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Now Is the Time to Implement a Utility Project Management Office

Now Is the Time to Implement a Utility Project Management Office, Clarice Kinsella

Utilities excel in operations, but project management may present a significant challenge for utilities learning to adapt to today’s changing utility landscape.

As infrastructure, technology and consumer demands evolve, utilities are managing new, more complex and ever-changing types of projects. Aging infrastructure also requires ongoing maintenance or replacement. At the same time, providing high levels of reliability is as critical as ever.

With more projects to manage and a continuous focus on capital expenditure, it is increasingly important to execute each project on budget and on schedule. Having a project management office (PMO) in place can help improve project delivery by identifying and enforcing priorities, implementing best practices, optimizing resource allocation and eliminating redundancies. Several factors make this an opportune time for utilities to establish a PMO.

Loss of Institutional Knowledge

As employees retire in greater numbers, the power industry faces a loss of institutional knowledge. Newer employees lack the experience or established professional relationships that traditionally translate into success in the industry. Additionally, the workforce is more mobile and geographically dispersed than in the past. To be effective on the job, this generation of utility employees needs new ways to access information and assimilate experience. It is also not uncommon for project managers to have to manage projects across multiple departments or divisions.

Many utilities are addressing this need by building a digital knowledge base, integrating essential data across the organization and making information available to the workforce in the form of dashboards, automated tools or reports. Developing an effective framework for information flow is challenging, but a PMO can streamline the project by focusing on and collaborating across the organization’s unique people, processes and technologies.

Distributed Generation and Renewables

Distributed generation and renewables are blurring the line between the three industry pillars of generation, distribution and transmission. Solar, wind, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, microgrids and other distributed generation assets are located in wide-ranging areas and require coordination across all three pillars. Utilities must coordinate closely, for example, across generation, transmission and distribution for whether a solar project is a generation project or a distribution project. Business units that functioned separately until very recently must now work together.

In these cases, successful project planning requires a holistic strategy that can be difficult to achieve if information is siloed within individual business units. However, an effective PMO can put in place measures to facilitate bringing all of the pieces together on a large scale, including managing the additional budget and scheduling complexities that come with integrated projects.

Availability of Tools

In recent years, project management tools have become more widely adopted and accessible. Software-as-a-Service makes them easier to deploy, so utilities no longer need a lot of in-house IT resources for deployment. Business intelligence tools have put the power of data analytics on at the fingertips of more users. Additionally, numerous use cases document industry experience, thereby reducing barriers to implementation.

One remaining hurdle is establishing the data backbone for these technologies. Without the right data, analytics tools are useless. A PMO can help utilities define what data needs to be collected and in what form, how to collect it and which tools are best for the job regardless of vendor. With any infrastructure that requires data, there is no better time to start than now.

As utilities continue to experience rapid change, a PMO can provide the direction needed to pivot strategically from one project to another to execute the most impactful capital projects successfully, remain competitive, and deliver reliable and economical services to customers.

 

For Cooperative Energy, a generation and transmission cooperative in Mississippi, establishing a PMO offered solutions to improve its approach to prioritizing and executing a significant volume of capital projects. Discover how this solution is breaking down silos.

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Clarice Kinsella
Written by Clarice Kinsella
Clarice is a project manager for Burns & McDonnell with almost 20 years of experience in the power industry. She leads development and execution of large-scale fossil fuel and renewable energy projects and consults with clients on capital projects management and delivery.

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