Imagine this: Your project landscape is getting more complicated and confusing all the time. Key resources are being booked on multiple projects at the same time. The amount of overtime your employees are working is having a negative effect on overall morale. Despite the hard work they are putting in, deadlines are still being missed at an alarming rate and it seems impossible to deliver projects on time.
This is not an uncommon scenario in any business that has more than one project. Many businesses believe a chaotic and unsuccessful project portfolio is caused by a lack of project data. This leads them to start great efforts to document and obtain as much project portfolio data as possible.
To Data, Or Not To Data?
There are lots of methods and tools that promise comprehensive and complete project data. Different project management tools can record all processes in real time, documentation systems can collect completely new data and make it comparable to each other, and some apps can allow your employees to easily document all work steps through any smart device. You may even utilize a consulting firm to perform a detailed analysis of your workflows and identify ways to be more productive. All of these methods and tools have one goal: give you more project information in the hopes of helping you better manage projects. That sounds great, right? Now that you have all this project data you can finally get your projects under control and on track, right?
Before you jump on the project data bandwagon and start putting RFID chips in your employees, take a quick step back. Is the problem really that you don’t have enough project data? Or is the problem that you don’t have the right project data?
Let’s say you have all the project data possible. Now imagine your only Senior Java Developer is scheduled to work full-time on two different projects at the same time. Is it helpful to know that the Senior Java Developer takes an average of 2.8 minutes longer on her break than the Junior Developer? Or, imagine your company promised a customer a project would be completed in three months, but the development team in charge of the project estimates it will take at least six months. After this promise, a new customer comes along with a new project that only the development team can execute. Does it matter that your Senior Java Developer can type three times faster than any other developer on your team?
You can probably see what we’re getting at. Too much data isn't helpful when managing projects. When you’re lost in the woods, you don’t need to know if you’re surrounded by pine trees or oak trees; you need a map. Successful project portfolio management isn’t about having all the data, it’s about having the right data.
What Data Means For Employees
If our tree metaphor didn’t get you thinking about the right amount of data, let’s look at the problem another way. Sandra Miller is your only Senior Java Developer. Last year, she accumulated 127 overtime hours. Her skills were crucial to two huge projects last year and she was promised vacation after completing these projects, but more projects kept coming up and she just couldn't get away from the job. Ms. Miller is overworked and stressed. She loves her job, but it’s becoming too much. Then you call Ms. Miller into a meeting where a new project management and documentation system is implemented. On top of her 127 overtime hours, Ms. Miller is now responsible for recording every detail of her work. She gets to the office at 8:30 am. Coffee at 8:38 am. Bathroom break at 9:14 am. Meeting at 10:00 am, but it runs 11 minutes late. Do you think Ms. Miller will be happy with the new project management and documentation system? The constant documentation will surely slow down her progress on projects and lead to even more overtime than last year. This will cause Ms. Miller (and many other employees) significant frustration.
One of the best ways to turn a highly motivated workforce into an annoyed, unmotivated one is to introduce unnecessary control tools. When you think about data, you have to think about where it comes from. It’s great if a project portfolio manager can see every project detail of every project, but who do you think has to compile that data? Employees. Most employees don’t look forward to spending a lot of time compiling reports - especially if they are documenting increasingly irrelevant or redundant information. Plus, if employees only grudgingly accept these tasks, the quality of the data generally drops, which only further undermines the integrity of the data. If you are on a quest to get every detail of project data, you will only frustrate hardworking employees who increasingly feel like they are being unfairly micromanaged.
So I Don’t Need All The Data, But What Data Do I Need?
If you’re keeping score, collecting all possible project data isn’t doing so well as a solution to a chaotic project landscape. The best way to successfully manage project portfolios is to provide the right information to the right person at the right time. This might seem like a difficult task, but we’ve actually made it really simple with our Lean Project Portfolio Management™ (Lean PPM™) framework.
How Lean PPM™ Works
Lean PPM™ intentionally supplies project portfolios with only the minimum amount of information necessary. It is comprised of four phases or stages that all take place continually and all phases share data and information. At the center of the Lean PPM™ framework is the Portfolio Board which typically includes senior management and PMO members. The Portfolio Board is the supreme decision-making body and relies on the right data and information from other phases to make strategic decisions about projects. The ultimate goal of the Portfolio Board is to create a successful and attainable project portfolio.
The Stages of Lean PPM™
The four stages of Lean PPM™ are: Strategize, Collect, Decide, and Execute.
In the Strategize stage, senior management determines the business strategy for the organization. Senior management will then agree upon criteria for rating and prioritizing projects based on the business strategy (projects that contribute the most to achieving your business strategy will have the highest score). By using a set of criteria across all projects, it is very easy to compare projects and determine prioritization (which takes place in other stages). More about project scoring can be found in this article about project prioritization.
In the Collect stage, new project ideas are developed. Project initiators (anyone with a new idea) meet with portfolio coordinators to gather all necessary information for proposing the new project. This occurs in proposal coaching meetings where the portfolio coordinator can ensure all projects address the agreed upon criteria from the Strategize phase.
The Decide stage begins with a Pipeline Review Committee meeting. This committee is comprised of experts from different divisions who review individual project proposals from the Collect stage. The committee will review the quality and accuracy of new project proposals and then rank each new project proposal based on the business strategy and criteria from the Strategize stage. Once this is complete, the Portfolio Board will meet to review new project proposals sent to them by the Pipeline Review Committee. You will notice that the Portfolio Board isn’t concerned with how many vacation days your Senior Java Developer is taking this month or how much faster one Junior Java Developer finishes projects compared to other Junior Developers. The Portfolio Board is only concerned with relevant information, not all information! The Portfolio Board now decides on the final evaluation and prioritization of the projects and allocates resources accordingly.
The Execute stage is where the project portfolio is made into a reality. In addition to actually working on and completing projects, this stage also encompasses the constant changes and issues that arise. Steering Committees and project leads take care of issues that arise such as unexpected problems that need additional working hours, resource conflicts and budget constraints. Problems that cannot be solved by the Steering Committees or project leads are sent back to the Portfolio Board in the Decide stage to determine the best course of action for resolution.
Lean PPM™ Is A Piece Of Cake
With Lean PPM™ you can solve your chaotic project landscape and finish projects on time, but here’s the cherry on top: Lean PPM™ is extremely easy to introduce. In order for Lean PPM™ to work, project teams only need to provide a minimum amount of information, meaning the Lean PPM™ framework can be mapped on top of existing processes. Your teams can still use project management tools or any other tools necessary for their work. They can even use different project management methods such as Agile or waterfall methods. This means your teams keep working the way they work best.
At Meisterplan, we understand the frustrations and struggles of plans that just don’t work. That’s why we developed the Lean PPM™ framework for our project portfolio management software. When you use Lean PPM™ with Meisterplan, you get all of the benefits of Lean PPM™ with easy to understand visuals of your project portfolio, real-time scenario planning and simple resource allocation functionality. See Lean PPM™ in action by scheduling a demo or starting a free 30 day trial.