Targeting and realising benefits of a PPM investment

To say that project portfolio management (PPM) tooling can bring discipline, transparency and accountability to the project lifecycle is a bold claim. And in an operating environment where the rules of the game are constantly changing, the idea of having a firm handle on how projects are tracking and how successful they are can feel like a pipe dream.

We’ve all seen situations where a complex set of variables and unforeseen events have sent projects off the rails. Having real-time reporting through simple dashboards to help decision-makers pivot quickly on project inputs and requirements as well as the eventual goal sounds enticing, but perhaps a little too good to be true?

Craig Hedison – Professional Services Manager

Commitment pays off

It’s actually a pay-off that’s not as elusive as it might sound. When organisations really put their weight behind a PPM solution and introduce rigour to processes, resourcing and reporting through an enterprise project management office (ePMO) benefits can be targeted and delivered at the strategic and organisational level as well as project by project. It certainly can’t happen overnight but with commitment, patience and discipline it’s an investment that can transform the whole measurement and meaning of project success. Over time, this can have a positive impact on how projects are conceived, prioritised and funded, leading to greater efficiency and alignment of outcomes with strategic objectives.

Sounds like the holy grail of project management? Here are five critical ideas to keep in mind if you’re looking to realise these short and long-term benefits of an investment in project management maturity for your organisation:

1. Start with the big picture

When Hummingbird is developing a proposal for a PPM roll-out and ePMO operating model for our clients, we start by taking a big step back from the project-level view of what is and isn’t working. Starting from a strategic standpoint, we’ll seek to understand the organisation-wide uplift that an investment in a PPM and an ePMO can support. So, at this stage it’s less about the more obvious and granular goals of reining in cost and time overruns on projects and more about the arc of success that our own project rollout can make possible for the organisation as a whole.

To help us in doing this, it’s essential that key stakeholders in an organisation can share a frank assessment of their current state. Taking a look in the mirror to understand where you are today is essential if you’re to chart the course to the future state of a more evolved, efficient and responsive operating model.

2. Steer by the strategic agenda

As we work with organisations across sectors, the priorities and milestones that shape this journey are bound to be different. For one type of client the critical path might be defined by a focus on expanding physical infrastructure to reach their customers and grow market share. Or their path to success is contingent on embedding innovation into an organisation’s culture and practice. At the same time, organisations have to be realistic about managing the risks associated with following their expansion or innovation agenda.

Projects and the transformation programs they are part of become the vehicles for moving towards these strategic outcomes. But without a centralised framework – a PMO or enterprise PMO – that connects, resources and monitors projects, the transformation effort can turn into a spaghetti junction of project trajectories. The risk of organisations taking a longer, more costly route to their desired outcome is high.

Together PPM tooling and a well-designed ePMO capability can keep the overall focus of each project on strategic outcomes rather than a set of objectives. Keeping objectives constrained by strategy is exactly the discipline many organisations need to ensure that project scope and approval are moving the business closer to their vision as efficiently as possible.

3. Define success at the business level

This last point highlights a key value-add for a more mature project management capability.  A business case for starting a project is often built primarily on cost savings. While adding to the bottom line is a perfectly valid reason to greenlight a project, it could be a short-sighted choice to use resources for making more profit in the short term when the funding could be better spent on a project with more strategic value. Success metrics that are more aligned with organisational goals – customer satisfaction or product penetration for example – can be more effective in presenting the non-financial value that supports a compelling business case.

Whether success is predicated on dollars saved or net promoter scores, the business case is often where these calculations of expected value from a project begin and end. It’s rare to have processes and metrics in place to determine the success of projects even in terms of the more conventional measures of cost and time spent. And any success criteria, no matter how simple to measure, can be tricky to monitor properly without the right tools and processes.

Having a PPM solution in place when the project is up and running can make it far easier to collect and report on resourcing and capital costs across the lifespan of a project. Sharing real-time data in easy to access dashboards can help management determine whether the project’s current and forecast price point are going to deliver the necessary trade-off in costs and benefits. And having a bird’s eye view of the cost and schedule status of all projects across an organisation helps decision makers understand dependencies and make choices on the basis of desired strategic outcomes rather than the perceived value of project objectives in isolation.

4. Get disciplined about data and documentation

Data insights can certainly go a long way towards improving performance and outcomes from a project once it’s underway. But they can also offer a mine of valuable information for project leads taking a backwards look at individual projects and their entire portfolio. This retrospective review of projects and whether desired outcomes have been achieved can support the process improvements that will ensure project requests, reviews and resourcing are done better in future.

As our one of our data experts Andrew Thomlison-Munn highlights in his recent blog on the data pay-off for project management there are reasons why data from project management is under-utilised. He acknowledges that it takes effort, commitment and patience to turn on the data pipeline and tap into the flow of data effectively. But this commitment to measurement and transparency has a big upside for levelling up project management maturity, particularly if it’s paired with a more disciplined approach to documenting projects.

Data can tell you plenty about what happened during the course of a project. Bringing rigour to documentation can enhance this view and also shed light on why a project has produced more or less successful outcomes than expected. It can help stakeholders understand where changes to process can make their roles easier and more rewarding. And documentation that’s standardised, templated and embedded in a PPM and ePMO will also bring efficiency and consistency when onboarding team members and contractors for every project, making the most of valuable human resources from day one.

At the executive and board level, leaders can make future project and resourcing decisions based on a far more detailed view of lessons learned. Plus they’ll see how their investment in a PPM and ePMO is delivering dividends in terms of actionable insights, securing their support for continuing the journey towards project management maturity.

5. Put your trust in people and processes

Tooling and frameworks are certainly important for organisations to make progress on their maturity journey – both for realising greater benefits from individual projects and for their operation as a whole. But a focus on these components, however tailored and automated, can lead to less priority being given to the people and processes they interact with. For organisations to succeed in streamlining to deliver more for the same price, having employees and teams adopt the mindset and routines to match the new systems they’re working with is essential. Only then can an investment in tooling and frameworks lead to more positive impacts from project investments.

This starts at the strategic level with boards and executives recognising the value of greater transparency and control for their project management capability. And it flows right through each stage and stakeholder group for the projects themselves, from contract to outcome assessment and from project lead to developer. A key focus needs to be on the creation of a benefits realisation document that is integral to the business case and is developed during the adoption of your PPM Solution. It will also help in acting as a compass to steer in the right directions during the engagement and can help your organisation shift their perspective on the whole purpose of projects, how they are managed and prioritised. Instead of seeing projects as a series of tasks, sprints and objectives they become more connected to the business outcomes and risks and can fulfil their role in helping organisations reach their strategic goals.