“Project portfolio management might be able to grow organically, but it doesn’t happen automatically.” – L. Steven Gunsior
This quote from the president of Level 5 Consulting sums up the issue that many small and midsized businesses (SMBs) struggle with as they look to institutionalize portfolio management practices. Maybe the following scenario sounds familiar:
“They just look at the business as a whole and never jump back and look at the pieces that are being built,” says Wakeman.
To avoid this oversight, Wakeman advises that organizations take the time to not only identify a business strategy, but also actively take steps to evaluate where they stand in relation to business objectives.
This process involves taking inventory of all current projects and resources:
- Project inventory: Evaluate the current projects in your pipeline for redundancies, stalled projects and other potential areas for cost savings.
- Resource inventory: Identify your skilled employees and their current and future availability to see who is available to work on high-value initiatives.
2. Establish a PMO
Next, establish a business unit to oversee portfolio management processes and coordinate efforts across the organization. Commonly, this business unit is called a project management office, or PMO.
It’s likely your organization already has an informal team who support managers and project efforts. After all, you wouldn’t be looking to implement portfolio management processes if the number and complexity of your projects didn’t warrant support from a dedicated team.
However, Gunsior cautions that for PPM efforts to be successful, this team needs to be given recognition and support from executive staff. Otherwise, the system of checks and balances doesn’t work.
Gunsior notes that establishing a PMO can protect an organization from pet projects coming from the C-suite executives, as well as headstrong project managers. This is because all initiatives must be signed off on by a single unit.
“Once the portfolio of projects is understood, an organization is going to have to expend effort to make sure selection of and coordination between projects is maintained…This governance can take place through a PMO or some other team, but those charged with it need to have a strategic view and executive support.”
L. Steven Gunsior, president of Level 5 Consulting LLC
3. Develop Project Evaluation Criteria
Once a business unit is in place to oversee PPM efforts, this entity can work with business leaders to develop project evaluation criteria. These criteria will help your organization review, evaluate and authorize projects to ensure they align with strategic objectives.
Questions to ask as you evaluate new project initiatives include:
- Does the project drive business goals?
- What is the expected tangible outcome?
- Can this outcome be achieved by a project already underway? (i.e., Is this initiative unique?)
- What is the project’s risk-return profile? (E.g., high-risk, high-return or low-risk, low-return)
- What resources are required to complete this initiative?
Buckheister gives the following use case to illustrate why it’s important to have a project review process in place:
For example, the VP of HR may be authorized to purchase and implement a new cloud-based software tool. However, IT may already have a system implemented that could accommodate the functionality with much less investment, risk and resources. If there are solid processes in place to vet these projects before they are underway, project portfolios can be built and managed much more effectively.”
This is a good example of how PPM can improve operational efficiency and reduce waste. Evaluating each new project initiative against the same criteria helps an organization select and prioritize those projects that deliver the most value, i.e. offer the greatest return on investment.
4. Develop Risk Management Strategy
Evaluating a project’s risk-return profile is an important step in the review phase. But, developing an organizational risk management strategy is included as its own best practice because it is so crucial to PPM success.
It’s important to evaluate each project’s inherent and potential risks to the overall portfolio, rather than only comparing project initiatives side-by-side.
Buckheister says that the simple act of deciding to execute on a project (rather than first evaluating it as a theoretical) will change the risk profile—potential costs and resource requirements are actualized, and this can impact other projects in the portfolio.
“If the organization chooses to execute project A, then project B’s risk profile may have changed significantly due to the scope involved and resources needed in project A.”
Davis Buckheister, project manager at ADAPTURE
As such, it’s important to perform risk assessments several times over the course of a project’s life cycle. This allows the project manager to keep the PMO and stakeholders up-to-date with any changes. In turn, stakeholders can weigh new initiatives against the overall portfolio more accurately.
5. Invest in a PPM Solution
The final best practice on our list is to invest in a PPM solution to increase cohesion and visibility into PPM processes. These tools help create a historical project archive, which business leaders can draw on when making future investment decisions.
As a rule, businesses should vet products prior to purchase. This includes:
- Reading reviews of leading PPM solutions. This allows you to see how your peers have rated products and vendors for qualities such as depth of functionality and customer support.
- Scheduling product demos. This allows you to test drive a product prior to purchase. It’s important that every individual who will be using the software in their day-to-day activities, from employee to executive, has a chance to interact with the product during the trial period and give their feedback. This can foster high user-adoption after purchase.
Next Steps: Download the Best Practices Checklist
For the best chance at successful PPM, your organization should follow each best practice in the order they appear here. This helps ensure that your business strategy and processes are in place prior to investing in a software solution and that there is a governing body that can oversee implementation.
To help you remember each step in order, download and print the checklist below: