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From the Sponsor’s Desk – Delivering Portfolio Management Light

In my last post, Eight Steps to PPM Implementation Success, we looked at an organization’s attempt to deliver portfolio management capability. The IT department took it upon themselves to implement a portfolio management solution to curb what they saw as excessive and conflicting business demands without engaging those same business units in the effort. They failed miserably! We also looked at the eight steps a great PM would have taken to avoid the issues encountered and deliver a successful solution.

In this post, we’ll look at an organization that found itself in need of a decision making framework and managed to deliver a workable project portfolio management solution in a little over four months through pragmatic use of available best practices and technology.

The Situation

This 2000 person technology infrastructure operations group, part of an international financial services organization, had just completed a major reorganization along functional lines. Because they did not have a centralized, consistent, scalable and repeatable approach for managing their IT project portfolio, the restructuring resulted in ad hoc procedures for submitting, assessing, authorizing and monitoring change initiatives and a sizeable backlog of changes looking for approval, funding and resourcing.

The Goal

The organization set out to design and roll-out an end-to-end project portfolio process that would support the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to infrastructure investments. The developed process was to leverage industry best practices and available technology to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Ensure proposed initiatives were proactively socialized with all impacted stakeholder groups to solicit buy-in and support.
  2. Provide a consistent and repeatable approach for capturing required information for effective management decision making.
  3. Build and manage a project portfolio to maximize the returns from the investments in infrastructure expansion and improvement initiatives.
  4. Deliver and implement an operating solution within four months to address a considerable demand backlog.

The Project

The initiator and sponsor of the project portfolio venture, one of four VP’s in the group, sold the project to his peers and to the senior VP who had overall responsibility for the infrastructure operations organization. He brought in a Director with whom he had previously worked to act as the first portfolio manager and be the first target. He also contracted with a consulting firm familiar with Project Pre-Check to act as the change agent for the design and implementation activities. In addition, approximately thirty directors were identified as targets of the change. In the future, they would have to understand and use the new practice to initiate projects that exceeded a certain threshold and required or impacted resources in other parts of the organization.

The sponsor selected Project Pre-Check as the source framework and specified the use of MS Office and related products for the initial launch. He chose Project Pre-Check because its Decision Framework is built upon guidance from numerous well-established and recognized industry frameworks and methodologies (e.g. ITIL, CobiT, PMBoK, SEI, ValIT, Gartner, etc.).

The sponsor worked with the targets and change agents to agree on relevant decision areas from among the 125 included in Project Pre-Check. Twenty decision areas were ultimately selected for the initiation stage and a further twenty five were selected for the planning stage submission. An Excel template was developed to capture the input. A prioritization model was built, again in Excel, to assess the multiple submissions, weight, rate and rank and generate the summary charts for the decision makers. In addition, MS Project was used to manage the resource demands using its Excel import capability and SharePoint was used to source the templates and capture the submissions. 

Support materials were developed including the process models, a process guide, terms of reference and cheat sheets. The targets were engaged in a number of sessions throughout the development of the materials and provided with a half day review of the finalized process.

The Results

The first senior management portfolio review including twenty-four project submissions was conducted three and a half months after the project launch. With a few minor teaks along the way, the portfolio management light solution continues to meet the organization’s needs. Not bad for a quick and dirty solution!

How a Great PM Helped

The PM on this project did four things very well:

  1. He involved the sponsor and gave him free reign throughout. The sponsor was an enthusiastic, respected and committed leader who knew what he wanted. The targets knew very well not to resist for very long or they would get flattened by the steamroller. The PM gave the sponsor the information he needed and stepped out of the way.
  2. He engaged with the targets frequently, addressed their concerns as best he could and leveraged their suggestions so that it was obvious to everyone that the solution was a collaborative effort.
  3. He settled for “good enough”. He could have spent months evaluating and debating the selection and definition of the decision criteria. He could have spent many more months on the weighting, rating and ranking exercise. Instead, he made sure the 90% solution was in front of the stakeholders quickly and wrapped up debate expeditiously. Leveraging Project Pre-Check provided a significant advantage because it helped establish the boundaries and provided a ready, comprehensive source for decision criteria.
  4. He used the available technologies within their capabilities. He ensured the tools were used for what they were good at and suitable for. He didn’t invest a great deal of time and money getting the technology up and running. It’s easy to run and relatively easy to change and it won’t cost much to get out if a decision is made to go to something more robust in the future.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, put these points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a great PM, and your sponsor’s best friend.

Next, we’ll look at a project that assessed an organization’s project management maturity and helped lead to a significant improvement in their capability and performance.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll have a go.

 Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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