When implementing a project portfolio management (PPM) model in an organisation, acquiring a project management software is not enough; usually the organization needs to adapt to the new way of working.
In this article we present some keys elements of success that we have learnt from our experience in implementing ITM Platform in more than 300 organizations: These advices are going to facilitate the adoption process as well as promote a truly project based management policy.
One of the first aspects to keep in mind when adopting a project-oriented management style, is to decide what to merge and what to centralize.
Those are some of the most frequent aspects:
- Terminology: To accurately communicate internally in a company (or externally with suppliers or clients), you must be able to convey precise feedbacks such as the state of the projects. Vague or ambiguous descriptions like “going well” do not help, because they don’t indicate the real state of a project and do not provide information that the sender or the receiver can truly understand.
- Monitoring criteria: projects should be frequently monitored and quantitively measured. It is important to have everyone’s agreement on which criteria to use when measuring the project’s development.
- Resources management: Depending on the nature of the project, centralizing the management of resources can be necessary. This decision will affect the organizational structure, the project manager’s work and the way day-to-day work is planned and executed.
These elements are the key to information and quantification. It is advisable for every department of the company to use a common reporting system to be able to rely on the necessary information to make decisions.
Other elements that should be consolidated are the processes (when a project is approved, when a project changes status, who must take those decisions…), standard costs or document formats to be used.
To sum up, you first have to think about what to centralize and afterward decide on how to do it.
2. Agile, predictive or both methodologies
Another critical decision that needs to be taken before starting a project is to decide which management methodology to apply. Each methodology has its advantages and disadvantages and, depending on the nature of the project, you should select the most appropriate.
- Agile methodologies: The agile methodology is very good to manage uncertainties. It is ideal for those projects in which the results are not certain, or when you have an idea about the objective, but you do not clearly know how to reach it. It is frequently the case for IT projects, Start-ups and projects with high levels of uncertainty.
- Predictive methodologies: Predictive methodologies are good to manage projects with low levels of uncertainty, for example projects in which processes are well known as well as the expected results. An example could be a project to produce a component that was already produced in the past. In this case, given that the processes are known, the objective is to maximize the productivity.
Both methodologies share some common points: tight monitoring, quantifications and measurements.
To fully take advantage of each methodology you should employ project managers that have expertise in both methodologies and who know how to adapt to one or the other depending on circumstances.
If you decide to use both methodologies, these will need to coexist in the same portfolio. Check out this webinar on how to make the 2 methodologies coexist.
3. Responsibilities of a project manager
It is fundamental to clarify the responsibilities of the project manager before the start of a project. That will empower him to properly do his work, focus on the most important tasks and properly report the results of his work.
Here are some of the most common decisions a project manager has to take:
- Monitor the project progress
- Canalize and encourage communication
- Assign resources
- Manage risks
- Control Purchases and Revenues of the project
4. The Project Management Office (PMO)
Another relevant aspect is to decide whether a project management office is necessary or not. There are companies with high amounts of projects that do not rely on a project management office, while there are cases of less project intensive companies that actually need one.
This difference is motivated by the specific conditions of each business and by other factors. The most relevant are:
- The level of maturity of the organization as well as their specific situation. Some companies are in a stable period with little variations in the business while others are in a phase of transition with high level of uncertainty and variability.
- The complexity of the organization.
- The nature of the business. For example, there are sectors where projects management offices are common because of the intrinsic nature of the business model.
- The existence of interdependencies between projects. When such dependencies exist, the project management office is particularly important as it allows to coordinate the projects to take advantage of the interdependencies.
- The degree of maturity of the project’s directors. Experienced project managers sometimes can cover the full scope of the project portfolio, thus becoming a one-man project management office. Unfortunately, this is not common, and it will be often necessary to create a dedicated team to constitute the project management office.
- Strategic alignment. A project management office is particularly important when projects are not properly aligned with the overall strategy of the company.
To sum up, a project management office provides a strategic focus and allows the organization to reach levels of coordination that would not be possible otherwise.
5. Methodologies and structures in PPM
Another aspect that should be considered is the methodological framework. The guidelines provided by PMI or Prince2, for example, are very helpful. However, our advice is to adopt these guidelines with common sense and without applying them too rigidly. It is advisable to adopt only the aspects that best match with the organization and its needs.
Some key aspects that should be considered:
- Process standardization: processes should to be standardized, be as simple as possible and be close to reality.
- Inspiration from existing models: There are international associations that facilitate models of standardized project management. You can take inspiration from them, keeping in mind that it is best to adopt the best of each one.
We have explained how to design the organization to make the change possible, but we are still missing a very important part: How to do the transition? ¿Which method should be chosen to be successful?
To make a successful transition, the organization should fulfil several requirements and follow a series of steps.
1. Definition of the driving force
The initiative of a transition towards project-based management should come from the company’s top management. Directors should promote the use of project management systems and be the ones to lead the change.
It is important also to have the support of the management of the departments most affected by the change.
2. Implementation of change management
The transition can be done using 2 approaches, that we call the “pincer approach “.
On one hand we have a top down approach, where the use of new systems and methodologies is presented as a duty or obligation.
When adopting this approach, control models and reporting systems are key. They permit to verify that the new project management model is being applied correctly while, at the same time, monitoring the added value for the company.
For example, you can decide to use only the data previously registered in the system during follow up meetings.
On the other hand, you can adopt a bottom-up approach, with training and active listening. Employees know the reality of work circumstances and how to translate those into the new way of working.
Furthermore, team members should be persuaded that the change to their way of working adds value to the entire company, from which they are going to beneficiate in the medium and long-term.
Enthusiast employees motivated to adopt the new methods may greatly influence others. This can be an even more effective implementation strategy than having managers or directors forcing the adoption.
To guarantee the final success, it is necessary to start with relatively easy projects where the results should be quantified and compared with the ones pre-adoption. Make sure to successfully achieve the first steps and you will favour success in the next ones.
To sum up, it is advisable to progressively evolve, with clear and feasible objectives, reaching perfection step by step.
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Isidora Roskic-ITM Platform
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