Choosing which projects to invest in is a strategic decision to be taken based on objective data. In this article, we explore the problem of subjectivity and analyze the solution that allows management to make decisions based on a business plan, in a rigorous and transparent way.

 

The Problem

In businesses where the source of income comes from making projects for clients, it is easy to decide which ones are to be put in place: (usually) those of greater profitability. And in some cases, all, if sufficient resources are available.

However, internal projects, such as those of transformation, tend to not offer such an obvious criterion as their value to the business is less evident and often more subjective to anticipate.

The fact that an expected value is subjective does not mean that its effects are not going to be real. It means that the benefits are hard to predict, and investment decisions can be based on perceptions.

This is a challenge that managing directors have always tried to address. The most used resource as a solution has been that of the "business case", which requires promoters to express the profitability or value contribution of their initiative in measurable terms, either in sales increase or in cost reduction.

The main difficulty presented by the business case is the human factor: a promoter of an initiative that has a strong motivation to give positive figures and show that their idea is profitable. Though it is desirable to have intrapreneurs on your team it is essential to validate their figures through a homogenous and and objective process.

The second difficulty of requesting profitability to internal projects arises from each promoter having limited vision to their area of competence, defending their plot without considering the overall vision. In turn, management considers these business cases as if they had been generated with the same criteria, which is not usually the case. Each promoter applies with different degree of ingenuity the data to the same template.

The issue at hand is knowing when to recognize, in an objective fashion, what initiatives will bring more value to the business when the projects deliver their expected benefits.

 

 

The Approach

When it comes to value, it is not always possible to apply a purely financial standard via project profitability based on forecasts in isolation and in comparison of each other.

  • The value contribution of a project to a strategic plan may be broader than profitability, even if the savings or earnings have been realistically calculated. For example, a process automation project can throw modest savings, but positively influence a priority target of customer quality perception.
  • Strategic project planning should not consider initiatives in isolation, as the result of the set may be greater than the sum of the parties. It is common for the result of some projects to enable others, and its set to offer strategic value. This is why program and portfolio management exceeds project management.

The strategic management of projects lies in the competence of the management and must be facilitated by the Project Management Office (PMO) to the extent that their objectives are the maximization of value and not only the transversal coordination.

Thus, the strategic planning approach to the composition of the project portfolio should consider two main elements:

  1. A strategic plan that exposes the objectives of the Organization
  2. A list of project proposals (initiatives)

With these two elements, we can prioritize initiatives that will order them from higher to lower value, generating an orderly list of approved projects (portfolio backlog).

Strategic management of project portfolios

A great advantage that offers prioritization of projects by value is that it supports applying resource constraints as a cut-line to its output. If we have a list ordered by value and – for example-a budgetary limitation, we will be able to establish the approval of projects based on those that contribute more value and that are within the available budget.

 

The Process

Once we have the two main elements (objectives and demand), we can start two classification processes that can run in parallel or go in sequence. What is important is to isolate each other to ensure objectivity and ease of adaptation to the general standard.

Process 1: Prioritization of Objectives

Participants: Board of Directors
Objective: To put some objectives in front of others, with specific weight of each one on the total.

Sometimes strategic plans already specify priorities, but in others they do not give explicit weight by objective. For example, how much more important is "to grow in sales by 20%" than "to increase operating efficiency by 15%"?

There are several techniques that can be employed to achieve a table like the one above. From something as simple as an agreement amongst the Board of Directors to the most sophisticated such as an Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). The latter could be considered more rigourous, though its execution could be simple if you have a Pairwise Comparison Tool, like the one provided by ITM Platform.

This simple table will generate an orderly and quantified list of objectives.

As an added feature, ITM Platform calculates a "consistency ratio" that indicates how logical and objective the prioritization is. In this article, you will find an explanation of how this index is calculated.

It is possible to make different sets of the same objectives through scenarios, and even use different objectives for different programs. The reality is complex and there is not always a single combination or scenario.

