Any organization that runs projects eventually reaches a point where Project Portfolio Management (PPM) implementation becomes necessary or even indispensable. As project activity grows more complex, it becomes more pressing to:
- prioritize demand and resources
- identify conflicts between activities
- define work and resource plans with increased accuracy
Implementing PPM helps improve visibility over project and portfolio activities and provides insight into their strategic alignment.
However, the implementation of a PPM system is not as easy as it may seem. This involves introducing organizational changes that will impact the process, structure, and culture of the enterprise.
Purpose and Objectives of Implementing PPM
The Project Management Institute defines PPM as centralized management of one or more portfolios that enable executive management to meet organizational goals and objectives through efficient decision making on portfolios, projects, programs and operations.”
The need for a structured PPM approach usually arises when the organization starts struggling to meet ever-increasing project demand with its limited capacity and budget.
What then happens is, various departments and stakeholders insist that such and such project needs to be launched urgently. Under pressure, project management leaders then typically try to bite off more than they can chew. Then, due to a lack of sufficient resources, they end up with a backlog of projects. This often results in significant delays and overruns in strategic projects and eventually impairs the organization’s ability to service customers and fulfill its mission.
And this is where businesses implement proper PPM capabilities with a view of stabilizing project management and achieving more predictable outputs. PPM helps:
- strengthen the bond between the firm’s strategic objectives and the realization of benefits through projects
- prioritize work more effectively and more efficiently
- optimize the use of the organization’s resource pool
Analyzing the Current State of Your PPM Practices
The first step to PPM implementation is running an analysis of current project and portfolio management practices, systems, and tools. This will help you understand the requirements.
Take an objective snapshot of the way things are and work, to determine what needs to be tweaked or overhauled. Then you should drill down into the details in order to tie problem symptoms to their probable root causes. This is the best way to identify effective solutions.
Many of the companies that set about to implement PPM in order to address insufficient work prioritization and competition for limited resources have the following problems:
- Without a formal governance framework or system, no one is responsible for overseeing the end-to-end life cycle of cross-functional projects.
- Different functions and groups use different tools and processes to record, analyze, and track project requests. Those disconnected processes are not always clearly defined, either.
- Project resources and funding may be tracked and managed at the level of a domain, without company-wide supervision. Schedule clashes and conflicts are frequent.
- Data collection is inconsistent and haphazard, leading to missing, inaccurate, redundant or outdated information.
- Because of a lack of communication across functions, different teams commit to delivering projects without confirming that capacity allows it.
This round-up covers some of the key issues that companies may try to solve with the implementation of PPM. However, every organization is faced with unique challenges and requirements. Regardless of what they are, the pain points should be mapped out and analyzed to successfully implement PPM. Drawing a clear picture of the challenges and performance gaps that to be addressed is key to establishing a PPM process and system that will actually make an impact and drive measurable improvement.
Defining Scope and Objectives Prior to PPM Process Implementation
Following the analysis of your current position, you should have a good idea of where you want to get. For each of the areas showing room for improvement, use a competitive benchmark to quantify performance gaps. You should also try to assess to what extent your new PPM process can make things better. It is important to set realistic expectations. There’s only so much that PPM can do: it is not a cure-all for all business issues. For example, even the best of PPM systems won’t do much to solve problems due to an ill-fitted strategic positioning. You need to make sure that you understand what you can really achieve with your PPM initiative. Otherwise, making overpromising claims and pursuing unattainable targets will harm the value — both actual and perceived — of your endeavor.
Once you have a good idea of what you’re trying to reach, find the path that’ll take you there. In other words:
- Determine what should be the scope and extent of the methodology you are trying to develop
- Understand if the PPM process should be integrated with other organizational systems (e.g. Financial Management, Human Resources Management)
- Define near-term areas of focus for your PPM (most immediate needs and priorities) and a longer term roadmap (mid and long term milestones)
- Identify who should spearhead the process to maximize adoption and impact. Identify the necessary skills and tools for both successful implementation and the related change management effort
Don’t forget that introducing PPM into your organization will disrupt the habits and ways of working of many people across the business. They’ll need to be convinced of your initiative’s relevance and supported as they learn to work under the new system.
The findings of your analysis and the proposed PPM model should be consolidated into a business case and presented to executive and operational stakeholders. The goal is to create a common understanding of the challenges at hand and a shared vision of the desired outcomes in order to secure validation and endorsement for your plan.
The Implementation of Your PPM Plan
Once you have obtained validation and set expectations, it is time to implement your strategy to establish the PPM system.
A clear PPM methodology and an integrated governance model
The PPM methodology you design for implementation should provide a clear and solid framework. It should include criteria to assess project-worthiness according to specific requirements (such as project duration, required investment, complexity, number of departments involved…) along with a method for prioritizing initiatives and for incorporating them into a specific portfolio. It should also provide a methodical approach for project planning, initiation, execution and delivery, with clear processes to manage workflows, permissions, and approval criteria. Finally, don’t forget to set up a benefit review system.
Following the establishment of selection and prioritization criteria, put these criteria to the test. You could, for example, ask project managers to test the system against a sample of completed representative projects, comparing criteria-based assessments with actual outcomes. This will let you know if your system and assumptions are valid and where they require adjustments.
