Thought Leaders

Is a Project Portfolio Management Tool Right for Your Organisation?

Your company needs continued growth, but at the same time want to keep its cost base down? Does this sound familiar? If so, this is not an unusual situation, and in this competition driven marketplace, change is the only constant.

So, with what seems like two contradicting statements for growth, and cost reduction, is it really possible to ‘have your cake and eat it’?

As an independent Project and Programme Manager with over 10 years’ experience I’m advising that yes, you can have your Victoria Sponge, and enjoy every single slice, but you’ll need to think outside of the cake box.

This means you must be smart with how your organisation manages its people delivering change, and the Project and Programmes they are working on.

In this article I’m going to share my views, experience, and the importance of correctly implementing a Project Portfolio Management Tool (PPM), within any size of organisation, to help you manage change more effectively.

What is PPM?

Whether you’ve dipped your toe in the PPM pool or not, you’ve probably heard about the key features of these tools.

These features, which are standard is most PPM tools on the market, include resource profiling, time-logging, benefit tracking, cost tracking, reporting, Project and Programme profiling etc… all of which can be configured to suit your organisation.

With most of these tools being so configurable they can accommodate a variety of different Project Management methodologies, from Project2, Agile, PMBok etc…

Which means that no matter the methodology your organisation employs, these tools can be configured to suit, or are instantly available ‘out of the box; if you follow these methodologies to the letter.

If you’re thinking that a PPM tool is only of benefit to larger sized organisations, running multi-million pounds Project and Portfolios or have hundreds of active change Projects, this is a myth, but you’re not alone in that thinking.

I’m here to advise you that having a PPM tool can greatly help your organisation become much smarter, by having data to hand, to make the right decisions, and deliver efficiencies for your business, no matter the size of your organisation.

If you are a small business you’ll have less staff, less budget for change, and need a very tight change control process. A PPM tool is a sensible way forwards, to help your company to grow

Can I Afford it?

This is always on of the first questions that gets asked, but turn this question on its head, and ask yourself can you afford to be without it?

Most PPM tools are now built on a licensed based model, meaning that the solution is quickly and easily scalable, it also means you only pay for licenses based on the number of resources you want to be able to resource manage in the tool.

Plus, with cloud based hosting becoming more commonly available, and financially beneficial, you are outsourcing all the hosting to a 3rd party, along with the hosting support, which will reduce in house cost.

However, with regular upgrades this can be one of the downside for organisations, which could mean that despite limited testing requirements you would still need to test the upgrade against your own configuration.

This can sometimes put organisations off, because they need to make resource available, but like all Projects and Programmes you need to plan ahead, and a PPM tool will not only help other Projects and Programmes, it has the capability to plan your BAU (Business as Usual) activities too.

In a previous organisation I created three sets of test scripts that were available to be used, based on the size of the upgrade. An assessment of the upgrade would be made, and then a decision agreed as to which test set would be used.

So, whether your business wants to develop into new markets, enhance existing products, or build new products, you need Projects and Programmes to manage the changes.

Its only by investing time, cost, and effort, into setting up a PPM tool can you realise the benefits, and begin to look back and wonder, how on earth you managed without it.

Will I Benefit from Using a PPM Tool?

Will you benefit from a PPM tool? Well, the short answer is yes, but this will vary between organisations.

Implementing a PPM tool has to be looked at strategically to ensure your organisation gets the intended business benefits. Some of the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  1. Are all our Projects and Programmes aligned to the organisations strategy and goals?
  2. Are our people working on the right priority Projects and Programmes?
  3. What Projects and Programmes are our resources working on?
  4. Where are our resourcing constraints?
  5. What value will the active Projects and Programmes add to the organisation?
  6. If we were for example, asked to shave £1m off our Project and Programme Portfolio, how will be know where the current spend is?

These are many more similar questions to ask yourself, but these are a good start to help you focus on the benefits a good PPM tool can bring you.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about the benefits of a good PPM tool but these are generally focussed on the PMO, however let’s not forget that benefits cut across all levels of an organisation, from the workers themselves, to those managing teams, departments, and even the Directors of companies.

If you introduce a PPM tool, and don’t consider these other benefits, you’ll struggle to get the adoption you require to make the tool successful.

