Understanding the Value Proposition of a PPM Investment

After writing yesterday’s post, I started thinking about really how to define the value proposition of a PPM investment.  While the primary value remains (as I wrote yesterday) alignment with portfolio goals, there are still quite obviously benefits related to operational excellence, increased efficiency, and reducing the risk of rework or potential safety issues.  In fact, as I started writing down all of the various value propositions of a PPM investment, I realized that pretty much everything falls into one of two categories:

  • Benefits that align the portfolio/program/project with the goals of the organization.  (Aligned)
  • Benefits that reduce the delivery overhead of the portfolio/program/project. (Efficient)

I then mapped those value propositions to the engagements and organizations that I’ve worked with to see if I could map them to specific characteristics of an organization, i.e. to determine if some organizations value efficiency while other organizations value alignment.  I played with a couple of different taxonomies, before settling on this one:

  • Organizations working with a defined project / program / portfolio scope (Defined)
  • Organizations working to translate a high level strategy into an execution plan.  (Derived)

Once I mapped that out, I realized that many of the organizations I’ve worked with have evolved over time.  I initially engaged when they were focusing on operational excellence and efficient delivery, and then over the years, have watched as they’ve grown in maturity and become focused on how to effectively define the portfolio.

Finally, I overlaid some of the component capabilities of a PPM solution to see where they fit into the model.

The end result is as follows….thoughts?



Understanding the Value Proposition of a PPM Investment

Accelerating the ROI of Your PPM Investment

What if I told you that I know how to short cut the payback period on a typical PPM maturity initiative?  What if I could tell you how to abbreviate the growing pains and go straight to the results?

Getting to a solid ROI on your PPM investment takes a while.  Take it from me,  I’ve been working with organizations for decades on this (sometimes even the same organization).  I’m not saying there’s isn’t a quick ROI on investing in PPM maturity.  Rather, I’m saying that many of the organizations I work with could get better ROI and faster if they just followed a few simple principles.

The first principle is to truly understand how PPM can provide value within the organization.  Once we understand the real value proposition, we can make a bee line for that goal….knock it out of the park, and then turn around to focus on the less critical things.  Think of PPM maturity similar to how I played Capture the Flag with my kids at a paintball park last weekend.  When the referee kicks it off with the whistle, you sprint to the back of the compound, grab the opponents’ flag, and then turn around to begin mopping up the remnants of their force.

So what’s the underlying goal in any PPM maturity exercise?  Resource metrics?  Operational excellence?  Risk avoidance?  Predictability?  No, I would argue all of these are secondary goals.  They’re necessary at some point, but not sufficient.  No, the main goal of a PPM maturity undertaking is almost always to align project execution with the strategy of the company.  Period.  The challenge is that many times these endeavors are chartered at the wrong level, i.e. as an investment in project delivery by the PMO organization.  When that’s the case, the journey takes on the characteristic of a salmon swimming upstream.  We have to start at the bottom and keep working our way upwards until we can get to the point where the project portfolio may be aligned with the fundamental needs of the organization.  This approach may be ostensibly risk averse, but it greatly slows the realization of the ROI on the PPM initiative.

So how do we address this principle?  Start at the top.  Imagine that you’re starting with a white sheet of paper.  Understanding the organization and its goals as you do, how do you design the perfect mechanism to execute on strategy?  That becomes the end goal of the PPM maturity exercise, to build the processes, tools and behavior required to support the execution of organizational goals.  Don’t stop there however.  If you start at the top and never take it down to the execution layer, you end up with some fantastic reports and slide decks – depicting a fantasy world that will never get realized.  Start at the top, and follow through all the way down to the project execution processes.

The second principle is to truly understand the importance of change management as an enabler of PPM maturity ROI.  Without the behavioral change, nothing happens.  How do we get that behavioral change?  There are a number of ways and frameworks to accomplish this, but the main way I’ve seen to succeed in this space is to really focus on inclusive involvement and a solid consensus as to the underlying goals of the initiative.  This means allowing the folks at the execution end of the portfolio to participate in discussions on how the portfolio links back to organizational goals.

Change management in PPM maturity endeavors is most often subverted by two things:

  1. An overriding focus on the technology required to enable PPM processes.
  2. The cognitive dissonance caused by acknowledging the underlying issues driving lack of organizational performance and then capitulating to immediate needs by focusing on the wrong issues.

What happens when organizations ignore these principles?

Ignoring these principles makes the road to PPM ROI even longer and more winding.  Many organizations give up in the middle, or get stuck in endless loops trying and failing different things….like iterating through execution maturity to find just the right fit of methodology to map to the organization.  This is a great discussion – but it tends to distract us from where we’re trying to get to, i.e. portfolio alignment.  Similarly, I find the resource management discussion tends to distract us from our true aims….and by distract, I mean put everything on pause for 6-8 months while we focus on something tangentially related to our goals – which then fails to achieve our actual goals, resulting in ever increasing cultural resistance to the overall PPM story.

