Dan Blacharski

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Re-defining project portfolio management

Cultural changes needed to take advantage of lean PPM

Organizations with multiple projects need more than project management of each initiative – they need an uber-manager to control all of them at once. This is the role of portfolio project management (PPM), a starting point for launching, managing, allocating resources, and tracking multiple projects. A common problem with PPM though is that information is often incomplete, selection methods are often convoluted, and resources may be bottlenecked. Applying lean and agile principles to PPM alleviates these issues and removes unnecessary management layers, allowing for a faster and more accurate deployment, and a centralized and standard approach to resource allocation and selection.

Deploying lean PPM does require some significant changes, not just in software tools and in how the project lifecycle is managed, but in company culture and management style as well.

A PPM transformation

PPM, and the PMOs that run it, risk becoming irrelevant and thought of as bureaucratic roadblocks rather than being essential to the success of their portfolio of initiatives – but this risk is due largely to perception, rather than reality of the true nature and value of PPM. But like everything else, it is being influenced by a new crop of millennial workers.

Those workers who see their PPM managers as irrelevant do so at their own risk – the PPM manager is the one who determines who gets assigned which project and what priority those projects are assigned, and what resources you get when you take on the project. Crossing that individual may put you in charge of less important projects, relegating you to the backwaters of the corporate world. You'll become Manager of Paper Clip Acquisition and stuck in windowless office.

Two of the largest changes in PPM which is bringing the practice into the mainstream are lean and agile PPM, and cloud-based management platforms replacing older and more labor-intensive methods of project oversight.

Cultural and logistical changes

The benefits of lean PPM are very real, but they require some changes to how the application lifecycle is managed – and changes to the company's very culture as well. Companies adopting lean methodologies of any sort often find the cultural changes to be far more important to success than any other factor.

Older methods of portfolio management typically imposed unnecessary layers of bureaucracy on project management, often resulting in delays and fragmentation – and as a result, good projects failed not because of the project execution, but because of the top layer of bureaucracy and disunity that older PPM styles of management imposed.

The process can be broken down into four simple components, which all run simultaneously, and according to PPM provider Meisterplan, they have a mutual effect on each other – all four must be in effect for any of them to work. These for components are: Strategize, Collect, Decide, and Execute.

Strategize: Management guru Peter Drucker said in his work, The Effective Executive, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." Project portfolios are aligned with corporate strategy in this phase and given priority through a set of selection guidelines.

Collect: In today's environment, it's all about the data, and evaluating (in the strategize phase) projects requires each one to have a structured evaluation based on a detailed and data-rich proposal.

Decide: Who gets what? Which projects get back-burnered, and which ones get priority? This all-important decision is based on data, not instinct, gut feelings, corporate politics or personal feelings.

Execute: This is where the manager coordinates multiple projects, including staffing, recording status, resolving conflicts, and operational project management.

Bigger, better, and more of everything

Project proposals tend to get larger over time, especially when driven by more concise data which allows the project – even at the proposal stage – to become quite detailed. When coupled with what is referred to as a mega-event, or a project with large budget demands with multiple subjects and complex interrelationships, and which require a much more dynamic environment in terms of project governance, where as the development of the project moves forward, governance and process changes and adapts as need. This is not only true of mega-events, but even of smaller groups of projects.

Finally, emergence and acceptance of cloud-based PPM systems has moved into project management as an essential step towards facilitating increased levels of collaboration – an essential component in the success of a lean PPM strategy.

Digital transformation, faster growth and a new imperative for cloud will continue to drive the need for a more strategic approach to PPM in the coming years, ultimately providing strategic advantages – but only if cultural changes, better and more technology-driven collaboration, and precision in resource allocation devoid of corporate politics are at the foundation of the PPM transformation.

More Stories By Dan Blacharski

Dan Blacharski is an IT thought leader, advisor, industry observer and editor of "NewsOrg.org. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba." Follow @Dan_Blacharski