Have you ever found yourself Googling “what is project management,” "project coordination,” or even “project help!”? You are not alone. There are many project managers that have more projects than capacity and can’t tackle everything at the same time. Meanwhile, your project leads are fighting over key employees and high priority projects are suffering from resource shortages and delays. In the last few weeks (or months), you may have been increasingly concerned with project management, but somehow you haven’t found a suitable solution. Why? Because you don’t just need help managing your projects, you need a tool and a framework to help you decide which projects to do and when. The reason your search hasn’t been successful (yet) is because you didn’t know what you were actually searching for. You, my friend, are searching for project portfolio management.
Project Portfolio Management
If you haven’t heard of project portfolio management or you aren’t convinced that’s what you are searching for, let’s try a quick True/False test. Determine whether or not the following statements in the grey box below are either true or false for you and your company. Add up the points for true statements.
- Key resources (people) are repeatedly scheduled on multiple projects at the same time. 5 pts
- In the past 12 months, we have not been able to meet several important customer deadlines. 10 pts
- Increased overtime has led to dissatisfaction in our workforce. 5 pts
- If a dream customer offers us a dream project, we do not know for sure if and when we can do it. 5 pts
- There were more and more quality problems over the last 12 months because employees were under too much pressure to meet tough or unrealistic deadlines. 10 pts
- Small problems in one project caused chaos in other projects. We are constantly redesigning everything. 5 pts
- When a new project comes in, everyone thinks “oh no,” instead of “oh yeah!” 5 pts
- We have lost track of how many projects we’re currently working on. 5 pts
Companies all over the world in different industries find themselves in the 10+ scoring category. Luckily, we've got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about project portfolio management (PPM) and how Meisterplan can help.
What Is PPM?
PPM is nothing more than the process of deciding which projects your company does and when they do them. This is comprised in a portfolio board. It's important to note that project portfolio management is different from project management. Project management answers the following questions:
- What project tasks are assigned to whom?
- How do we measure and record project progress?
- Do we have enough coffee?
- Are we on schedule? If not, why?
However, PPM addresses different concerns. Successful and organized PPM processes answer:
- How does your company develop projects?
- How do you decide which projects are important? Based on what criteria?
- Who checks what resources (people) are needed for the project?
- What other projects are resources assigned to?
- Who makes the final decision on which project will be tackled and when? Who advises and supports these people in their decisions?
- Do we really have enough coffee?
- How do you deal with changes or issues that arise in daily business that affect the current portfolio plan
For small businesses, answers to such questions are often easy to find – a senior manager or maybe the owner of the company may have all the information about their business and can make all the decisions. It may well be that a calendar as a tool is enough to control coordination of projects and resources. However, the larger and more complex companies become, project coordination and finding answers to the above questions also become more complex. Often, problems are solved with spontaneous solutions and improvisation, but eventually that just gets too confusing.
Companies then try to solve this confusion in multiple ways. First, they might say: “How about we use the first hour of our weekly Thursday meeting for project coordination? Great idea!” Companies will do this until it no longer works. Next they might say, “What do you think of an additional project coordination meeting every two weeks?” Such ad-hoc solutions often reduce confusion in the short-term but fall short of resolving the actual issue. Sooner or later these tactics reach their limits, especially as companies grow and become more successful. PPM works when it is well-organized, flexible and scalable. This creates transparency and clarity for understanding which projects will be included in your portfolio and how they will be executed.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by this PPM process (since you may have just learned about it five minutes ago) or if you tried a PPM process and it didn’t work, we want to introduce you to Lean PPM™. The project portfolio experts at Meisterplan created the Lean PPM™ framework to give companies the benefits of PPM without all of the heavy lifting.
What Is Lean PPM™?
Lean PPM™ is just that – PPM that is lean. The idea is to use only necessary data, have as few meetings as possible, and expend the smallest amount of effort in creating the PPM process. At Meisterplan, we take the “lean” part of Lean PPM™ very seriously. We keep everything out of Lean PPM™ that is not directly related to PPM. You might be wondering why exactly we limit the amount of data, meetings, and effort in this framework, so let’s look at an example.