Curious what the path to PPM maturity looks like for many organizations.  Take a look at this post that walks you through the evolution of PPM in most organizations.  Notice something?  The main reason most PPM investments fail is that they’re too limited in scope.  It’s an investment in strategic execution, and we almost always begin with operational excellence.  This is certainly not without value, but the sequence should be reversed if we want to push the needle meaningfully. It’s not about executing better, but about aligning better.

Hence my tips to accelerate the ROI of your PPM investment:

  1. Start with the strategy.
  2. Design the organization to execute the strategy. (i.e. don’t stop at strategy, but carry the discussion forward)
  3. Involve the organizational execution folks in the discussions.
  4. Wrap it all with analytics.

The major return on the PPM investment lies in getting important things done faster and in not wasting time on things nobody particularly cares about.  Follow these principles, and while you may not have the results you need in a couple of months, you’ll certainly have them faster than you would following a more traditional path.


Accelerating the ROI of Your PPM Investment

Calculating Demand with the New Resource Engagements Feature

Looks like when I wrote that post on how to incorporate Resource Engagements into the portfolio analysis module of Project Online / Project Server 2016, I left out one critical step.

For resource engagements to show up in the calculated portfolio demand, you’ll need to open the Project Information dialog box within Microsoft Project Professional and toggle the calculation settings – then republish the project.



Note that the option only appears after the project has been saved to Project Server.

Calculating Demand with the New Resource Engagements Feature

Conference Catch Up: Critical Path Drag

Catching up on some of the discussions from the last conference I attended, the Critical Path Management conference.  Had a good hallway conversation about the concept of Critical Path Drag.

Not familiar with the concept of drag?  If you’re at all interested in the world of scheduling, it’s well worth the time to check out this article in Wikipedia.

Read the article and curious how to calculate this in Microsoft Project desktop?  Here’s a helpful macro courtesy of Tom Boyle.

Conference Catch Up: Critical Path Drag

In PPM, Situational Awareness Trumps Operational Excellence

Consider, for a moment, a cautionary tale of two organizations: Organization A and Organization B.  Each organization takes a significantly different approach to delivering the project portfolio management (PPM) capability.

Organization A has a relatively immature approach to project portfolio management and performs annual planning on a, well, annual basis.  Each business unit compiles a list of project requests which are submitted to a central repository.  Months of back channel negotiations and positioning ensue.  At the end of the process, the organization has a list of approved initiatives for the next fiscal year…which may then be summarily ignored in favor of last minute project requests thrown out by the business.  This is what I would classify as a typical “pull” approach to PPM, where each group submits a request to pull the project through the approval cycle and into execution.

Organization B, on the other hand, takes a different approach to portfolio execution and starts a bit farther back in the value chain with an exercise in defining what organizational performance actually means.  This is broken down into strategic programs comprised of projects that are identified by the program management structure.  This is more of a push model where the PMO organization is responsible for identifying projects and pushing them into the portfolio.  If we apply this to the traditional v-model validation concept, we would end up with something like the graphic below where the traditional PPM measures actually fall at the lowest level, i.e. the “Execution Plan.”


Where do these goals come from?  These days, those goals are increasingly being driven by gains in the field of analytics.  As analytics platforms mature and the volume of data generated by the Internet of Things expands, analytics are expected to drive ever more decisions as to what projects need to be executed and where capital should be prioritized.  Are assets providing the expected return?  Is equipment performing as it should?  Increasingly, analytics will drive these assessments.

Once gaps are identified, i.e. once we identify reality is not performing according to specifications, what is left but to charter an intervention in the form of a project?  Now, however, the project is not driven by a request or saddled by the lack of an ability to track benefits.  The project is born of analytics and will support a specific measurable goal.


This then becomes the key indicator for the maturity of a PPM system….not how many strategic drivers are leveraged to assess projects, or how structured the process is.  Instead, the single indicator that will drive PPM maturity into the future is how much data, or situational awareness at the highest level, is actually being used to drive the project identification process.

In PPM, Situational Awareness Trumps Operational Excellence

The History of PPM – 2016 Q1 Edition

You know that video on Youtube?  The one where this guy presents the history of dance in 5 minutes?  This blog post kind of started as an homage to that, i.e. an attempt to take you through trends in the PPM space over the past several decades.  Part of the driver for writing this post is that I’m starting to see discussions turn to “the next big thing” in PPM which is an early indicator of a shift change in PPM thinking….and a helpful reminder of the last time I listened to the NBT discussion.

Stage 1 – Project Execution

It all started with the push to enhance project execution.  Focus was placed on enforcing a consistent delivery methodology, resource balancing and religious wars around which execution methodology was most appropriate for any given scenario.  I’m not discounting the importance of any of this…..execution is important.  What’s happened in tier 2 portfolios at least is the growing recognition that execution is not the end all be all of getting value from the project value chain.

After all…..why execute bad projects well when we can execute good projects poorly?  In the end, we still get more value.  And hey, if we can execute good projects well, then that’s pretty much the sweet spot.

Stage 2 – Project Selection (The “Pull” Model)

Hence we moved into the era of strategic drivers and pairwise comparison.  The goal was to take a passel of projects, throw them into an analytical engine and let them shake out into an optimized portfolio.  Couple this with a feedback mechanism from the project execution process, and we can ensure that our project portfolio is ever optimized.

