In this four-part series, Dr. Jörg Leute examines the question why it is so complex to establish a stable project portfolio using common means. Why do those “shadow excel files” exist, being used beyond P6 without any official approval in order to determine the project portfolio? The suggested solution is a novel, intuitive and collaborative software to simulate and rate project portfolios, used on top of Primavera P6.
Part 2: Reasons why the automatic optimization of project portfolios will never work
It gets worse. Even if you have your internal processes in order with distinct rules for setting and tuning-up the portfolio, you are haunted by the tragic realization that your data quality is insufficient. The reason for this is that in a perfect world, you could impeccably plan projects that could be automatically optimized. The effort you have to provide just to achieve this data quality would however, not be justified by the benefits of the result. Why? Because this data is dynamic: Projects themselves are risky and inevitably characteristic of changing. Therefore, the fine tuning of mediocre data carries a pointless result. But nevertheless it is done, further complicating the situation with secret yet critical Excel sheets existing in the dark outside of P6, to provide at least some guidance.
This Perpetual Back and Forth
But maybe after extensive preparatory work, you believe you’ve achieved a state of the project portfolio data. With a clear conscience, you present the data at the portfolio board (or whatever the decision-taking entity is called at your company) and realize that you are once again a prisoner of our own processes.
During the decision rounds, fast ideas are born about how next year’s portfolio could be transformed. Worse yet, during a budget savings round, general savings constraints and strategic reorientations demand complete re-planning that simply cannot be done in a timely manner with the incumbent tools. Further rounds of negotiating ensue, rescheduling, new statements … soon you’re back to square one and there’s talk of pulling an all-nighter to get everything set straight. And still inescapably, all of this complexity can only be semi-achieved using Excel files and paper reports.
The Meisterplan Hypothesis: Get Closer to the People
When automatic optimization isn’t a solution, when one must support decision rounds, and when the available data budgets, capacity and priorities is provided from semitrusted sources, IT clearly reaches its limit. The approach presented in this paper is based off the law of requisite variety. This law states, that only a complex system can be controlled from an even more complex system.¹ What system could be more complex than a collection of project budgets, dependencies, resources, skills, etc.? A system that consists of more links, the human brain.
And, this is precisely our hypothesis; a group of savvy experts, who know the company by heart, who can understand the data they’re receiving, who can judge if a department is over-allocated or not and who can complement the missing data directly, will be empowered to find better solutions. What’s important here to highlight, is that there is one fundamental requirement of this group: all creative energy, solution-oriented work and discussion must first flow into finding solutions. Instead of wasting this creative energy on Excel data and mechanics, they can focus 100% on pressing questions like, “What happens when we strategically favor Initiative B? Do we have to close facility X?”
Only a completely intuitive tool that instantly, displays the effects of actions can support this discourse. A tool capable of quickly calculating and indicating consequences of human actions, equipping the planning committee to produce master plans. A tool named Meisterplan.
¹ Original quotation: “If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.” Ashby, William Ross, An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman & Hall, London, 1956, S. 124.Only a completely intuitive tool that instantly, displays the effects of actions can support this discourse. A tool capable of quickly calculating and indicating consequences of human actions, equipping the planning committee to produce master plans. A tool named Meisterplan.