Cover image credits: Markus Spiske on Unsplash
In this article, we will look at the six primary ways in which PPM solutions shine light on existing processes and provide the tools for making more informed and effective decisions.
- Well implemented, a PPM solution can be a powerful catalyst for process improvement and change
- By providing a single, real time source of all project, program and portfolio data, PPM solutions:
- Cut down processing and consolidation time
- Force assumptions to the surface and pinpoint inconsistencies
- Create data sets which can be explored to surface previously invisible insights
- By providing complete suites of specialised tools, they:
- Automate to standardize processes, and prevent oversights
- Help ground decision making in fact, and explore scenarios
- Build a track record of key decisions and the drivers that justified them
- Help organisations increase their new product development maturity
1. A spotlight on the Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly
One of the first ways a PPM solution generates this value is by turning the spotlight in turn on each area of PPM processes, forcing assumptions to the surface, and pinpointing inconsistencies in the way certain elements are handled.
Some of these areas might never have been perceived as topics in their own right, and their role in project and resource management downplayed. Similarly, links between areas and the impact that one might have on another might never have been discussed. Because of their integrated nature, PPM solutions force these questions into the open, allowing organizations to become aware of potential areas of improvement, and giving them the solutions to handle them.
2. An engine for increasing maturity
In real life, the process for increasing an organization's PPM maturity is most often a catch-up game between the company's internal conversations on improving processes and their PPM tooling.
One area is seen as having a potential for improvement (or industry peer studies show that best practices are not being followed). So the teams look into the processes and solutions, and identify one or several shortcomings (the area is poorly handled or not handled at all), which prompts the setup of a new project to upgrade or add to the existing features (for instance, adding resource management capabilities).
To successfully complete the project, the team must delve into the existing processes and draw a list of action items. As the project progresses and issues are tackled, the organization gains greater insight into its own way of functioning, and new possibilities open up. Which generates a fresh conversation about improving processes, and the cycle repeats.
In effect, implementing a PPM solution can act as a catalyst for increasing the maturity of an organization's project / product portfolio and resource management processes, provided however that it is managed in a proactive way, and an open interface with the outside world and the industry best practices. So it becomes in a way both the embodiment of the company's PPM maturity and the means to increase it.
3. Single source of truth
PPM solutions are, by design, highly integrated data sources and repositories. In most cases, the data will be planning data, and in many situations PPM solutions also include actuals. When connected with the organization's other data sources (for instance an ERP, a PLM or external databases), they become the logical choice for a single, real time source of all project, program and portfolio data.
One of the main challenges of program / product portfolio management is the need to obtain, consolidate and explore heterogeneous data to detect the issues and identify the drivers that will have an impact on the company's baseline.
This includes, on the negative side: project / program risks such as delays or overspending, portfolio risks such as misalignment between portfolio and strategy or heightened sensitivity to economic conditions, or resource risks such as bottlenecks.
And on the positive side: project / program synergies that accelerate the time to market, portfolio optimizations such as determining efficient frontier portfolios, or the ability to simulate the effect of new business on resources which in turn allows the organization to take on a new unplanned opportunity. Having a single source of truth for all the related data (in particular if you can easily export and import it, or make it available in a BI solution) can cut down data processing and consolidation times by as much as 80% (or simply just make it such consolidation possible), which frees up time to analyze the data and shortens decision times.
One major caveat must however be mentioned: as with all databases, if the data entered into the system is poor quality (in particular if the person inputting it either doesn't understand how to enter it or intentionally fudges the data), the output will also be poor quality.
4. Visualize data and compare information across the organization
Some of the more advanced PPM solutions will include their own BI (Business Intelligence)-type data visualization solution (or make the data available in any leading third party BI solution) for ad-hoc reporting and dynamic data analysis.
In effect, this adds an edge to the previously discussed single source of truth by providing the solutions to handle the large volume of data generated by the project / product activity, and surface insights and opportunities that were previously invisible.
5. Automate to standardize processes, and prevent oversights
As with all IT-based systems, one the primary functions of a PPM solution is to automate processes.
This includes performing all the low value processing that would otherwise require dedicated time and energy on part of project / product teams: updating plans and forecasts, retrieving data from third party systems, generating reports, notifying key personnel, etc.
It also includes the definition and use of templates. Most PPM systems will offer the ability to create templates, from simple documents for scorecards, P&Ls, deliverables etc. to whole program that include all the assets required to manage a program from start to finish, including stage-gate processes with all required documents, timelines, charts, resource planning, reports etc.
Templates play a double role in an effective PPM organization: they are great time savers as they provide ready-made assets without the need to locate the assets from previous projects or rewrite them from scratch; and are particularly useful when onboarding new personnel or employees with relatively little experience. But at the same time, they serve as a repository of knowledge and experience about what works for project, programs and products, and allow the organization to develop a body of knowledge – and a conversation – around these topics.
Finally, PPM systems prevent (sometimes extremely costly) oversights by requiring users to complete certain mandatory steps in the course of a project or product cycle in an automated fashion. This includes providing specific deliverables (scorecards, reports, P&Ls), going through specific decision processes (gate meetings for instance), and more generally keeping track of elements that they might otherwise forget.
6. Ultimately, a powerful decision-making engine
Humans are notoriously good at deluding themselves that the decisions they make are based on rational criteria, when in fact we rely on gut feelings more often than not . The effects of PPM solutions described above help curb these tendencies, and build a track record of decision making that enables the organization to improve and ultimately thrive, provided that a balance is maintained between too little and too much information and analysis.
First, the one-source-of-truth provides decision makers with a comprehensive and integrated source of data that they can use to base their decisions – provided however that the quality of the data entered is constant and of acceptable quality. This corrects the endemic issue of “not enough information to make a decision” that one often meets in organizations that do not have formal data collection processes, and reduces the risk of confirmation bias (forgetting about data that contradicts our beliefs). One caveat here is not to fall for the opposite extreme, i.e. suspend all decision making until “all” the data has been collected (there will always be one number missing…).
The ability to manipulate the data through scenarios and visualization solutions helps surface links and drivers that one might not have considered otherwise, which in turn opens up new possibilities when considering ways to mitigate a problem, solve an issue or improve results (in particular when caught in either/or situations aka alternative blindness).
The use of set templates for projects and product development obliges teams to make specific decisions at specific times (for instance go / no-go decisions) when they might have left things run for longer without review.
Finally, the system of record allows tracing back decisions to the drivers that generated them (no break or data loss because of a transfer between systems), and the accumulation of historical data allows extracting data by analogy.
As final notes, it is worth noting that in the same way that planning is often as much about the insights obtained in the process of planning than about the end plan, the value of implementing a PPM solution will be compounded through the insights obtained in the process of implementing the solution.
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 Which is not to say that gut feelings are bad (they are often the first alarm system that something is right or wrong), just that they are not an appropriate basis for decision making in organisations that deal with large, complex or numerous projects or products.