You are a portfolio manager. When you put together and plan your portfolio, 99.99% of the time, you don't need to know that task #5324 in project C47-8 is in the yellow. All you need from the project lead right now is a good estimate of what resources are needed, when they are needed, and what can be achieved with those resources. Period. That’s it. Any other pieces of information will only serve as a distraction that muddies the overall picture of your portfolio. When this lean approach is used, it's much easier for portfolio managers and stakeholders to understand the current state of projects and who is working on them. This allows them to make better decisions when choosing which projects to move forward with as well as better understand how to prioritize projects and know whether or not projects can actually be completed on time.
Another reason companies love the Lean PPM™ framework over traditional PPM is that it allows project teams to continue working the way they work best. Some of your teams work using the Agile method for project management while other teams use traditional or waterfall methods. With Lean PPM™, your teams don’t have to switch working methods, tools, or software. Lean PPM™ is not interested in HOW your teams work. All that Lean PPM™ needs from the team leaders is some well-defined information at specific times. As long as they are delivered, project or portfolio managers have everything they need to do their job.
Adopting Lean PPM™
The first step in implementing Lean PPM™ is the decision to redesign your own PPM process. The Lean PPM™ framework defines a series of meetings and roles by means of which the process can be implemented and anchored in the company. The exact implementation differs from company to company, but the Lean PPM™ framework can be divided into four areas: Strategize, Collect, Decide, and Execute. The following descriptions of these areas should give you a good idea of what they are and how they work.
The aim of this area is to translate your corporate strategy into criteria you will use to assess new project proposals and determine the priority of approved project proposals. Depending on the company, you adjust your rating system every 6 to 12 months in so-called strategy workshops.
Participants: Strategy Manager, Portfolio Coordinator
More about project evaluation can be found here.
In this area, new project proposals are collected and prepared for the decision-makers. The goal is to collect and examine the information needed to evaluate the proposals using your rating system. Typically, new proposals are discussed once a week in proposal coaching sessions.
Participants: Initiators, Portfolio Coordinator
There are three actions that take place in the Decide area:
1) In the monthly Pipeline Review Committee meeting, proposals go through another Q&A session and are finalized. This is the last step before the proposals are presented to the decision makers in Step 2.
Participants: Members of the Pipeline Review Committee, Portfolio Coordinator and, as required, Initiators and Experts from the company.
2) In the Portfolio Board Meeting, the final evaluation of proposals will occur and, if accepted, their priority in the portfolio will be decided.
3) Finally, the Portfolio Board Meeting will also review information from the Execute area to address events from day-to-day business, including resolving unexpected issues that arise. Depending on the company, the Portfolio Board Meeting takes place once a month or quarterly.
Participants: Portfolio Board Members, Portfolio Coordinator and, as required, Project Manager
This area deals with the actual implementation and adaptation of projects and day-to-day business. This is also where the interface to project management lies. It is important to assess to what extent any problems (or unexpected rapid progress) have an impact on the portfolio. In addition, simpler operational issues will be discussed in the Resource Conflict Resolution meeting and Steering Committees. Only problems that affect the portfolio and cannot be resolved at a lower level are escalated to the Portfolio Board.
Participants: Project Teams, Resource Managers, and Team Leaders
Meet Your Portfolio Coordinator
Finally, we would like to highlight the role of the Portfolio Coordinator. You may have noticed that this role is practically always present. The Portfolio Coordinator gives your PPM (and Lean PPM™) process a face. They are the most important contact person and know the different perspectives of all those involved. They don’t just have the project criteria memorized; they were there when the criteria was created. They can help Initiators understand the system and prepare proposals accordingly. They also discuss proposals with the Initiators and can give feedback in the next strategy workshop on whether the project will be accepted based on the evaluation criteria. The portfolio is their baby and like all good parents, they constantly keep their eyes on the portfolio. They catch issues early and are the perfect contact person if something starts to go wrong. In other words, the Portfolio Coordinator is the "grease" that ensures everything in your project pipeline will work smoothly. Of course, your company may be too big for a Portfolio Coordinator, and it's best to set up a powerful PMO (Project Management Office). In this case, the same applies to your PMO. No matter which PPM method you choose - Lean, Full Scale or whatever - treat your company to a Portfolio Coordinator or a PMO.
Regardless of whether your company relies on a Portfolio Coordinator or a full-scale PMO, help them make plans that work by using Meisterplan and the Lean PPM™ framework. With Meisterplan in hand, searching for terms like "Project Coordination" and "Project Organization" will become part of your distant Google Search History. To get started on your PPM journey, sign up for a free 30 day trial of Meisterplan, no credit card required.