Process 2: Contribution of project value to objectives

Participants: The Project committee and promoters

Objective: To determine how much each project contributes to each objective


Ignoring for now the relevance of each objective on the strategic plan, this step will assign a weight to the contribution of each initiative to each objective. This weight will be translated to a number base on 100, but if you use ITM Platform you can also use the comparison by pairs previously used or use a qualitative methodology based on ideograms such as the image (Harvey balls), providing a visual support.

Process 3: Analysis of the optimal selection of the Portfolio

The two previous phases provide the necessary parameters for the system to calculate the value of each project, based on 100 and depending on the value of each objective.

List of initiatives orders by value

If money wasn't a problem, then we would probably carry out all “reasonable" projects. But in a real organization, the resources available are finite and the previous list of initiatives is not enough to make a good selection of project portfolios.

Thus, it is not only enough to select the most valuable projects, but it is also necessary to filter those that fall within the constraints, be it economic, technical and human resources, or temporary.

In this article, we will use the available budget as an example of a main constraint because this is the most frequent case. Imagine that we should select a portfolio of projects that does not exceed $900.000. Taking the previous list into account, the "New Star Product" ($ 1.5 M) exceeds that amount and also provides a similar value to other more economical projects.

So, with the data we have, we choose the combination of projects that are closer to the available budget: a total of $885.400 and a value of 61% accumulated in three projects.

With this selection achieve the given criteria. But note that the efficient central border graph is indicating the selection is not optimal (value/cost) and that there are better combinations: similar value for less money or greater value for the same sum.

And, indeed, with a portfolio of a total of $528.840 we achieved a contribution of value very similar for 35% less in cost.

If you are interested in understanding how the calculation scheme is made,

Download the guide here.

Conclusion

It is possible to apply rigorous standards in the selection of a portfolio of projects, basing the selection on the value they bring to the business strategy.
Key points to consider:

  • A separation of work between the management team that defines and prioritizes objectives, and the teams that analyze the benefits by project.
  • A process sponsored by management requiring rigorous standards when making investment decisions and implementing transparency between teams.
  • An integrative platform that combines information and exposes the results.

If you want to know more about the management of organizations by projects, download the white paper, where you will learn to:
- Connect management of your Organization with that of projects
- Manage portfolio of projects to create competitive advantage
- Agile Portfolio Management

 

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Planning and implementing a PMO has a rhythm of its own. Don’t be tempted to rush. You risk chaos if the process rushes ahead of the organization’s own maturity by trying to tackle all the stages at once.

Download our new eBook: How to set up a sustainable PMO with ITM Platform

So what can businesses and project managers do to ensure essential components of  projects are being completed in time and on budget? In this article we develop the 5 main keys of success.

 

Keys to success

A good plan is only useful if it can be implemented in the field. For that you need adequate resources and a favorable environment. Before creating a PMO:

1. Make sure you have the right skill set

Ensure that your people have the right skill set. If you have neither the team nor the required skill set, it’s a good idea to limit the scope of the PMO so that it can be set up without the risk of failure. Embarking on a PMO without the appropriate know how is like setting sail on a ship without skilled sailors, the enterprise will unravel at the first ill wind.

2. Start with high-visibility, high-impact projects

Like every other business unit, the PMO must prove its worth from the very beginning to win over naysayers. A smart PMO manager will look to deliver early wins on to the scoreboard.  This is not always easy because of its cross-functional – and according to detractors – unnecessary nature. Tackle the most widely acknowledged problems first.

3. Identify the needs of the business clearly

The organization and the business have needs that may or may not have been explicitly identified. Meeting these needs should be your starting point. That way you’ll start off on the right foot, giving you enormous leverage when it comes to defending your decisions in the future. Do your research.

For example, as a PMO expert you may consider it vital to set up a document template repository. But maybe what your stakeholders actually need is a way to decide how progress on projects is measured.

4. Have a solid framework

And which is integrated into the business. A PMO that acts as a lone wolf is destined to fail. It is important that there are simple, fluid communication channels to ensure that everyone is working in the right direction. Put these in place from the outset.

