The Future of Project Portfolio Management – Perspectives from the Gartner PPM Summit

Gartner gave us an interesting look into the future of PPM this week, and projects as we know them may be left behind. I’ve been wondering about this for some time, as the pace of business continues to accelerate and business changes – represented by projects – are called on to deliver results faster and more frequently. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s rewind from projects back up the business stack for a clearer view. Gartner did this nicely from their opening keynote through their multitude of breakout sessions – many of which were standing room only. In this note I can only summarize the model, but I will delve more deeply into each area in future posts.

First, we must remember why we execute projects – to implement change in the business. Be it incremental improvements in efficiencies enabled by minor software enhancements, or transformational change in the form of a merger – projects have been our vehicle. Gartner rightly points out that the pace of this change is accelerating to the point where it is almost constant. Can the old annual planning cycles and waterfall projects really keep up with this pace?

Most projects today involve changes to some application system, as IT has become thoroughly embedded in most modern enterprises.  Techniques like Agile can continuously release improvements to these applications, taking in ideas for change and working them into a continuously prioritized stream of stories. And these stories – which represent useful business changes – can be released frequently. We are now talking weeks or months to roll out changes to applications, instead of years.

How to manage all those applications? Enter Application Portfolio Management. Much like managing a portfolio of projects, APM rationalizes and prioritizes applications. Andy Kyte (VP & Gartner Fellow) gave a dynamic presentation on APM for Executives that boiled this concept down to some simple truths. He reminded us that applications are really means to an end – business value. Using that as the goal enables us to make decisions not only about which apps should stay and which should go, but where they should reside. Do we really need all those systems in house, or would a SaaS or even a BPO model provide the desired business outcomes more efficiently?

This brings us to the top of the stack – business value. IT systems do not in and of themselves provide any value at all. So what does IT really provide? Business Capabilities! And here Gartner sounded an interesting new theme. Instead of seeing capabilities as just part of the EA stack, consider these like products. A SaaS shop like Daptiv, of course, delivers PPM capabilities as a product – and we see it that way. IT shops should consider that they are really delivering products like Purchasing Management, Workforce Management, and Strategic Sourcing. Viewing these as products allows IT to focus their efforts on delivering business value rather than just technology.

So now we see the full model being proposed by Gartner. It really uses some tried and true techniques from Enterprise Architecture and adds a few twists. We start with business capabilities at the top, which are now enabled by IT products – apps and supporting infrastructure to enable those capabilities. And we move away from simple application and project management to product management. And now that we have products to support, we implement a continuous change cycle – such as Agile – to ensure changes to the business outcome driven capabilities are implemented quickly and frequently.

The current pace of business is such that the old model has lost its usefulness and would leave us eating someone else’s competitive dust.