All sizes of organisations could benefit from implementing a PPM tool, but benefits will vary dependent upon the functionality you elect to utilise.

If you set up a PPM tool correctly, and implement it with good change management, you can reap a number of benefits, which could result in a win/win for everyone. Just some of these benefits are:

  • Workers – It has the ability to protect your team members from consistently being overworked, and will support discussions in 1-2-1 or appraisals on workload, and help plan upcoming and future activities
  • Middle Management – It can enable greater visibility of effort your team have put into Projects, and help provide a resourcing profile to identify resourcing peaks and troughs, plus it will assist you in planning what priority Projects your team is able to work on
  • Senior Management – The tool can provide the Senior Management teams, and directorship, with real up to date resource and Project data, to enable greater decision making. This can assist in resourcing decisions, prioritisation on Projects and Programmes, cost benefit analysis, plus future profiling of resources and of Projects and Programme

Plus, let’s not forget about the PMO, who are responsible for pulling all this data together, to present to the Senior Management teams. Just three of the many benefits are:

  1. Collecting data in a consistant format
  2. Save time in the production of reports
  3. The PMO can be proactive in assessment of Projects and Programmes against strategy and goals and forecast cost overruns

Dependent upon which features of a PPM tool you elect to activate or purchase, below are just some of the benefits your organisation as a whole could benefit from:

  • Resource Management – Greater visibility of resourcing peaks and troughs, meaning that you can forecast where you need more resource, helping make the right decision about bringing in more resource or delaying certain activities to alleviate the resourcing peaks. This helps focus on the most critical Projects and Programmes that will bring the best value to the organisation
  • Single Version of Truth – Once you have a PPM tool built into the fabric of your company culture, and everyone is using it, utilising this tool provides you with a single version of the truth, in a clear and consistent format
  • Smarter Decision Making – Having visibility of your current resource availability, and the future workload against projects and programmes enables smarter resourcing decision making on resource utilisation
  • Improved Accuracy of Project Forecasts – Over time as the tool is used more and more you will build up a wonderful level of Project and Programme data, to help you provide a more accurate estimation the effort and costs of Projects and Programmes
  • On the Fly Reporting – With data being in a single place, you can, at the push of the button, produce ‘on the fly’ reporting. This results in you being able to attend Senior Management meetings knowing it’s an up to date reflection of your Portfolio
  • Future Profiling of Projects and Programmes – As more Project and Programmes of change are raised you need to be able to quickly and easily identify what this does to your resourcing pool, and budget.

    By using the profiling element of a PPM tool means that you can model these against the current Portfolio, without affecting the inflight projects and programmes. Decisions can be made with this data

It’s important that any PPM tool should be intuitive, and have ease in its navigation to the most common areas your team are expected to use. This will help you sell the benefits to your user community, as you should expect some pushback from team members, especially if you are introducing a PPM tool for the first time.

There are also additional opportunities which are worth investigating. The PPM tool could become the sole system for logging time, and may be used to pay contingent workers through an export file, which may reduce your need for a separate system.

There is even the opportunity to reduce your reliance upon Project planning tools such as Microsoft Project, which could save you a fortune on license costs.

Should I Really Spend the Money?

As with any type of software on the market there are a wide variety of companies providing you with what they say is ’the best of the market’. Don’t get drawn into the sales techniques that so many like to operate by, showing you all the flashy buttons, graphs, and sexy dashboards their tool has to offer.

I suggest that before you engage with any PPM company, ensure you’re really clear on what your goal is, and review tools, using your head and not your heart.

So, whilst sexy dashboards may ultimately be something your organisation requires you will have made that decision through the eyes of your requirements, and having considered what you will do with that data.

Whilst you have the ability to report on a huge variety of data in the tool there is no point for example asking your teams to log effort at a macro level e.g. down to Project meetings, if you’re not going to use that data for anything specific.

So, if you are going to make an assessment against PPM tools on the market ensure you are very clear beforehand on your requirements, and your roadmap, detailing where you expect your organisation to go in the next 2-3 years.

This will ensure that as your organisation grows, the tool can too, without creating too much unexpected additional cost. It pays to think ahead.

Let’s Be Mature About This

I’m sure you, like many other companies may be thinking surely I can just collate what I need into an Excel spreadsheet, and see all my Projects and Programmes in a single place here.