5. Draw up clear key performance indicators

Having a lot of indicators does not necessarily mean having lots of information. Make sure that you not only have the right tools but also that the KPIs are relevant to your business.

 

What to consider for a consistent roadmap

To create a consistent roadmap, you should take into account:

  • The maturity of the organization.
  • The goals suggested by the Board of Directors.
  • The available resources.
  • Positive and negative environmental factors.

With these parameters, we know our start and end points, the resources available and the pace at which we should go.

An example of a roadmap

Let’s take as an example Booksy360, a mid-sized publishing company. This is their  roadmap divided into four stages, starting from a tactical PMO and moving towards a strategic one.

Period 1

Booksy360’s PMO steering group decides to establish a basic communication system, using a common language. In this system planning is based only on timeframes and deliverables. Document templates are created for each project type. Stakeholders will receive reports about the status of their individual projects and Booksy360’s board will be kept up to date via a regular portfolio report.

Period 2

All communication channels are now established. The PMO encourages collaboration between units and projects. Inventory and purchasing are added as extra elements to plan, manage and control. Resource management is now based on professional profiles, such as editors, writers and production engineers.

Period 3

Formal risk management starts, agreed by all departments. Alongside this Booksy360 initiates change and quality management. Even if these were taking place informally before, now they are at the heart of the process.

Period 4

The final stage is when the actual strategic contribution starts. But it is long way down the line so for now Booksy360’s steering committee predicts it will include portfolio planning, benefit realization management and governance

The online PMO & Organization Self-Assessment may help you analyze your organization.

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team, puzzle, star, bubbles, conversation, chessThis article is part of a series on the PMBOK areas of knowledge. You can read the previous articles here:

The last area of knowledge of the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge) covers the best practices to manage the relationship with stakeholders.

Specifically, this area of knowledge focuses on identifying people, groups or organizations that may affect or may be affected by the project and analyze their expectations and its impact on the plan.

Manage project stakeholders in a collaborative environment

It is essential to keep in mind that clients too are stakeholders, as their satisfaction is crucial to the success of a project. This means that projects could re-start from 0 if the client’ expectations are not taken into account early enough.
This problem was so frequent in software development that led to the development of agile methodologies, which seek a fluid communication with customers.

 

Advice for Stakeholders Management

 

1. Identify the parties or public interested in the project

In this phase of project management, it is important to focus on identifying the stakeholder from the very beginning, since this will allow us to obtain an overview of the stakeholders map and the problems that some actors may pose at a later moment.

2. Make sure that all interested parties agree and know their roles or responsibilities

Before starting the development of a project, it is essential that all the actors involved know the rules and assume the commitment and responsibility expected of their functions. From the beginning, we will identify team leaders, work teams, and their roles.
Good pre-planning facilitates a smooth development and helps to avoid conflicts in the future. If everyone agrees with the requirements and objectives, he or she will work to keep pace with the events and avoid delays; delays that only will be translated into extra costs and unwanted results.
On the other hand, rules must also ensure fluid communication with customers, so that they have sufficient information to evaluate the project development and express their point of view. If necessary, the circumstances under which a client’s opinions may involve changes in the project can be agreed upon.

3. Get consensus on the application of changes to the project

Changes in a project are inevitable since contingencies always arise that require the modification of some criteria or change in scope. The more complex a plan is, the more susceptible it is of being changed during its development. Therefore, it is important that all participants agree on how to handle the changes.

4. Favor communication

Establishing communication guidelines at the beginning of the project will improve the flow of the same. The team will be able to determine, since the beginning, the frequency of the communication and its content, that should preferably be concise and focused on the progress or issues that affect the project.

5. Give permanent visibility to the project teams

Transparency is a fundamental virtue in all project communication. It does not make sense for a project manager to have secrets.

It is important to define and communicate the vision of the project early on, as teams become more involved and the risk of losing focus on the project is mitigated. This way you make sure that any decision is coherent with the vision and objectives of the project. This point is very important because it helps reduce risks, errors or loss of focus.

