Project Portfolio Management Isn't Easy: More PPM Mistakes

Ann All

Earlier this week I shared four common project portfolio management mistakes highlighted by management consultant Vaughan Merlyn in a blog post on The Project Management Hut. As you might have guessed, these are far from the only mistakes made by companies as they attempt to adopt PPM. Adam Bookman, a managing partner in Collabera LLC's consulting division, writes about three more PPM mistakes in a CIO.com column.


The mistakes mentioned by Bookman show up pretty regularly in all kinds of business technology initiatives, so I think they merit mention.

Mistake No. 1: Business managers take little interest in what they consider an "IT initiative." As I said, this happens fairly often, which is why it's so important for any project managed by IT to get a strong business sponsor, who can help evangelize the project to business peers and enlist their participation. As Bookman points out, it's especially important with PPM because "defining a PPM rollout involves strategic questions often outside IT's purview." He writes:


PPM is, ultimately, a new enterprise management capability for strategic priorities and governance, not a technology rollout. Successful PPM engages the enterprise at the top and across the business lines. It belongs to the businesses whose objectives are being served; delegating it to IT curtails its chances.


Mistake No. 2: Companies think all they need to do is get the "right" tool to ensure PPM will work. This is one of my pet peeves and one I write about fairly often. Most recently, I harped about it in a post containing four tips for successful business process management implementations. In it, I shared some thoughts from Bob Graham, VP of the Banking and Financial Services group at IT consulting company Virtusa, about how many companies adopt BPM: "... They assume that because they are using a BPMS tool, they must therefore be following best practices for BPM implementations. Upon further analysis, however, you find that most organizations have struggled to separate the act of using a vendor's tool from an organization's execution approach to such projects."


Mistake No. 3: Companies assume adopting PPM best practices is the best place to begin. This is a "prescription for disappointment," writes Bookman, because few companies are ready to adopt these practices at the beginning of a PPM initiative. He advises companies to first look at each PPM recommended practice and assess where they stand on a five-level maturity scale (ad hoc, reactive, defined, managed, optimized). He writes:


At that point, it may be time to begin embracing PPM best practices, but reaching that point can take many months. PPM maturity is a journey, not an event.


Right. Like wine, cheese and so many other things, good PPM takes time.


Bookman also offers a list of five questions for companies to ask themselves as they prepare to embark on a PPM initiative or try to get existing initiatives back on track. They are:

  • What are the vital decisions you as an organization struggle to make today?
  • What information do you wish you had daily access to?
  • What don't you know about your project portfolio that constrains current decisions?
  • Do your project updates give clear insight into what remains to be done and why?
  • If meeting your PPM maturity goals required new, enterprise-wide processes, are you up for that commitment?


Not sure a PPM effort will be worth it? Bradd Busick, manager of Change Management for the City of Tacoma, Wash., told me when I interviewed him last summer that adopting PPM had helped his organization become more flexible and responsive to market forces, something every company wants from its IT staff. PPM also enhanced proactive decision-making capabilities, reduced the need for external consultants, and helped Busick clearly illustrate how much money was spent on porjects and why. He said:


If the number-one priority was really expensive, we're still going to do it. I think everyone will agree that is better than spending money on projects that were of low value.

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