The three super powers of project success

Data insights, automation and collaboration

Just like business-as-usual streams of work, projects have faced major disruption from the COVID pandemic. The long-term impact of how organisations have reacted to a rationing of project resources has yet to be seen, but as project budget expiry dates draw closer, how do organisations best determine those worth reviving?

This question highlights an ongoing challenge that has been discussed for many years and a new set of challenges that are dominating the project management narrative. How can resources be deployed effectively to move forward with projects that align with organisational objectives? How can duplication be eliminated to save on time, cost and deliver greater value across all project efforts? How do organisations embrace more agile, iterative ways of working when culture and practice are firmly entrenched in traditional approaches to project delivery? Today, how do organisations effectively project manage a dispersed workforce with manual processes and unfit tools that have high overheads.

These are just some of the challenges C-suite and project leaders are up against and there’s no easy way to resolve them. For the organisations that have made an investment in evolving their portfolio and project management approach, the results have paid off. According to a 2020 Pulse survey from the Project Management Institute, organisations that are highly mature in their project management capabilities outperformed those that are notin a whole range of metrics, from less scope creep (30% vs 47%) to on-time delivery (63% vs 39%) . Most notably, the less mature organisations recorded a 21% project failure as opposed to their more mature peers with only 11% project failure.

“The survey results for this year’s Pulse of the Profession® revealed an average 11.4 % of investment is wasted due to poor project performance. And organisations that undervalue project management as a strategic competency for driving change, report an average of 67 % more of their projects failing outright.”

PMI (2020). Ahead of the Curve: Forging a Future-Focused Culture. Pulse of the Profession.

Looking at the traditional Project Management Office (PMO) – i.e. Template management, end user support, status reporting for a subset of projects within the organisation, we can see pros and cons for the way this approach engages with an organisation and with projects themselves to produce faster, efficient outcomes.

The risks this introduces however, both in the short and long term, are many. As a siloed and manual solution, the potential for gaps in understanding how a project impacts resources is significant, leading to bottlenecks in demand across the organisation; poor forecasting resulting in delays for multiple initiatives. And with the many operating frameworks guiding a project, strategy, company-wide portfolio reporting, financial, risk, and more – it’s challenging for teams to provide updates on these requirements, slowing things down even further and introducing potential risks as a result of partial compliance if the team should drop the ball on this. Perhaps the biggest risk of all is that, over time, the momentum and competitive advantage of organisational transformation can be eroded by projects that get the green light, even when they don’t align with strategy and broader goals.

This is where the Enterprise Project Management Office (ePMO) comes into its own. By introducing a project ‘kit’ made up of shared organisational functionality and a Project Platform, standard templates, dashboards, forms, automated workflows, and also importantly focusing on the company strategy; project leaders and their teams can work faster and more efficiently. They can trust that processes are in place to secure the resources they need at the right time, manage their contracts and meet internal and external compliance. The organisation as a whole benefitsfrom a framework complemented by a strong Platform that manages portfolios and projects with better governance and compliance in the background that can optimise the pace and cost of projects as the more tangible measures of success.

It’s certainly the case that founding a successful ePMO takes the skills and experience of a team who can design organisational and project processes together with architecture that is fit for the unique needs of the organisation and adaptable to how these change over time. It is when this quality of input is lacking that an ePMO can turn into a tangle of red tape instead of a well-oiled machine delivering and monitoring workflows that are as robust as they are flexible.

As the COVID pandemic forced a sudden change in priorities, organisations with the best chance of swinging the ship around have information at the ready to realign their project efforts to meet their strategic objectives. This flashpoint in decision-making about redeploying resources to support a change in direction may have been a one-off but the constant disruption organisations face in their operating environment due to changing government policies and client needs means decisions made without adequate project data are far less likely to lead to successful outcomes.

By delivering the following three key capabilities, a PPM platform can unlock value and success for projects of all types and sizes across an organisation:

  1. Data and analytics – With the business intelligence and reporting functions of a PPM platform, dashboards and reports can be presented in an instant, giving leaders the ability to drill down into details in real time. This capability can also limit the need for meetings and forums to share updates. With an ePMO to establish data architecture and manage data capture and quality as part of project workflows, leaders can feel confident that information is accurate and can be trusted.
  2. Automation – Automated data aggregation for reporting and automated business workflows are just some of the speed and efficiency benefits a PPM platform can provide. Automation keeps leaders informed with demand intake, workflow progress, continuous monitoring of Portfolio and project obligations, delivery schedules, budgets and more, flagging potential project bottlenecks and delays before they make their impact. For the outcome-based project engagements that are fast taking over from time and materials contracts, these early warning systems for project lags and budget blowouts are even more critical.Not only does this automation offer clear advantages for smoother, more cost-efficient project execution, it also enables all employees involved in projects to deliver more value across the portfolio. With less capacity taken up with manual workflows, regular reporting tasks as well as chasing up ad hoc queries, they can focus their skills and energy on mitigating risks and resolving issues hindering project success.
  3. Collaboration – For supporting collaboration – between business units and with the growing number of managed services organisations they now rely on – the PPM platforms and ePMO’s provide Portfolio/project views and workflows from across an entire resource base, internal and external. By keeping key stakeholders appraised on dependencies between portfolios/programs and certain projects and their respective teams, sponsors and goals, this mature model supports more frequent and effective interaction across teams, functions and hierarchies.

Creating greater transparency and awareness of project commitments at the enterprise level has clear practical benefits for efficiency and rationing of limited resources. It is also a driver and enabler of cultural change; bringing organisations the opportunity to reform working environments that have often struggled with siloes and lack of visibility for decades.