6. Involve interested parties in the entire process

Although we assigned functions and teams from the very beginning, interested parties (stakeholders) should be always involved, so that they can participate in the problem solving or the revision of the requirements.

7. Reach an agreement with what has been done

In order to avoid entering a circle of changes and stagnation that could jeopardize the development of the project, it is important to reach agreements on the work done.
In an organization that manages strategic projects and internal transformation, Stakeholders Management goes beyond the project closure, since its delivery enables capacities that could benefit other levels of the organization. Otherwise, the value delivered is not internalized and won’t become a competitive advantage sustainable over time. This approach has been called Benefits Realization Management (BRM) or Benefit Management.

8. Empathize with the other interested parties

All project participants are stakeholders, but the stakeholder map also includes parties that do not actively participate in the development of the project. You should take them into account and empathize with them as the capacity for empathy is a crucial skill for the success or failure of a project.
The analysis of a project should not be limited to the interests and influence of stakeholders but should include how to identify their objectives, circumstances and the way they perceive the project.
Empathic analysis helps us to discover hidden variables that show us the way to solve problems or overcome obstacles that we may encounter.

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Effectiveness of internal change projects requires effective leadership that is able to be influential without coercion, to persuade through seduction, and to recognize the complexity of influence in corporate settings.

Communication is one of the most complex and at the same time exciting processes of the human being. Although many human aspects are influenced by communication, language is the main component. In addition, in a project-dominated work environment, where the nature of work is different every time, communication is a fundamental piece that every project manager must master.

Communicate with all your team members in a collaborative software and find out the status of your projects at any particular moment

The same is true for projects aimed at internal change. Moreover, change communication is more complex than the normal. Typically, when we communicate a message to produce a change in someone's behaviour, we expect an immediate reaction from an isolated individual or a small group of people. On the contrary, in change management we seek to produce a stable and controlled change, over time, where the recipient is a group of people whose answers must be coordinated. The complexity can be overwhelming.

The importance of communication in these cases is essential. If you do not measure the reactions to the change through feedback flows, you run the risk of unsuccessfully implementing the change due to uncertainty and lack of knowledge of the issues.

Therefore, mastery of communication techniques is essential for the proper functioning of a company. To begin with, in organizations of a certain size it is advisable to have internal communication policies that facilitate such feedback. One simple way to set these policies, for example, is to set up weekly meetings. In large corporations, internal communication often requires the hiring of experts to streamline discussions and establish initiatives to share ideas, knowledge or impressions.

In general, the domain of change communications can be divided into three aspects: using the right language, communicate in the optimal context, and to focus communication to the solution of real problems presented in the projects and which are perceived by their Leaders.

Use the right language to communicate change

The words you use to describe change management will mark the willingness of your interlocutors to adopt these new work systems. Whether it's to convince project leaders about the introduction of a new methodology or to motivate project members to keep it in mind during the different phases of the project, the terminology that you have managed will have clear repercussions.

For starters, its very difficult for your team to feel interested in a work system that they do not understand. Therefore, it is best to speak in a language that you know they will understand. If the new methodology is born from the identification of problems with which they are in contact, make the connections obvious so that they can understand the consequences of their work on the whole organization. Communication can empower if it seeks to reinforce the consistency between problems and solutions to the scale of individual work.

Another more simple example, it happens similarly when a doctor explains to their patient what his diagnosis is and why it is important to follow a certain treatment. If you use excessively technical language, although it is probably the most scientifically and academically correct, your patient will not understand, will not give adequate importance to their illness, or will not be able to properly follow the treatment. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the physician to use adequate language to ensure that the patient is aware of his illness and predisposes him to follow the treatment properly. The success of the company (in this case, the good treatment of the patient) depends on it.

Context

Read this article if you are worried that your computer doesn't have all the information needed: Tips for communication in remote work teams

Change management cannot be considered an isolated activity, independent of the rest of the company. Precisely the opposite, change management must permeate all aspects of the company, so it must be shown as a global concept that relates to the company and its circumstances.

A fact that is common to change in all companies, is that it must occur in each and every one of the people involved in the project. The global change will be the result of the addition and interaction of all the subjects involved in the project or in the company.

