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Poor Project Management: Strategic Alignment

perm bazWrong choices, we’ve all made them. For example, the perm I had when I was at university, it seemed like a great idea at the time. But on reflection, it never should have happened. However, the topic for this article isn’t a countdown of the worst hairstyles (subjective), it’s about making informed choices when it comes to project prioritisation. Jeremy Clarkson (and senior stakeholders within organisations) might prefer the “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” selection method, but it’s not always the best approach.

Beset by delays and ballooning costs, and the software part of it was never finished. The government was also criticised for not demonstrating value for money.

That’s how the National Programme for IT was described when it was terminated in 2011, having overspent by approximately £9bn.

So why does this happen? From experience it could be a range of things, i.e. lack of a business case, pet project criteria, poor governance the list goes on.

With hindsight this could easily be addressed. You could approve a project, jump to the future to see if it was worthwhile i.e. delivered the anticipated ROI and benefits if so, go back to the future and change nothing, apart from the perm.

So how do we acquire hindsight that we can act upon to change the future? Well, to start with we need a flux capacitor and a small amount of plutonium to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed to enable time travel! Oh, we’ll also need a car (preferably a Delorean) that can hit 88 miles per hour! But I know what you’re thinking, changing the temporal timelines could be disastrous, and you’re quite right! That’s why within this article we’re not going to provide instructions on building a time machine.

How can we prioritise and strategically align Projects?

I sense your disappointment of not learning how to build your very own time machine within this article, but there is still another way in which you can ensure you’re selecting the right projects!

You may have guessed this already, especially if you’ve been reading the “poor project management” series, Microsoft PPM (Project Online & Project Server) can help you do this! So if you’re looking to ensure:

  • Projects are strategically aligned
  • Provide the best value for money
  • Make best use of your resources

Keep reading!

So, in this the last in a 4 part series looking at how Microsoft PPM can help you overcome the biggest PM pains organisations face we are going to explore the features available to help your organisation achieve a better approach to portfolio analysis. This is quite a large topic, therefore the articles intention is to provide an introduction to the general benefits not an exhaustive overview.

Just before we delve in to Microsoft PPM and the Portfolio Analysis module, let’s take a step back to understand where exactly this ‘prioritisation’ step fits in to the project lifecycle. Let’s assume we have a simple lifecycle that consists of the following phases which you’ve set up using an Enterprise Project Type:

  1. Create
  2. Select
  3. Plan
  4. Manage
  5. Close

Generally an organisation would expect to start reviewing and prioritising all of the projects that were proposed during the ‘create’ phase within ‘select’, prior to approving them to progress on to ‘plan’.

For a project to be submitted for analysis we would expect it to have a schedule that’s resource loaded with generic resources & cost information along with a completed Strategic Impact form which I’ll get to a bit later. This however is just one option, covering all of them (there are a few) is outside the scope of this article.

The journey to setting up Portfolio Analysis generally starts with defining a set of business drivers, which are used to assess a projects strategic value and to assure that project selection supports the organisational strategy.

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis ONE

Once the business drivers are established, they’re grouped in to “driver sets”, each department might have its own driver set. The reason for this is that each department will no doubt have differing priorities, some drivers may have higher or lower importance i.e. “Improving Employee Satisfaction” (desirable) might be very important for HR, but FINANCE might favour “Reduce Expense Base” (undesirable). So when they start prioritising projects within their departments, they can ensure their priorities drive the analysis and that the most appropriate projects are prioritised.

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis TWO

Once the business drivers are established, and the Project Impact Statements (scoring scales) have been defined, the Strategic Impact form (PDP) becomes available for users to complete as part of their business case development before they submit for review.

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis THREE

When the PMO, or department heads are ready to start prioritising the project portfolio for let’s say the next 12 months, they simply create a new ‘Portfolio Analysis’. Within this step as you can see in the image below there are options available for creating project dependencies, again a detailed topic!

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis FOUR

As part of the creation process you can specify which department it belongs to, which driver set is to be used, which projects are to be analysed, cost constraints, planning timeframes, resource constraints and much more!

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis FIVE

With the portfolio analysis underway, Microsoft PPM firstly provides a simple list of all of the projects ranked in order of priority, which for some organisations is the end goal. For others this is just the start as they seek to analyse projects from both a cost and resource perspective.

Within ‘Analyze Cost’, you’re presented with a list highlighting all of the projects selected for prioritisation, a summary of total cost and a couple of reports which for example highlight driver importance and proposed spend within the portfolio.

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis SIX

Within this area you have the option to revise the ‘total cost’ figure and enter a lower budget and then recalculate to determine which projects provide the best value for money and should be approved versus those offering less value which are consequently ‘unselected’. Whilst the solution will provide recommendations there is the option to manually ‘force in / out’ projects which need to be complete for perhaps regulatory reasons. Each scenario that you create can also be saved, and compared.

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis SEVEN

Once you’ve completed your cost analysis and optimised the list of projects you’d like to run you can ‘Analyze Resources’ to see how many resource you actually have available to complete those projects. As an example, the initial analysis might state for the budget you have you can completed 31 projects, but when you run the resource analysis it might transpire you can only actually run 2 of them, as everyone’s overworked. Now you have proof that you need more resources!

Microsoft Portfolio Analysis EIGHT

As with the cost analysis, you have the option to see if you can undertake additional projects by increasing resources. So if you wanted to see how many projects you could run with another 5 resources, the solution will recalculate, update the number of approved projects and inform you which resources you need during which timeframe and what the associated cost would be. Apart from this you also have access to a number of useful views that show you resource deficits / bottlenecks and impacted projects. Within Analyze Resources you can also run a number of what if scenarios to see what the impact would be of rescheduling projects.

When you’ve optimised the project portfolio based on cost and resource, you’re ready to commit the portfolio and push all of the projects on to the next phase. This literally requires you to click the ‘commit’ button, it doesn’t get any easier!

The key point here is that the committed projects have been selected objectively, not subjectively which should help ensure better alignment and increased ROI.

Improve your Project Management

In this introductory article I wanted to provide a high level overview of the Portfolio Analysis capabilities within the Microsoft PPM suite, and demonstrate how you could transform your project selection approach. As mentioned earlier this along with the other topics I’ve covered within the series are quite substantial in scope and whilst an article provides a general summary, a live demonstration will provide a more comprehensive overview.

We run regular webinars and can also offer both online and onsite demonstrations of Microsoft PPM, so if you’d like to explore how they can benefit your organisation or department, contact us today!

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