For project-focused organizations, having concise, consistent processes and means of operating is crucial to successful execution. To achieve this, many businesses turn to tools and softwares to ease and improve day-to-day and task-to-task operations—and there are many technological options to choose from. From Project Management tools and Collaborative Work Management tools all the way to enterprise Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Strategic Portfolio Management solutions, the sea of options can be overwhelming; but with each business being different, it’s critical to understand how each of these types of software works.

Let’s get started on the differences.

The Differences Between Project Management, Work Management, and Project Portfolio Management Softwares

How Do Project Management Tools Work?

PM solutions are softwares created to enable Project Managers and their teams to manage individual projects. They’ll facilitate the management and completion of a whole array of diverse activities, such as project planning, progress tracking and reporting, or activity monitoring.

How? First, by centralizing and consolidating project-related data to provide Project Managers with a snapshot of project status and health at a given time. Second, by automating tasks with intelligence. Planning, scheduling, and tracking tasks are machine-assisted or even automated. This saves human workers huge amounts of valuable time, while minimizing the risk of error. Finally, Project Management tools provide standard document, chart and dashboard templates that help improve consistency from one project to the next.

How Does Collaborative Work Management Software Work?

As Gartner puts it, “The Collaborative Work Management market consists of vendors offering task-driven workspaces that support business users in work planning and execution. They combine task, project, workflow, and automation capabilities with conversations, content publishing, reporting, analytics, and dashboards.

This type of software usually provides shared workspaces and functionality for collaborative problem-solving and decision-making that can really improve the quality of interactions and the performances of project teams. Overall, Work Management platforms can give a real boost to team productivity, and they’re typically quite accessible (both in terms of pricing and of ease-of-use for nontechnical users).

How Does Project Portfolio Management Software Work?

PPM software usually combines the project-oriented capabilities of Project Management tools with the collaborative features of Collaborative platforms… and they go way further.

Project Management Offices usually bump up against the limitations of PM tools when heightened activity and complexity start requiring higher-level coordination and consolidation. Project Management software may go a long way towards optimizing the delivery of individual projects, but this type of tool struggles when it comes to coordinating multiple projects with interdependencies. As for Collaborative Work tools, they may include some basic cross-project resource and budget management features and program-level analytics capabilities, but again they’re just not designed for effective management of whole portfolios of projects.

This is the reason why most Project Management Offices eventually turn to mature PPM solutions. These multi-purpose management platforms offer a powerful database to accommodate all kinds of project-related data and information across the organization, and they provide comprehensive sets of various features to facilitate the management of every step at every phase of the project life cycle. More importantly, they’ll help you perform actual portfolio-level management by connecting the dots. PPM platforms are designed to make cross-project and cross-function dependencies and links visible and to enable holistic management of project activities. They also empower PMOs to see and manage the impact of projects on the strategic performance of the organization.

How Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Software Works for Project Selection

The management of project ideas and demands is doubtless one of the most critical phases of the PPM process. It is just key to get it right, since investing in the wrong projects is tantamount to a waste of valuable time and resources. In that regard, a robust PPM tool with a range of capabilities for managing project ideas and demands can really help maximize the value and return of project investment.

Idea and demand management

PPM software will consolidate all project ideas and demands across the organization into a single place and put them side-by-side, using common description formats and scoring systems in order to help the PMO identify the most promising ones. The evaluation criteria are fully customizable, in order for you to adapt the system to what really matters to your organization.

Portfolio and project ranking

As project demands are centralized, scored, and ranked, with a materialization of possible interdependencies and constraints between them, it becomes much easier for the PMO and other relevant stakeholders to review the proposed ideas and select the best ones. That same objective, fact-based approach can then help determine which business cases and initiatives should take priority.

Analyzing risk

Importantly, the appraisal of project and portfolio potential value should always include risk considerations. And PPM tools support that too. Risk management features help detect the potential risks associated with a project idea or business case from the outset, then reevaluate throughout the execution and delivery phases. For Project Managers and PMO teams, this means that it becomes possible to devise and implement risk prevention and mitigation strategies. Risk assessment and management can also happen at the portfolio level to optimize the overall risk profile.

Providing n-to-n connections

A good Project Portfolio Management solution should provide n-to-n connections between ideas, business cases, and projects in order for you to get a comprehensive picture of the life cycle of the project portfolio. Additionally, PPM tools also make it possible to re-assess and re-prioritize active projects during the execution phase in order to reflect any change in the market landscape, the strategic directions, or the organizational situation. Or just to course-correct to adapt to unexpected events!

How Project Portfolio Management Software Works for Planning, Tracking, and Reporting Activity

PPM software provides PMOs with a centralized platform to plan a collection of projects while taking in consideration their interrelations. Proper planning and scheduling enable PMOs to establish a sound foundation for their projects. Smart planning features can recommend the best option, taking into account lessons learnt from past projects as well as resource capacity forecasts (that include planned resource consumption for other projects). The goal is to provide Project and Portfolio Managers with a comprehensive visibility of the whole project pipeline, to assist in the establishment of realistic and reliable roadmaps, and to prevent conflicts and bottlenecks at the level of a program or a portfolio, or even across programs and portfolios.

Project Portfolio Management software also plays a key role in monitoring progress throughout the various phases of projects, with real-time updates on project health and status and the provision of valuable insights to help understand, analyze, and manage the course of execution. Because project professionals know whether their initiatives are on track for successful completion, they can focus their effort on those specific projects that require special effort and action.

Finally, a PPM tool will offer consolidated dashboard and report templates that allow PMOs to provide executive managers with high-level summaries of the progress of project activity, along with KPIs and key financial or strategic metrics to better connect the data to the priorities of the business.

How Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Software Works for Optimizing Resource Allocation and Utilization

PPM platforms come with features and capabilities dedicated to improving the management of human resources. Such functionalities specifically enable both Project Managers and Resource Managers to better distribute, allocate, and assign the resources that are available to them in order to create maximum value at the level of portfolios. All the resource information is centralized in the platform, which offers the ability to sort and filter by attributes (role, competencies and skills, cost center, and more) and to see at a glance all the planned assignments and availability of resources. Thanks to that consolidated view of attributes and capacity, it becomes possible to match the right resource with the right tasks and the right projects so as to align with portfolio priorities. PPM capabilities also detect over- and under-assignment of key resources and enable Resource Managers to take corrective action in order to ensure the best possible resource utilization rate.

In a similar vein, the budget and cost management functionality provided by Project Portfolio Management platforms will help Project and Portfolio Managers make the best use of their project budgets. The ability to track costs and expenses against budget baselines in real time, to anticipate overruns before they occur and take preventive action, and to readjust when needed makes it possible to build and maintain financially healthy portfolios of projects. And, because a PPM platform helps analyze and calculate the potential ROI and value of both individual projects and portfolios, the PMO can ensure that the distribution of funds across projects and initiatives maximizes value for the business.

How Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Software Works for Facilitating Communication and Collaboration

Like the collaborative work management platforms that we described above, Project Portfolio Management software provides communication channels and information-sharing mechanisms to help project teams and other stakeholders collaborate effectively. Shared workspaces, “social” features allowing project managers and team members to add comments and notes to work items and to send notifications and reminders are opening the door for instant, seamless interactions. In addition to saving significant time (reduction in the number of meetings that could be avoided, reduction in time spent reaching out to people using traditional channels to get a specific piece of information, fewer email threads), the ability to communicate and collaborate in the tool improves the quality and relevance of interactions.

It’s really about empowering people to engage in collective ideation and collaborative problem-solving — in other words, tapping into the collective intelligence. And this really contributes towards the constitution of highly-effective project and portfolio teams. In particular, Agile-management-oriented features such as Kanban views and boards are providing a framework for sprint-based work within small empowered teams, which often produces outstanding results.

In a nutshell, Project Portfolio Management tools offer a full stack of capabilities that enable the Project Management Office and project teams to get a comprehensive view of all information, processes, and activities at the scale of the portfolio, including links and dependencies between projects. The ultimate goal of such enterprise-wide systems is to help decision-makers determine where to invest the firm’s time, budget, and resources so as to maximize return and achieve targeted business goals. Finally, state-of-the-art Project Portfolio Management software can be interfaced with other enterprise systems (ERPs for example) in order to facilitate data collection and aggregation.

Best Practices to Make the Most of a PPM Tool

Pick the best PPM tool for your organization

The solution of your choosing should match the specific challenges of your PMO and provide core capabilities that align with your most pressing PPM and business needs.

Consider a Project Management Office

If you do not already have one, consider setting up a Project Management Office to consolidate and standardize the management of project and portfolio. With a bird’s eye view of project-related activities, and with a solid understanding of the business strategy and priorities, a PMO will be of tremendous help to optimize portfolio-level management with the support of your new PPM tool.

Formulate a solid change management strategy

The introduction of a Project Portfolio Management tool into your company will disrupt to some extent the daily work of teams. This is likely to raise a number of questions. You need to make sure that Project Managers, team members, and any stakeholders involved enjoy easy access to support and resources in order to ease the transition. This will facilitate and speed up the adoption of your new tool, while empowering your people to use it as effectively as possible.

Evolve and grow your PPM tool over time

Activate new functionality to match the development of PPM maturity across the business or to optimize new areas, expand the use of your tool to new departments and units as needed. For that, it is essential to select a scalable and flexible PPM platform that’ll be able to support you all along the way.

Selecting a PPM Partner: How Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Software Works for You

A Project Portfolio Management software is purposely designed to bring portfolio managers and PMOs everything they need to optimize the management of activities and maximize the value-added of portfolios of projects at the level of the business. While Project Management tools assist in doing the projects right, PPM solutions go the extra mile and offer to help you do the right projects — and still do them right.

However, you really need to see to it that the Project Portfolio Management that you select, acquire, and implement is a match for your organization in order to reap all the benefits.

More Resources About Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software and how it works:

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Isabelle Bouscatie

With many years as a EMEA Marketing Manager under her belt, Isabelle is presently in charge of Sciforma’s customer marketing and global events. She thrives in Sciforma’s dynamic, fast-paced digital environment and she enjoys working in direct contact with customers, who help her keep abreast of PPM challenges across organizations.