Therefore, change must be presented as a discipline that requires regular and progressive training, prior knowledge and interaction between individuals.

Regardless of these facts, the change manager must pay special attention to the needs and specific situation of each company and market, in order to be able to adapt the change methodologies in a personalized way to the circumstances of the company.

Solving real problems

Company managers seek solutions to their daily business problems to enable them to reach a final product that meets the needs of their customers and obtain the desired market share.

Therefore, in order to convince them of the need to make changes and an adequate management of the change process, it is necessary to touch on the issues that matter to them, that the changes aim to improve the results of the projects. For example, if the organization does not have a methodology for coordinating projects with interdependencies, new conversations about the contribution of projects in terms of external benefits, the objectives of the different programs and the guidelines that guide the overall strategy should aim to spread to all levels, to be gradually incorporated as a business culture. Thus, project members should move from being part of a project to being part of a corporate portfolio with more ambitious goals.

One of the main responsibilities of the change manager is to identify how process failures, described at the macro level, can be modified in a realistic manner. It is essential that an arrangement be reached between a top-down and bottom-up perspective. 

Acceptance = language + context + troubleshooting

Today, more than ever, organizations need effective change management. The change today is greater than ever before in business history: faster and more important and more complex. Due to the demands of the market, companies also become more demanding and ask for positive and concrete results.

To get acceptance of the change systems, you can rely on the three fundamental pillars that we have developed throughout this article: use a precise language while also being accessible, adapt to the context and the concrete needs of each company and each market scenario and demonstrate that an efficient change management will solve practical problems for the company.

If you are interested in this article, you can continue reading some of these:

change management concepts and definitions

5 considerations for managing a project portfolio

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remote working imageProject managers and PMO officers muster a highly technical skill set. However, the soft skills in which they need to be well-versed in order to be recognized as leaders have become one of the toughest areas of excellence for any project-based organization.

The problem has become even more urgent with the digitalization of intellectual work: workers and experts can now be brought into a project remotely across countries, languages and a myriad of different cultural elements. How to turn delocalized networks of diverse people into robust teams is one of the standing challenges for a modern project leader.

The stepping stone into project leadership is to find support in the use of technological systems designed to support and enhance intensive collaboration, like ITM Platform’s PPM software.

But besides that, if they want to succeed project leaders will have to recognize that external consultants and remote teams have different support needs than the traditional, internal team members.

Invite all your collaborators to ITM Platform and power your projects with a PPM tool with in-built social communication.

Is project leadership the same as traditional business leadership?

“Project members may feel the disorientation that comes with the lack of a stable home”

According to an already classic research paper, “Transformational leadership in a project-based environment: a comparative study of the leadership styles of project managers and line managers”, the project leader can have the same authority and recognition as the leader in a functional organization; however, the nature of project-based work sets barriers for transformational outcomes.

In fact, many project members unbound to a department feel the nausea or disorientation that is related to the lack of a stable home: a permanent work station; a group of colleagues to relate to and build confidence with over time; or even a geographic location and a predictable daily routine. In absence of all these coordinates of professional stability, leaders will find that it is harder to motivate employees, oversee their careers, and make them understand their place and importance in the overall scheme of things.

Similarly, all modern organizations suffer under the inescapable dooms and benefits of technological innovation: nowadays, a team member can be recruited for a short-term engagement from a different country on the other end of the world. Usually, these relationships are based on the demand for readily available and highly qualified talent, which can literally be found anywhere thanks to the existing collaboration hubs. While this trend was barely emerging in the early 2000’s, it has consolidated as a clear business model with a myriad of online platforms, such as freelancer or 99designs for designers, twago or Upwork for web and software development, or even NineSights or kaggle for innovation and big data contests.

While hiring talent from across the globe is easier than ever, this frictionless environment shifts a strenuous pressure into the coordination needs with newcomers. And, paradoxically, at the same time it's becoming increasingly difficult to retain talent and meet the professional expectations of millenials in terms of flexibility, work-life balance and career development. This guide on working with technology that is suited to millennial culture can help your company overcome this challenge.

