What are the criteria to evaluate PPM tools?
Estimate reading time: about 10 minutes
- Project Portfolio Management tools can significantly improve the project activity of your business. But it is key to choose the right one;
- You need to gain a crystal-clear understanding of your PPM challenges and requirements in order to select the solution that will meet them;
- In addition to technical features and capabilities, consider more qualitative criteria such as the security guarantees or the services offered by the vendor.
Having the right tools can be decisive to the success of a Project Management Office or project organization. Robust Project Portfolio Management software can bring huge improvements to the ways projects and resources are planned, tracked and optimized at the portfolio level. However, you need to make sure that the PPM solution you select is the right fit for your organization. Investing in a tool that does not match your PPM maturity level, that is not equipped to address your key challenges, or that does not appeal to your teams can lead you into a quagmire. Here are a few tips and points of attention to help you identify and implement a Project Portfolio Management tool that will meet and exceed your expectations.
The benefits of implementing a dedicated Project Portfolio Management software tool are manifold:
- PPM platforms provide a central repository to consolidate project data and keep it updated in real-time. This ensures the accuracy, reliability and overall quality of information over time.
- As they digitize key project and portfolio management processes, tools are automating repeatable tasks in order to save up valuable time for project teams and increase work productivity.
- Data intelligence and analytics are enabling insightful review and comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of projects and business cases, including their projected return on investment. This will help you determine which projects should be initiated now or at a later point in time.
- Intelligence and lessons learned from past initiatives are improving foresight and guiding project planning.
- Resource management modules are assisting in the prevention and management of schedule conflicts.
- Dedicated management features are helping you contain and mitigate project risk.
- Finally, standard reports and dashboards are facilitating data handling and reporting, making it easier for decision-makers to base trade-offs on solid insights.
This handful of general benefits only scratches the surface of what a PPM tool can do for a PMO or for a business. Drawing more comprehensive and detailed a list is made impractical by the sheer range of tool options. The many solutions that are available out there on the market each offer specific functionality, with various degrees of sophistication.
For some companies with smaller-size, lower-maturity teams looking to solve a few specific pain points, a comparatively basic tool with a handful of targeted key features will do just fine. Larger enterprises will benefit from high-end technology tools offering full arrays of advanced capabilities — as long as they can absorb the extra cost and complexity that come with it.
Outlined below are the different options available to organizations looking to digitize their Project Portfolio Management practices and process in order to solve their pain points and challenges:
Technology Platform Extensions
Some enterprise application platforms — such as ERPs or IT Solution Management tools— also offer optional PPM modules. These can deliver adequate capabilities for project management and provide a quick fix to targeted issues. While helpful for companies who cannot afford to earmark a dedicated budget to procure actual Project Portfolio Management tools, they will not let you develop PPM core competencies and won’t provide a growth path for your team and process maturation.
Collaborative Work Management solutions
Another option for organizations that are not necessarily after a highly-structured PPM environment or a long-term PPM maturity growth path is to go for a solution focused on project team collaborative workflow. They provide easy-to-use capabilities for casual project management and team collaboration.
Adaptive Enterprise PMO platforms
Enterprise PMO solutions provide a great balance of robustness and usability for enterprises where a formal PMO or PPM leadership is in place to coordinate the work of multiple project teams. They combine strategy and portfolio planning facilities for PMO and executive-level decision-makers with smart tools for task execution and collaboration for project team members. They support the organization’s PPM growth path and are often the best option from a risk-reward perspective.
High-end IT solutions
Large enterprises with complex requirements and high Project Portfolio Management process maturity typically seek the sophistication of top-shelf, multi-faceted IT PPM platforms offering a full range of very advanced capabilities. Note that these usually come at a heftier price tag and that, with a steep learning curve, achieving user adoption and benefit realization usually requires more time and effort.
In order to figure out what type of solution is the best fit for your organization and what’s the way to go, you should start by making sure you understand your current Project Portfolio Management situation, challenges and requirements.
Know where you stand
It is obviously much more efficient to adopt a tool that’s tailored to your current process and situation instead of having to adjust and bend your organization to fit a new tool. To determine what is right for you, you first need to understand your Project Portfolio Management drivers: the processes that you currently have and follow, the type of data that may be captured and leveraged, and the degree of PPM literacy and competency across your teams.
