Interview: SAP's global head of project operations [podcast]

To better understand SAP's strategic thinking on managing complex IT projects, I spoke with Paul Ritchie, the company's Head of Global Project Management Operations.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

Sound business strategy and solid execution are the foundation stones of all successful IT projects. For organizations running multiple projects, execution means consistency across an entire portfolio.

As one of the largest enterprise software vendors, SAP's core competency includes precisely this kind of portfolio management. To better understand SAP's strategic thinking on managing complex IT projects, I spoke with Paul Ritchie, the company's Head of Global Project Management Operations.


Paul's team is responsible for the project management processes, tool, methodologies, and training used by 1200 SAP project managers around the world. He's also Chairman of the Global Corporate Council at the Project Management Institute (PMI), which suggests the broad importance and influence attached to this SAP role.

The podcast (see the player at the top of this post) offers an intimate glimpse inside SAP's work on project portfolio management, governance, and project delivery strategy. Here's a summary of key issues Paul and I discuss in the podcast:

What does "project management operations" mean?

Project management operations (or project management office, also called PMO) represent the critical link between a company's strategy and it's actual project delivery.

Four pillars support SAP's PMO:

  1. Process, such as project management methodologies that describe how to run projects and programs
  2. People, which includes helping project managers develop the core competencies, aptitudes, and judgment required to execute well
  3. Technology, including tools to support information sharing, project estimating, and similar issues
  4. Content, to consolidate, retain, and share best practices and lessons learned

How do these pillars increase the likelihood of project success?

It's important to have consistency in chartering, or authorizing, projects, setting up schedules and budgets, managing scope, and so on. Monitoring and controlling the project around these processes lessens the likelihood a project will "go off the rails."

Content and knowledge management can help a project manager understand the markers associated with troubled projects, enabling them to intervene sooner than would otherwise be possible.

For example, problems may arise if a project manager de-prioritizes communication with executive management. This simple marker can have substantial impact on the project, weakening the link between the business goals and the project direction. Recognizing the early warning signs can make a big difference.

What's the link between project operations and governance?

Governance involves making basic decisions regarding how the project will engage stakeholders:

It's critical to have an holistic, overall view, especially on large SAP projects that try to optimize an entire organization. Otherwise, you can lose that broader perspective while working on a particular stream.

Managing a project to achieve anticipated value and benefits is another important aspect of governance. You need to know which deliverables will deliver the specific project outcomes that your strategy dictates. By determining these goals upfront, you can track them.

Governance also involves thinking more strategically about the overall IT portfolio.

Please share your thoughts on relationships between IT customers, technology vendors, and system integrators, which I call the IT Devil's Triangle?

This is a challenge for SAP as a software company. Those of us in the professional services organization need to make sure that all sides are successful. Aside from developing tools and methodologies, we collaborate with customers and partners directly to develop new  and better services and implementation approaches.

Our group is also intimately involved with partner certification. We developed a lot of the project management content used in the certification program.

[Photo of Paul Ritchie by Michael Krigsman]

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