Improving Adoption and Usage of PPM in Your Enterprise

What makes a Project Portfolio Management solution deployment successful?  A great deal of hard work?  Definitely.  But there are some other ingredients in that “special sauce” that makes your PPM deployment succeed.  Let’s explore.

A few years ago Jack Welsh of GE fame led a keynote speech on large programs.  He was presenting to the business leaders of some of the largest enterprises in the world.  The speech began something like this:

“If you can’t get top management to support your program, don’t even bother.  Don’t even waste your time.”

Why did Jack say that?  Because to him, adoption of the program and solution is so important that a both are doomed to fail without that top level support – all the way from the top to the bottom.  You can spend an extraordinary amount of time, effort and financial resources around setting up a program, developing a methodology and implementing your PPM solution but without the team being ‘on board’ with your solution you will have a very difficult time succeeding.

Once we can secure an executive sponsor, and have them attend the kick-off, and elaborate why the initiative is so important, what’s next?  The next step is to make sure your solution takes advantage of a very simple setting – allowing project managers to ‘align’ their project with one of a limited number of corporate initiatives.  This simple step will serve two purposes;  it will enable the project manager to understand where their project fits (and more importantly, how it contributes) to the company’s goals as well as act as an indicator to tell the PMO and executive committee which projects are going “rogue” – those which are not aligned to any goals or objective.  One of the best examples that come to mind comes from the early 1960’s, before man landed on the moon, when President John F. Kennedy was touring the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center.  A humble and down to earth leader, JFK encountered a janitor as he was being guided through the facility.  He stopped the entourage and approached the janitor and asked him what he does there.  The janitor replied: “I’m putting a man on the moon.”  Surely he knew he wasn’t directly flying an astronaut to the moon, nor did the director of the space agency tell him to answer that way if the president asks.  No.  The mission of the center was so clear from the very top to the very bottom that every single person knew what their contributions were working towards.

Next idea has to do with appreciation for the stakeholders and user community.  A solution’s adoption is most successful when everyone is able to contribute to its design and change.  It is essential for the PPM Steering Committee (the team who manages the solution’s use and configuration) needs to capture end user feedback in order for the solution to evolve and grow with the program.  Why is this so essential?  Simply because when we set out to design the program, we may not have taken everyone’s perspective into account.  We may also not have thought about how each role would interact.  But more importantly, you increase the chances of success by casting your feedback “net” as broadly as possible.  There’s an old story that helps demonstrate this idea.  On some highway, a trucker is driving his semi.  He approaches a bridge with a sign that warns of 13’ of clearance.  Thinking he can fit, he continues onward only to hear the sound of crushing metal and his truck quickly stopped.  He gets out of his rig and finds his trailer wedged under the overpass with no easy way to get out.  The state police are called followed by the civil engineer.  Bridge plans are reviewed and a crowd starts to gather.  A little girl walks up to the engineer and says “mister, why don’t you just take the air out of the truck’s tires?”  The truck is lowered and is now able to roll out.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the strangest places.  But even more important, one of the people in the community was able to share an idea that had a direct impact on solving a problem, creating a positive environment across the entire community.

Of course, there are many other aspects to user adoption of your PPM solution, but getting the support from the entire organization, from the top to the bottom, is essential to the success of your continued deployment.

Excerpts from our Conversation with Forum One

In an informative Q&A session with Daptiv, Joe Pringle Managing Director Project Delivery, Forum One sheds light into how Daptiv PPM helped his company gain better visibility into planning, scheduling and executing projects seamlessly across the organization. Pringle is responsible for overseeing operations and project performance, including resource allocation, client satisfaction and project finances at Forum One.

Q: When did you feel the need to graduate to a PPM solution? 

A: As we grew in size we realized that our existing solutions were limiting our capabilities to manage resources across the organization. It became difficult for us to manage people across geographies and gain insight into how projects were being implemented simultaneously. We knew that there was a better way to allocate resources and keep track of developments in real time.

Q: What were your next steps?