Which you could, but take it from me, and my experience, that not only will this approach be very time consuming, it means that by the time you pull your reports together it highly likely that data will be out of date. This results in decisions not being made on accurate, and up to date data.

I suggest you need to think strategically and assess whether using Excel to collate this data is the most cost effective way to work. Also consider what are you not doing whilst you are spending time collating this data.

You must also consider how big a risk is it to your organisation that this data may be inconsistent month on month, because of the limited ability to standardise. This results in you reporting on data which could be a week or two out of date, and as you know a lot can happen in one-two weeks in the life of a Project, or Programme.

A PPM tool can produce reports immediately, and if you’re feeling brave enough you can even carry out ‘live’ Project and Programme profiling during Senior Management meetings, on up to the minute data, but that may be too much for some organisations.

To help you identify how mature your organisation is in the PPM space it’s highly suggested that you firstly map out your current maturity in this area. You must do this with appropriate stakeholders, rather than just your own personal view, and ensure you speak to a variety of people at various management levels in your organisation.

Once you’ve done this, through a further set of stakeholders’ meetings, you need to consider where you’d like to be in 2-3 years, on that maturity scale. You can then work with PPM vendors to help you put that growth of maturity into action.

Always consider where you fit on the maturity scale today, and identify where you want to be in a given timeframe, and put a plan of action into place.

However, I would just like to share one word of warning, please make sure you take ‘baby steps’ when moving up the maturity scale, and don’t try and do too much at once. I have seen first-hand, the excitement of implementing a PPM tool and after deployment the want to activate new features far too quickly.

Doing this may reduce the uptake within your user community, and increase the risk of failure.

Dependent upon how familiar your company is with PPM you may be able to make changes at a different pace to a company who has never used a tool before, but don’t make changes to the tool blindly and think it through first.

Introducing the Change

I’m not going to go into detail here about introducing the change into your organisation, as I will be writing a separate article to explain this critical part of introducing new ways of working into your company.

However, for the introduction of a PPM tool to be successful it needs to be managed like any other project, and with a heavy focus on business change, to ensure you get the user buy-in you require.

Just some of the change activities you may want to consider and I have tried to success are:

  • Company blogs
  • Company newsletters to include tip tops
  • Project team attendance at user community team meetings
  • Training
  • Questionnaires following training or pilots
  • Video tutorials
  • Countdown emails to the user communities
  • Inclusion in company podcast or podcasts
  • Drop-in clinics
  • Dependent upon the size of the resources you wish to manage you may want to consider Project champions from across the user communities

In Conclusion

In conclusion, a PPM tool is right for any size of organisation that needs to manage change, and it will provide up to date data to your management teams for decision making.

If configured correctly it will assist with ensuring your resources are working on the right Project and Programmes at the right time, and help with future planning of change.

With us all having less time these days we should be constantly looking at how we can optimise our time and work smartly. So, in the case of whether to introduce a PPM tool this should be a no brainer, for most organisations. The next decision is to identify which of the many tools on the market is right for you.

It still amazes me how many organisations, both big and small, who are experiencing issues with their Project timelines, cost, and resources, still do not see the value a PPM tool will provide them, giving their change activities much more chance of success.

Don’t fall into the same trap. However, do remember a tool will not solve all your problems you need to get your people fully onboard to make the change a success. a PPM tool is only one part of the change.

Overall, the key steps you should follow when considering a PPM tool are:

  • Assess your company’s current PPM maturity, and mark this on a maturity scale
  • Review where you’d like the PPM maturity of your organisation to be in the next 2-3 years, and mark this on the maturity scale
  • Create a roadmap from the current to the future
  • Assess the tools on the market against your roadmap and your high level requirements (remember head not your heart)
  • …and good luck

Contact Me

If you have any questions about this article, or would like to share your experiences, and lessons learned in both using and implementing a PPM tool, please do get in touch with me. I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at scott@laughingbird.co.uk or call me on (UK)0741 1111 209. Please also make contact if you’d like help assessing your PPM requirements.

About Scott Harberd

Scott is a Senior Project Manager, Prince 2 Practitioner with over 10 years Project, Programme and Transformation experience across a number of different sectors. You can view his LinkedIn profile at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/scottharberd

Scott Harberd
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