifies any reasons for the status to deviate from the plan (and corresponding updates), and addresses any issues that can impact the project, such as unforeseen risk factors. Reviews can also be an opportunity for the enterprise project manager to mentor project managers to help hone management skills.
  • Help resolve problems. A project manager may encounter issues that they lack the skills, resources or authority to resolve. An EPMO provides an avenue for problem escalation where issues can be better understood and resolved -- often at the C-suite level. The enterprise project manager establishes criteria and processes for escalation that all project managers can follow. An enterprise project manager may use data collected from problem escalations to provide the groundwork for changes to the organization or its underlying systems.
  • Track resources. Every project manager should maintain copious records of time and resource use throughout the project lifecycle. An enterprise project manager will gather and analyze those records to create better guidelines and criteria for future project estimates, as well as potential areas of future risk requiring better contingency planning.
  • Use EPM platforms. A central benefit of EPM is project management consistency, and the EPMO will typically select and deploy enterprise project management software to provide the business with a common platform for project planning, tracking, analysis and reporting. For example, enterprise project management software can report on resource usage and the status of every project across the business.

Enterprise project management methodologies

Generally, an EPM methodology is a project management methodology that is adopted and applied to all projects across the enterprise. There are many popular project management methodologies which may be adopted enterprise-wide including the following:

  • Agile
  • Critical chain
  • Critical path method (CPM)
  • eXtreme Programming (XP)
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • PERT
  • Scrum
  • Scrumban
  • Six Sigma
  • Waterfall

Some of the most popular contenders include agile versus waterfall, and critical path versus critical chain. However, all these methodologies can present tradeoffs that the business must evaluate before standardizing. The real choice of methodology for enterprise-wide use should involve careful consideration, including the following:

  • Company goals. Not all methodologies are equally applicable to all business types or models. Find the methodology that is best for the types of projects that the business undertakes.
  • Stakeholder skills. Existing project managers may possess strong skills in certain methodologies already. It may be best to leverage that existing expertise rather than foist a new methodology upon busy project managers.
  • Resource usage. Methodologies vary in how they handle project staffing and resourcing. For example, some methodologies may depend on full-time staff and committed resources, while other methodologies may accommodate more flexible staffing and shared resources. Select the methodology that best supports resource usage.

Some organizations may opt for two or more methodologies when a single common methodology cannot adequately address all the organization's projects.

Benefits of enterprise project management

Enterprise project management provides a centralized means of project guidance, oversight and standardization since every project is managed consistently using similar processes and criteria. Ideally, this brings benefits to the enterprise, including the following:

  • Better project planning. Standardizing on a major project planning methodology provides the business with greater planning consistency and thorough project manager knowledge. One project manager can look at another project manager's planning and understand what's happening. This makes it easier to train new project managers and provide thorough reviews of project plans.
  • Better project outcomes. Better planning means better outcomes for the business; estimates of staffing, resources and time are closer to actual needs, and problems can be escalated for timely remediation to ensure more project success.
  • Better resource utilization. Enterprise project managers can spot opportunities to share and optimize resources and lower project costs and across the business. Similarly, enterprise project manager oversight can help identify new opportunities and reduce waste, further saving the business money. For example, an enterprise project manager may be able to help one project struggling with staffing by identifying and utilizing similar staff on another project.
  • Lower risk. EPM is adept at analyzing risk and planning for contingencies. This can lower project risk and give project managers avenues to address problems effectively while keeping the project on schedule and on budget.

Challenges of enterprise project management

Despite the benefits, EPM has several potential challenges that business leaders should consider such as the following:

  • Too many projects. Although EPM is designed to accommodate a wide array of simultaneous projects, it's easy to forget that business budgets and focus are finite. Setting priorities and managing many projects can overwhelm an enterprise project manager and lead to mistakes that can impact project quality and outcomes.
  • Poor resource allocation. A business can achieve better efficiency and cost-effectiveness by sharing resources, such as people and tools, across multiple projects. However, resources are not limitless and there is bound to be contention when too many projects vie for the same or insufficient resources at the same time. Project schedules and resource requirements may need to be altered to improve resource allocation.
  • Poor tracking and reporting. With many projects competing for attention, it's easy to skip data entry and reporting steps that cause gaps in financial and resource information. EPM tools are key to good EPM, but enterprise project managers must use those tools comprehensively and consistently to develop good data and create meaningful analytics.

How to implement enterprise project management

There is no single way to implement EPM across an organization. Consequently, business leaders should first evaluate whether EPM is necessary and appropriate for the organization. For example, consider the following questions:

  • Does the enterprise struggle organizing and executing multiple simultaneous projects?
  • Is there a common means of organizing and sharing resources (such as people and tools)?
  • Are project time and cost estimates inaccurate or difficult to track and analyze?
  • Is there a means of escalating problems for assistance and resolution by senior staff?

Any of these situations may signal an enterprise ready for EPM. Still, the business must be ready for the centralized authority, management, collaboration and reporting needed for EPM. Stakeholders and managers must buy into the idea and be willing to align business and project goals -- otherwise an EPMO initiative can fail.

A common approach to EPM implementation follows several general steps including the following:

  • Define what EPM should look like. Set the scope and responsibilities of the enterprise project manager and the EPMO to fit the needs of the individual enterprise. Define the resources needed to implement EPM, including the employee roles and tools needed. Most importantly, define the criteria that defines EPM success, such as project profit margins, customer satisfaction and other measurable data points.
  • Create an EPM implementation process. With goals and criteria in mind, lay out a plan for EPM implementation. EPM may be implemented at the same time or it can be implemented in phases -- perhaps embracing certain project types to start, and then folding in other project types over time as EPM demonstrates its value to the business. Part of any implementation should include training for any EPM tools and project management process changes, such as switching from Waterfall to Agile.
  • Conduct periodic implementation reviews. The enterprise project manager should be responsible for managing EPM/EPMO implementation, ensuring that project managers as well as C-suite leaders remain informed about implementation progress and issues. Each review is an opportunity to resolve problems and adjust the implementation plan to better suit the business. It can also help optimize the allocation of personnel, tools and training.
  • Conduct ongoing reviews. Even after successful implementation, EPM performance should be reviewed and discussed on a regular basis to ensure that it continues to deliver the expected benefits to the business. Post-implementation reviews can help to refine processes and tools that can help keep EPM relevant and beneficial across the entire project portfolio.

Enterprise project management vs. traditional project management

Enterprise project management and traditional project management serve similar goals but differ in scope and responsibilities.

Traditional project management focuses on the effective completion of a single project or initiative. The project manager plans, manages and implements the project with attention given to the goals of the project itself -- build a bridge, create software to perform a given set of functions, and so on. Project managers perform a more tactical role and report to the enterprise project manager.

Enterprise project management provides oversight for the organization's entire project portfolio. While this involves attention to project planning, management and implementation, EPM also provides a broader strategic view of business goals. EPM not only facilitates and supports traditional project management, it standardizes planning for better efficiency and shapes projects to better align with the business. Enterprise project managers perform a strategic role and report to a C-level executive.

This was last updated in February 2023

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