Obviously, this pressure then translates into new styles of leadership; and it does it at a time in which often support systems for traditional, site-based project teams are still precarious.

In this context, it’s obvious that team management requirements have changed enormously, shifting away from the face to face authority of the office leader to the need to clearly communicate and align expectations to that kind of loosely coordinated network in which team members come and go.

Most often team members will fulfil specialized tasks, but entire projects with important co-dependencies can also be outsourced. In the latter case, that is when projects are tightly packaged before they are outsourced, the external player will have it easy: he or she shall only need to understand project scope, deadlines and budget.

However, outsourcing tasks within projects and externalizing a part of the project team is a much harder practice in the day-to-day of project leaders. If we go back to the initial metaphor, the leader will somehow have to reconstruct a home (or a temporary albeit comfortable shelter) for the external member so their engagement with the project is guaranteed.

1. On-boarding = constructing a home with corporate values

“Combining the collaborative power of Slack with the PPM capabilities of ITM Platform is a great way of keeping all project members on the same page, multiplying team interactions and ensuring that project planning and execution are strictly aligned”

While many full-time freelancers are likely to feel comfortable in loosely coupled teams with brief touching points and interactions, making sure any new node in the network knows how to proceed is a strong organizational priority.

The home cannot be forced upon the external member: whoever prefers a detached, professional collaboration with no soft commitment will eventually have her way; but on the corporate side it should be all about a seductive approach to persuasion that is very strongly related to corporate culture and values, to a strong branding and to the on-boarding. Depending on how this process work, employees and consultants can either feel important contributors to the organizations or a redundant appendix.

Under this light, seemingly secondary pieces of communication have an enormous importance. How you welcome members into the team, make requests for feedback or encourage spontaneous interactions become central elements to the leadership activity. It’s important to stimulate autonomous work while ensuring that there is a record of all vital progress.

For that reason, the integration of collaboration tools and project management technology is particularly relevant in the project leader portfolio. To support that need, we recently designed ITM Platform Teambot, an app for Slack that allows our user base to recall their current projects and tasks, report hours and progress and send contextual comments into the platform without ever leaving Slack’s IRC-type chat interface.

GIF-Assignations

Combining the collaborative power of Slack with the PPM capabilities of ITM Platform is a great way of keeping all project members on the same page, multiplying team interactions and ensuring that project planning and execution are strictly aligned.

2. Self-management and discipline

“Sustained clarity into the processes, expectations and requirements are of particular importance for remote workers and external consultants.”

Much more than regular employees, who can embed their practices into the dynamics of the organization and rely on daily interactions to regulate inter-dependencies, remote workers and consultants need to self-manage their time and be very disciplined. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t need to follow external leadership: on the contrary, even the most disciplined professionals will be extremely frustrated in the absence of proper project leadership that doesn’t communicate a clear focus.

Although it obviously benefits from the magnetism of charismatic authority, project leadership doesn’t have to be very personal. Sustained clarity into the processes, expectations and requirements are of particular importance for remote workers and external consultants.

3. Strong processes embedded in top-value technology

“The technological backbone is a fundamental pillar of project management processes. Your ITM Platform environment will be the organizational home to your project activities”

Project management instruments, methodologies and templates are the core of a strong policy of validated processes that work throughout the entire organization. A fundamental pillar of those processes is the technological backbone that keeps track of the everyday progresses.

In project management contexts with remote team members, it’s vital to have a tool that covers that backbone and connects communicational needs with planning and execution:

  • Financial management: keeping track of all the costs incurred by the resources allocated to a given project
  • Time tracking: Control whether team members, particularly new ones, are as productive as planned, identify deviations and bottlenecks and assess their cause
  • Planning: Plan projects in the same environment your team members use to report their efforts. Your ITM Platform environment will be the organizational home to your project activities.
  • Communication: Direct messages between members, contextual messages related to any given task or project. The objective is to empower teams for conversations that are permanently relevant because they stored where the work actually happens.

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