What more, you can analyze past and active initiatives in order to map out how projects are ideated, selected for admission into a portfolio, initiated, executed and delivered. Try to identify what is working well and what could be improved.
Performing this audit will help you gain an understanding of what it is that you need a tool for. By comparing where you are now and where you would like to be in the future, you can define an itemized list of specific requirements.
In addition to your own observation, assessment and analysis, it can be helpful to reach out to the various populations and stakeholders involved in Project Portfolio Management activity across the company in order to collect feedback. Based on their input, you can get a sense of what their respective challenges and expectations are.
Consolidating this feedback with your own ideas will highlight a pattern of your organization’s actual needs and allow you to pinpoint the key capabilities that a Project Portfolio Management software tool should offer in order to support your business.
From there, you should be able to understand what success looks like. You can then associate those critical business capabilities you have identified with specific metrics, both quantitative and qualitative, that will let you measure and gauge your progress towards your goals moving forward.
Focus on problems and pain points
The hurdles and pain points that your PPM teams are facing deserve particular attention. One of the most common mistakes when searching for a solution tool is failing to identify the issues that may be negatively impacting the performance of the business. To make it right, you need to put your finger on what is wrong. You need to identify problem symptoms, understand and try to quantify their impact on key business objectives, and pinpoint the root causes in order to determine how to eradicate them for good.
Let’s consider a few examples of widespread Project Portfolio Management pain points.
- Low productivity: Many businesses running projects without a professional platform tool find that their teams are wasting way too much energy and effort on non-value-added work. As a matter of fact, non-value-added tasks usually represent the bulk of the time spent on projects (up to 90%). This means that driving productivity gains in such activities would yield significant impact on the overall efficiency of project workflow and delivery
- Elongated project cycle time: Sub-optimal productivity and resource utilization can drag out project timelines, resulting in delays in time-to-market and causing revenue, market shares and customer satisfaction to decline.
- Poor business alignment: Investing the resources of your organization in the pursuit of the wrong projects can be highly detrimental to the profitability and sustainability of your business. PMOs need to make sure they select the right projects — those that align with the strategy and will contribute towards attaining the company’s objectives.
Validate the requirements
The list of requirements obtained based on your preliminary analysis should be presented to your executive leadership in order to secure buy-in and funding for your tool procurement initiative. You need to package your findings into a solid, compelling business case in order to justify the need to invest in the platform of your choosing. To bolster your argument, don’t hesitate to highlight the pain points and quantify the gaps in performance they cause — relative to competitive benchmarks, for example. You should also quantify the expected benefits and return on your investment in a digitization solution, with focus on key business outcomes such as long-term competitiveness and profitable growth.
Gaining validation from your leadership is not only critical to obtain the necessary green-light and funding, but, further down the road, executive sponsorship will also be immensely helpful in facilitating user acceptance and adoption of the tool.
Once you have an itemized, prioritized and validated list of Project Portfolio Management business requirements, you can turn it into a “shopping list” by matching each of these requirements with one or several solution capabilities. To illustrate this point, let’s circle back to the examples of pain points and requirements that we previously considered:
Waste on non-value-added tasks would translate into the need for:
- A central system of record for project data, eliminating the need to search for information;
- Automatically-generated reports and dashboards with computerized data rollups and calculations;
- Workflow automation for basic project tracking tasks such as timesheet administration, completion tracking, task assignment communications and other notifications.
Addressing elongated project cycle times will typically require:
- Resource management features to optimize utilization. Tool modules will let you manage resource allocation to ensure that the right resources with the right skills are working at full capacity on the highest value-added projects. This will also help you keep idle resources off the bench. This is particularly critical for the companies that rely on a gig workforce in order to improve cost-efficiency ;
- Workflow optimization solutions such as standardized and streamlined process for project selection, approval, trade-off decisions and reporting, as well as integrated tools for information sharing and communication in order to improve the effectiveness and productivity of team work;
- Features dedicated to risk management for improved assessment of project feasibility in the demand and priorization process, as some high-business-value projects come with high risk that should be considered from the get-go.