Again….sounds great.  The model begins to erode however once we introduce benefits realization into the mix.  Benefits realization is they key to optimized portfolios.  Hence, this required that all projects must be tied to a benefits case.

The other challenge is that this required a regular cadence of project review and approval.  Many organizations don’t have the time to wait for a project to be proposed, go through a review, and then wait in a hopper with a number of other projects in order to get evaluated and approved.  After all, that’s the only way to account for the opportunity cost associated with the project.

Stage 3 – Program Based Allocations

Continuing in our search for the optimal project portfolio, some organizations have turned to program based allocation as a remedy to the slow pace of the traditional “Collect and prioritize” model.  Funds are allocated to the program, and in turn, are allocated to other projects that meet the needs of the program on a regular cadence with less dependency on evaluating all projects against all other projects.

Programs when used in this fashion, i.e. essentially a benefits realization framework, also provide the critical wrapper for project performance metrics.  We don’t need to track the benefits of each project, but rather the program in aggregate.

Arguably, ITIL came in ahead of its time with a concept ahead of its time by providing a way to wrap projects around services that are offered to the business.

Again, this is a great approach and a significant step forward.  Where this is lacking is the link to the corporate strategy.  The portfolio management organization at this point has reorganized to work flexibly and bimodally but is crucially still lacking in a way to tie the execution work with the overall strategy.

Stage 4 – Project Identification (The “Push” Model)

Remember back in stage 2 where our goal was to get a whole list of projects put together and prioritized?  Around that time was when the ideation vendors used to come in and pitch their products.  How do you prioritize a list of projects when you don’t even know whether the list was complete?  How do you methodically identify the gaps in performance and strategically develop the next innovative product offering?

Enter the world of capability based planning and enterprise architecture.  Identify the goals of the organization.  Identify the capabilities required to support those goals.  Invest in strategic capabilities – by treating each capability as what is in effect, a program.  This represents the next step in the evolution of portfolio management thinking, i.e. the critical link between the doing of portfolio management and the content of the portfolio itself.

Enter the next phase of the portfolio management evolution.  The portfolio management organization identifies the projects before they’re even requested. (Both hands leaving the temple in a “mind blown” expression.)

Stage 5 – Whither Next

So where do we go from here?  That’s a good question.  A couple thoughts…

  1. Identifying a flexible framework to allow us to adjust our portfolio management approach based on conditions in our industry or the economy.
  2. Incorporation of big data and the Internet of Things.  With ever cheaper access to analytics and benchmarking, organizations can shine a spotlight on their internal operations like never before, and use that data to create portfolios of prioritized projects designed to address those gaps.
  3. Moving away from the concept of projects entirely and focusing on making everything into a small collection of process improvement efforts managed as part of a continual flow.  (Think about this, maybe the move to the cloud may be the last big software project most organizations ever undertake.  From there on out, it’s all going to be a gradual evolution to support new processes punctuated by the occasional interruption caused by an acquisition or divestiture.)


As I was writing this, I realized something however.  These stages don’t necessarily represent an evolution in maturity.  Rather they represent a growing push to make work more relevant.  When that push starts at the bottom, i.e. at the level of the people doing the work, then what I’ve outlined above is a natural progression that many organizations move through.

What if we start at the top though?  What if we identify the strategy and then work our way downwards to design from scratch the optimal mechanism to operationalize that strategy?  Wouldn’t we end up pretty quickly with a design very similar to what I’ve outlined in Stage 4?

That then begs the question…..how often do companies take that top down approach?  If, as I’ve observed, it’s not very frequent, why?  Why is it always an approach of starting at the bottom, and then increasing our reach in larger and larger slices of the organization?  That’s a post for a different time.

Finally, yes, I know that image is still in your head.  Here’s a link to the Evolution of Dance video.  Always worth checking out.

The History of PPM – 2016 Q1 Edition

The Cloud Means Never Being on the Cusp Again

The cusp of a new platform is a dangerous place to be in.  In my world, it usually it means that we’re looking to upgrade or replace our EPM platform and therefore are scaling down our investment in it until we can make the great leap forward.  The problem is, of course, that our processes don’t stop evolving.  They keep changing and moving.

Once an organization determines it’s on the cusp, it’s more likely to have a process/tool mismatch, where the two get out of synch.  That then results in a drop of user adoption, a lack of process controls, and a gradual descent into the same chaos the organization started from.  Being on the cusp hurts organizational performance.

Enter the cloud.  Being in the cloud means that the organization will never really have to worry about big bang upgrades again.  Instead, the focus can move from the technical to ensuring the evolving processes are supported by the tools.  This tends to change the long term support discussion.  Instead of planning every several years to reset the tools to match the processes, organizations in the cloud move to a more constant, steady stream of tool changes that ensure compliance.

This, I suspect, will be one of the bigger changes of moving to the cloud….the change in thinking towards IT that comes from not having that periodic opportunity to remove the old and start with the new, that opportunity to get rid of the old architecture and move towards a brand new one.

The Cloud Means Never Being on the Cusp Again