A: We were clear about the fact that we wanted to keep our staff focused on doing exceptional work for our clients rather than on overhauling an in-house project management solution. So before moving ahead, we gathered all the necessary information regarding process requirements/needs and improvement areas internally. Consequently, we examined various SaaS based alternatives for Project Portfolio Management. Having done that, we zeroed in on Daptiv as it offered the best feature set for our resource management, project management, and project performance needs.

Q: Can you discuss the key problem areas identified after the internal assessment?

A: One of the key process improvement areas identified up front was creating an integration between and Daptiv.  At that time we were having difficulties transitioning a project from sales to delivery.  So we created an integration solution utilizing Daptiv ConnectTM that monitored an “opportunity” in until it reached a specific stage in the sales cycle.  In addition to that, the other important area we needed was the ability to create real time reports and dashboards that reflected our business model.

Q: Can you elaborate a little more on the execution process?

A: We decided to get Daptiv on-board pretty quick and it took us about two months to transition completely to the new platform. We worked with Daptiv’s professional services team to configure, set up and migrate content from existing platform into the new system. One of the many things we liked about Daptiv PPM was its flexibility to accommodate our business model.

Q: Did the deployment of Daptiv PPM add value to Forum One processes?

A: We knew what we were getting into and had a clear idea about our needs. Before Daptiv, we had to used a home grown web application and  Excel spreadsheets to track staff utilization, performance across different groups in the company earlier. Daptiv PPM has helped us have a much more mature, robust way to measure and report on our whole portfolio of projects at any time. One major benefit for us was that we were able to understand resource requirements early in the process and could better plan/schedule the start of a project without being resource constrained.

Q: How has Forum One been able to sustain the momentum after implementing all the changes?

A: We’ve grown a lot since we implemented Daptiv PPM. We now have a process for continually evaluating whether our processes are being managed in the most effective way or not. We’ve managed to improve existing tools resulting in improved performances and strong momentum.

Effective Approaches to Project Prioritization

‘The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities’- Stephen R. Covey

Like most of us, I have a tendency to attend to tasks that interest me the most, especially when I am expected to deliver on multiple projects within the same time frame. The problem here is that, what interests me the most may not necessarily be the most important thing that needs to get done. Personal priorities help us direct our attention to activities that give us the greatest value as individuals while organizational priorities are intended to focus more on teams and on matters that provide optimal value to the organization.  Without organizational priorities, individuals will set their own priorities (like doing what they like), hence the important stuff doesn’t get done on time. Conversely, clear organizational priorities guide us better to make decisions that are ‘directionally’ correct.

Well-defined governance outlines who sets priorities for what.  While all the work in an enterprise gets prioritized by someone, there are often multiple managers or management groups that are independently prioritizing that work. While this is totally appropriate for tactical operational work, using the same approach for projects – especially cross-functional efforts – can derail project progress while project work waits for resources that are working on locally defined priorities.

Project prioritization is not tactical – it’s strategic and, as such, it is a function of portfolio governance.  Portfolio Governance Committees or Teams are typically made up of senior-level managers and as a team they are responsible for representing the broader interests of the enterprise – rather than the individual groups that they lead.  The portfolio governance team meets periodically to review the progress of high-value or strategically significant projects, consider new project
proposals, and establish or revise the priorities of projects in the portfolio.

It is important to note that the Portfolio Governance Committee is not concerned with day-to-day prioritization of work efforts but instead focuses on longer term, strategic prioritization of projects.  Short-term issues or resource conflicts are handled by tactical management teams guided by the project priorities that have been set.  For example, if a lower level project is in trouble the tactical team may temporarily redeploy resources from a higher priority project — but only to the extent that it does not impact the performance of that higher priority effort. The priority of the projects does not change – only the tactical priority of some of the work does.

The second attribute of an effective project prioritization process is having a consistent set of criteria for evaluating projects by themselves and against others.  Using consistent criteria make the prioritization process more efficient and effective since we know what information is needed before we take a project to our governing body for consideration.