Poor strategy alignment calls for:
- Idea and demand management capabilities, with a formal process to collect ideas and assess candidate projects against a set of custom criteria in order to ensure the quality of project selection with regards to the strategy and objectives of the business;
- Portfolio management functionality to optimize business alignment across projects, programs and portfolio at the level of the company;
- Intelligent reports and dashboards to help PPM and executive leaders make informed decisions to steer the portfolio.
These are just a few examples derived from the observation of the real-life challenges and struggles of many project companies. You may have different, or additional requirements that you can similarly match with desired solution capabilities.
Regardless of the specific challenges and requirements that are unique to your organization, here are a few key points to consider when assessing and comparing different Project Portfolio Management solution tools.
A good tool should come with a robust database with expandable storage capabilities. The point is to make sure it can accommodate all the data regarding your projects and resources, even as the number of users and projects added to the system grows.
Most companies are experiencing, expecting — or hoping for — business growth moving forward. Instead of investing in a one-size, fixed-scale system, it makes sense to opt for a flexible and scalable service that can grow and evolve with you.
In order to improve, you need to learn from the past. For that reason, your system should give you the ability to trace back your actions. It should maintain a comprehensive history of project and resource activity over time, including archives documenting issues and changes, with an audit trail making it possible to retrace who made what changes. Historical data can also serve as a base for simulations to output projections about the possible futures of your projects and portfolios.
The Project Portfolio Management tool vendor you select should guarantee the security of the information and data the system is fed. This is especially important if you choose a cloud-based, SaaS solution — these are increasingly popular as they offer simplified user experience. Your solution should also include protocols supporting your internal policy regarding data sharing, such as multi-layered user access to information.
Most companies will need the ability to interface their PPM system and database with other enterprise software — for example the HR management tool or ERP. The platform should also be able auto-populate its records with data extracted from other systems.
Decision-makers need visual reports and dashboards providing at-a-glance insights into the health of the various projects and portfolios. A good tool should provide data visualization through graphic dashboards and analytic reports consolidating data streamlined from various information sources in a clear and compelling way. You should also be able to personalize and customize your project management tool’s out-of-the-box templates in order to adjust them to the information consumption habits of your various stakeholders.
The usability of a solution is often what makes or breaks adoption success. In order to appeal to your teams, your platform should provide easy, fast and convenient access to the relevant information, with different levels of granularity according to user roles and preferences. It should also enable users to perform complex operations in one click.
Implementation & Customer Services
If you do not have the right capabilities in house, or lack the time and resources, you may need external support for the implementation and rollout of your solution. In this case, you may commission your tool provider or third-party consultants to implement the software. A number of tool vendors can take care of everything for you.
Even if you decide on a more hands-on approach, you can still leverage your solution partner’s expertise. Experienced tool vendors have supported many companies on their PPM digitization journeys. They know what works, and what doesn’t. They can share implementation and user adoption best practices and provide useful advice to ensure your success.
This is why it is always safer to choose a technology partner with a proven track record of successful implementations. It is equally important to select a vendor which provides an array of services in the sales, delivery, and on-going support process to assist in trouble-shooting and answer your questions and requests moving forward.
Armed with these considerations, you are ready to go ahead and shop the market for a Project Portfolio Management tool. Browse the solutions available to identify those that meet your specific requirements and offer the most solid guarantees.
Market research firms and software comparison services such as Capterra or g2 provide independent review and peer feedback that’ll help you identify the most recognized providers of Project Portfolio Management tools and evaluate their respective strengths. You may also involve external consultants to facilitate your decision.
Perhaps as important as choosing the right solution from a technology and feature perspective, is choosing the solution partner that feels right for you, based on the quality of interactions and the responsiveness of service. When shopping around, feel free to contact the vendors whose tools you’re eyeing to request demos or trials — and get to know the team.
To learn more about PPM tool evaluation, consider reading:
- A Framework for Evaluating PPM System Options
- A Guide to Finding the PPM Tool That's Right for You
- When choosing the right project portfolio management tool, think about creating value