Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools are essential part for any size organisation. Their purpose is to significantly boost the efficiency and effectiveness of project management work by replacing the numerous Excel files and emails with a centralised system where all data is connected and updated in real time. The major benefit of such system is to bring light on the big picture across the whole project portfolio. This enables a better decision making in achieving business objectives and sets the way for success. In order to have an effective project planning, execution and control, any proper PPM tool relies on the following five pillars: project planning, budget management, resource management, risk/action/issue/dependency (RAID) management and reporting. Although it is not of less importance, one element is often neglected, namely, the collaboration capabilities of the tool. In this article, we touch each of these pillars by pint pointing important aspects where organisations need to be cautious when evaluating a PPM solution.
The project plan is the backbone of any project and as such it is the first pillar of PPM systems. Commonly featured interactive Gantt charts could not impress anybody any more. Project managers are the key users of PPM systems and they need a significant incentive to be bought in using the system. The threshold of selling it to the project managers is that the effort they will put on scheduling and maintaining a project in a PPM tool should not exceed the effort needed for doing the same in Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project.
The majority of PPM tools support bottom-up roll up of budget and cost, but a few have top-down budget distribution. This is an important feature since it is more intuitive for project managers to spread the project budget along project work streams or high level plan during project initiation. It is very rare that a project is initiated with a detailed plan where labour and material costs are known at the lowest level. In addition, expenditure profiling could be very help to distribute budget over time. If budget and actuals are tracked in an ERP system, consider an integration between these systems so that you have all data in the PPM system. In this case, there must be one system that is leading and it feeds data to the other one, so that financials are visible in real-time and up-to-date.
Resource planning is the Tetris of project management. Most software systems have resource structures, roles and calendars, however, what is more important is to pay attention on resource allocation, utilization and demand. Once a project is on the go managing under- and over-allocated tasks and under- and over-utilized resources is a constant nightmare for resource managers. The ability to create a dedicated resource pool for a project with project based rates and roles could significantly help the overall process.
In order to be properly tracked and managed, risk and issues need to be completely configurable. This involves different statuses, stakeholders, mitigation actions and resolution plans. Even if an organization uses a standard project governance process, it is highly desired that there is also some flexibility in the risk matrix so that it could be adapted to each project. RAID and change request lifecycle and escalation processes need to be in place for proper tracking of ownership and target dates.
Having all project information centralized in a single system enables great reporting opportunity. Project managers could slice and dice information on all levels in the project hierarchy and keep a history of this information. However, the most important aspect of reporting that makes the difference between a good and a great PPM system is the expertise level it requires to customize a report. It is not feasible to have a pre-built report template for every type of project or for every authority that they are presented to. Moreover, project managers are the people that build the reports and therefore, the main users of this functionality. The expertise level for customizing a report should match their expertise and not the one of a system administrator. Dynamic online dashboard with charts and tables are useful, but exporting reports to PDF, Excel and PowerPoint with easily modified layout is essential.
A great collaboration feature could significantly increase the work efficiency and visibility by reducing email communication, files exchange and time spent in meetings. This is possible since collaboration is put in context of the project itself. The possibility to take out action items directly from the discussion is very beneficial.
Other important aspects of PPM systems that need to be considered are:
- Excellent user experience
- Management of strategic objectives
- Benefits management
- Agile project management
- Integration opportunities – built in or a public API (e.g. SharePoint, Jira, SAP, etc.)
- Customization complexity
There are different types of PPM systems with different aim and different price tag. Some are focused only on task management, other are focused specifically on project management in software development, agile or not. There are also systems with a single project portfolio for general project management or complex enterprise systems with various features. Once evaluating a solution consider the effort and skills it takes to operate and maintain it, since this is the major roadblock for users to accept it.
One year announcement
An year has passed since I joined EHS Consulting and what an exciting journey it was. I followed an intensive training on business analysis body of knowledge (BABOK) and I obtained an ITIL Foundation certification. Moreover, I gained practical knowledge and experience from the numerous internal company development projects where I was involved, few of which I also managed. I’ve took the initiative to lead and manage company’s information strategy and to improve operational processes. My business and technical skills helped me to be hired on a big and challenging client programme as a PMO and tooling expert. For the future, I see many opportunities for professional development in both project management and business analysis disciplines. I look forward for other challenging projects and to obtain more certificates that will improve my expertise.