While there are a number of techniques for achieving consistency in evaluation, the most popular is accomplished with a scoring model.  The scoring model consists of a set standard criteria that reflect the key attributes of a project to be considered in the prioritization process and a set of measures or ‘scores’ that will assign a value to each criteria.  For example, let’s say that one of our evaluation criteria is cost reduction. In building our scoring model we’ve decided that any project expected to reduce costs by more than $1M will receive the highest score value and any cost savings less that $10K should receive the lowest.  We can also establish intermediate score values to represent the levels between the highest and lowest levels between our highest and lowest values.   By providing the criteria with pre-defined values we have the ability to compare projects on an ‘apples to apples’ basis.

Good scoring models take a while to create – and the best ones I’ve seen generally have evolved over time as the governance team refines their view of the portfolio and the individual projects within.  If you’re building a scoring model, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1.  Identify criteria that reflect both the potential upside and downside of the project.  While, the example cited earlier used a scoring criteria based upon a benefit (cost reduction) you also want criteria that evaluate project cost, duration or risk dimensions of the project.
  2. Consider strategic objectives in defining benefit criteria.  While many projects may seem like a good idea, if they don’t support your organizational strategy they shouldn’t score as well as those that do.
  3. Clearly define both criteria and scoring values.  Take some extra time to both define and validate the definition of your criteria – ambiguity will only create confusion and reduce the credibility of the scoring process.

While using a scoring model to evaluate projects is a high-value component of project prioritization, the score of a project and the priority of a project may not be exactly the same thing.  While the score will inform the prioritization process, external factors such as regulatory deadlines, seasonal demand, or unforeseen business opportunities may dictate that a lower-scoring project is prioritized above one with a higher score.   For example, if a project is almost done it generally makes more sense to complete it rather than putting it on hold to start a new one. While you could build all these factors into your scoring model it would be highly unlikely that you could anticipate everything and every time something came up all the projects would need to be re-scored, adding chaos and rework to the process. By establishing a priority rank (1 to n) or priority value (high,medium, low) in addition to the score you have the flexibility to accommodate minor prioritization changes without having to re-score the entire portfolio.   Even here we need to be cautious: While minor adjustments may be needed, continual, significant re-prioritization can be disruptive.

Last but not least is communication – project priorities are only useful if the people impacted by those priorities know what they are.  The individuals responsible for priority-setting are in the best position to communicate those priorities across the organization and to communicate the business rationale for them and typically will craft the message regarding initial priorities. But one-time communication is only part of the story, regular reminders are necessary to maintain focus and commitment to priorities.  Here is where an the PMO can play a significant role by reinforcing the message in obvious ways like written announcements and meetings or more subtly, like always showing the project priority in listings and reports.  Constant visibility of project priorities can go a long way to making these priorities an integral part of how projects are viewed and executed in the organization.

Establishing a project prioritization process is neither simple nor fast.  It requires a great deal of organizational buy-in and support, especially from individuals who may see prioritization as a threat to their authority and control. However, organizations that invest the time in establishing repeatable, fact-based processes for prioritizing projects find it quickly yields positive
results and is well-worth the effort.

Elements of a Lean PMO

People and organizations all over the world continue to embrace and adopt “Lean Management Principles” in their work. What started with Edward Deming in the 1950s and later found its way into the Toyota Production System has now made inroads into software development.  You will notice that IT organizations and software development teams often talk about “Lean” software development or “Kanban” as it pertains to how they work.  It is therefore essential that today’s Project Management Office (PMO) understand this old new way of project execution in order to stay relevant in today’s business climate.

Before we go any further, let us first understand what Lean is all about and whether PMOs should embrace this concept as well.  Lean in a nutshell, is a set of tools that help in the identification and elimination of waste.  As waste is eliminated, quality improves, consequently, reducing time and cost of production. While elimination of waste can seem to be a simple subject, it is often easier said than done. Organizations often have a difficulty classifying a process or activity as waste and often tend to be conservative when identifying/defining waste.  Toyota defines Lean as the reduction of three types of waste:

  1. Non-value-adding work
  2. Overburden
  3. Inconsistency/Unevenness as it pertains to flow of work

Lean aims to make the work simple enough to understand, execute and manage, and I believe that all PMOs should strive for this. Let us now get down to brass stacks and examine how a PMO could strive to be Lean.  Here are some steps a PMO could take:

  1. Prioritize projects based on business value. A project is a vehicle for change in an organization, which means that the business does not like the current state it is in and constantly evolves to move to a new state. Be willing to question the assumptions that drive any decision to change and make sure that the scope of the project is in line with the desired change/objective.  This will help PMOs avoid/eliminate non-value-adding work.
  2. Keep the internal PMO processes simple to start with and make changes as you mature. This will help the Project Managers and the PMO director to focus on delivering business outcomes rather than following mundane procedures.
  3. Level out the workload among the Project Managers so that they can provide each project the required attention.  Take the help of automation tools such as Project Portfolio Management software to help with collaboration, resource management, project prioritization, and reporting.
  4. Use a “pull” system as your project intake process.  In such a system, the sponsor of the project would place an initial project request.  This request in-turn would trigger a project prioritization request, which in turn triggers subsequent requests (such as resource request). This will encourage a “just-in-time” process and will discourage a “just-in-case” process (common in a “push” system) wherein resources are often under-utilized.

To conclude, as projects and project executions take on a lean posture, it is imperative that PMOs do so as well.  With this blog I have just scratched the surface of the lean PMO concept.  Stay tuned for more!  In the meantime, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Portfolio Management: Why Theory is Rarely Put Into Practice

Back in November, I gave a presentation to an audience of PMO practitioners at PMO Symposium on the reality of putting theory into practice—the feedback was fascinating. While I knew how rare full life-cycle portfolio management is, the audience feedback confirmed that fact and the reasons.

In brief, portfolio management can be broken down into three parts: 1) Portfolio Planning, the process by which projects are selected and placed on the active portfolio, 2) Portfolio Monitoring, the practice of reviewing the active set of projects to ensure balance and performance, and 3) Portfolio Results (aka Benefits Realization),  the practice of measuring the return on the investments the projects represent.

I asked the 100+ PMO directors, managers, and other practitioners in the room to raise hands for each practice they have actively in place. As expected, almost all hands went up for monitoring, a little more than half went up for the planning processes, but only two hands were raised for Portfolio Results. That’s two percent in an admittedly non-representative sample. Non-representative in the sense that the attendees at the Symposium are the more mature PMOs!

So what’s going on here? A look at each piece brings the problems into focus.

Portfolio Monitoring at its most basic is simple to implement and provides a lot of bang for the buck. Simply listing all active projects and tracking their health gives executives a much better view of where the money and resources are being spent, allows them to re-allocate if needed, helps them provide visibility to their business colleagues, and allows them to manage performance by exception. Most of this work can be performed by the PMO and project managers, with the results distributed to all stakeholders.

Portfolio Planning requires a bit more effort and requires stakeholders to actually get involved. Many companies have serial, or ad hoc, demand management processes. This path of least resistance requires specific steps be followed,—such  as a business case, formal review, and funding approval—be followed. However, by not comparing all requests, serial demand management suffers from prioritization issues and project churn, often since higher priority projects interrupt already approved lower priority projects. By show of hands, this was the most popular, though definitely not the majority, method in use by these PMOs.

Cyclical demand-management reviews on a regular cycle – often monthly or quarterly –forces project stakeholders to compete for resources to support them where a cross-functional steering committee often makes the final decisions. The result is a high-priority portfolio where investments are strategically aligned with corporate objectives. The roadblocks center on getting those cross-functional reps engaged – and getting reps that can actually make decisions!

Of all the components of portfolio management, one would think results would be the most important. And most everyone in the room felt the same. So why is it so rarely practiced? In a word: accountability. To work, business sponsors need to not only to present a business case, but propose metrics that actually get measured post go-live. These measurements might be taken in increments for months or even years in order to fully understand the impact of a given project. Turns out business sponsors know they need certain work (aka projects) performed, but don’t want to take the time for full ownership of the results.  

How did the few that successfully implemented benefits realization manage to overcome this organizational resistance? Typically, it was a CEO mandate. Proving once again there’s nothing like good executive sponsorship to drive success.