Creating a Portfolio Management Council
You also need a portfolio management governance to actively support this methodology. A common and simple way to establish a governance structure is to create a Portfolio Management Council. In other words: gather the business and PPM leaders who participated in the strategy formulation and benefit identification process. Your governance body will help identify and allocate budgets to different strategically-aligned project categories. It’ll be in charge of distributing the resources required to implement decisions and will also take action to mitigate the issues and risks that might threaten benefit realization.
In addition to that top-level PPM governance body, you can establish subsidiary governance structures to oversee and manage specific PPM aspects or areas — for example, to ensure that individual projects align with the strategy and execute properly. These lower-level councils may bring together sponsors, program and portfolio managers, and representatives from the different business units. Having several layers of governance helps better connect portfolio-level decisions with operational realities. This will help not only select and prioritize activities, but also sequence and plan them in the best possible way against your business needs and capacity.
Focus on resource management systems and processes
A key role of the governance body is performing an ongoing analysis of the portfolios and project pipelines to examine, endorse, and funding the initiatives as part of a given portfolio. This requires investment capabilities to ensure effective investment of funds and resources.
Standardizing business case processes and templates will enable you to perform a sound analysis of project ideas or demands, factoring in potential return, resource usage estimates, and risks. When selecting and prioritizing projects, the value analysis should focus on not only financial factors, but also include aspects such as regulatory compliance, brand image, sustainability, and corporate responsibility.
Your PPM system should also provide consistent and realistic estimates of resource utilization, as well as mechanisms to optimize the allocation of resources across projects, programs, and portfolios in order to maximize the overall benefits for the organization. PPM software platforms typically provide capabilities to plan capacity based both on business case requirements and on resource attributes (roles, skills, and more), and to then monitor actual resource consumption against forecasts.
You need a holistic workforce management system to ensure that projects don’t compete for the same resources. What’s more, the resource management system should be aligned and connected with the scheduling and time tracking systems. This will improve your understanding of the overall demand for resources and facilitate identification and management of potential constraints. In turn, this will enable your portfolio managers to adjust the scope and priority level of initiatives to match resource availability.
The importance of a PPM information system to consolidate and leverage data
You need the ability to run in-depth analysis to select and prioritize projects, make investment decisions, and optimize resource allocation. This requires the support of a robust Project Portfolio Management Information System. PPM tools provide a single platform to accommodate all project-related data (including financials, schedules, resource information, etc.) at the level of multiple portfolios, with safeguards and audit trail mechanisms to ensure data integrity and accuracy. Such platforms also make it possible to automate a number of repetitive tasks in order to get the required data at the push of a button while reducing the administrative overhead for project managers and contributors.
A professional software tool will also highlight the linkages between projects, portfolios, and strategic orientations, crunch the numbers using advanced analytics and financial modelling capabilities, and enable you to run simulations. PPM tools provide the precious insights that will facilitate reporting and help decision-makers make informed decisions to manage the portfolios on an ongoing basis.
Managing the PPM implementation change
Introducing Project Portfolio Management into your organization will bring about significant change in the ways of working. It will have a deep impact on the day-to-day of the people in your business. You need to manage that change to get good results. To address the issue of change management, formalize and circulate information in order to communicate a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve, and what for. Explain how your initiative will benefit the PPM staff, as these people are on the front line. Their buy-in is critical to achieving proper implementation of your PPM process.
You’ll also need to explain and illustrate the desired behavior changes as clearly as possible.
Design and disseminate communication and training materials, with messaging tailored to respond to the needs, expectations, and roles of your different groups of users. Set up various training and support resources: tutorials, job aids, help centers, news feeds, workshops, lunch-and-learns, and so on. Socialize your agenda and the progress against your milestones and objectives in order to keep people involved and engaged in the success of your PPM implementation plan.
Refining Your PPM System, Process, and Model
Even after you’ve successfully implemented and established PPM into your organization, the journey isn’t quite over yet. A corporate organization is a living entity that changes and evolves over time, both under the pressure of external forces (markets, consumers, regulation) and in response to its own internal dynamics. The PPM process must follow suit and adapt accordingly in order to stay relevant and effective.
In particular, managing portfolios in the digital age demands increased team cohesion and collaboration. As the complexity of the business environment is increasing, projects and portfolios involve growing numbers of stakeholders of different types. Accordingly, project practitioners and PPM leaders must communicate and work with new constituents from the IT and business sides of the organization. Effective collaboration requires breaking down any silos that may reduce visibility to interdependencies and risks across a wide range of practices and areas.
In fact, Gartner finds that optimizing the value of all major initiatives in the organization requires embracing integrated portfolio management: “Integrated portfolio management and governance has an important role, because well-governed IT portfolios result in superior organization performance, with an increased return on assets of 30%.”
More generally speaking, PPM leaders should continuously evolve their leadership style and competencies to support the ongoing change in the way we do business. Competing in the digital era requires more agile management models enabling swifter response to change. What is at stake is the organization’s ability to optimize cost, risk, and value and accelerate the realization of strategic benefits.
The successful implementation of PPM practices in a project organization requires a methodical approach and a sound process. You will need to design and apply a standard methodology, a governance structure, and management processes designed to facilitate operations and decisions. The goal? To enable the business to derive superior value from its investments in its portfolios of projects.
The key to a quality PPM initiative is to mold the process to your organization’s specific challenges and configuration. While it does require some upfront effort, it yields much better results than trying to force-fit a solution unaligned with your business drivers.