Be Sure To Use The Portfolio Data


Data represents a major facet of successfully implementing project portfolio management (PPM). In a previous post, I discussed how data drives the portfolio management engine and some of the key components for getting good data into the tool. Some important portfolio data types includes: financial data, resource data, schedule data, and benefits data. Leadership plays a pivotal part in the whole process from determining which data is needed to using the data for better decision making. This post will concentrate on the last part of the process—how to use the portfolio data.

Use the Portfolio Data

Data quality is never perfect at the beginning of a portfolio management process. Collecting data takes time and effort, and with so much demand on individual’s time, people do not want to waste time collecting data that is unnecessary or won’t be used. This is why it is so important for senior leaders to use the portfolio data. When leadership uses the data, they will understand what data is truly needed for higher quality decision making. Moreover, once the data gets used, the gaps in the data will be readily apparent and will give senior leaders an opportunity to reinforce the importance of the portfolio processes (that collect the data in the first place).  However, using the data is only the first step in a three step process. Next, leadership needs to communicate that the data is being used.

Communicate that You Use the Portfolio Data

Communicating that the portfolio data is being used is a conscious effort on the part of the senior management team, but is something very easy to do. It can also easily be overlooked. Think about it. Project managers and resource managers can put data into the PPM system not knowing if it is simply going into a black hole or is actually helping the organization. Without communication, they may never hear whether the data is actually being used. A prime example occurs with resource data and capacity management. In order for capacity management to be successful, good data is needed, which takes a lot of effort by project managers and resource managers. If the project managers and resource managers do not believe that the data is actually being used, there will be less effort going forward in entering and maintaining the data. Even when an organization is mandated to use a PPM system, the data can be compromised by a small number of people who do not take the process seriously. Communicating that the data is being used is necessary for reinforcing the importance of the portfolio processes, yet senior leadership needs to take one more step—demonstrate how the data is being used.

Demonstrate How You Use the Portfolio Data

Communicating that the data is being used is good, but demonstrating how the data is being used is even better. This will send a clear message to the organization of how important it is to maintain accurate and up-to-date information in the portfolio system. If the data is being used to drive decisions around strategic project investments, staffing plans, bonuses, etc., then people will be more likely to spend the time to enter, update, and maintain the data. However, if the data is used to create a report that merely scratches the itch of a curious executive, then the people involved with the portfolio processes won’t have much interest in making sure that the data is accurate and up-to-date.

Using portfolio data, communicating that the portfolio data is being used, and demonstrating how the data is being used are the responsibilities of senior leadership. None of these steps are difficult, but need to be taken on a regular basis if the organization wants to be successful with portfolio management. Collecting data comes at a price, and if the data isn’t being used, it is better for the organization to stop wasting its time and focus on things that move the organization forward. A small amount of effort on the part of the senior leaders can go a long way toward making portfolio management successful and useful. Data is the fuel that runs the portfolio engine. Bad data will clog the engine; good data will help the organization sail forward. Using the data, communicating that the data is being used, and demonstrating how the data is being used will not only make the difference in being successful at portfolio management, it’s also smart business.

 

Use the portfolio data
How to use the portfolio data

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The Right Portfolio Data at the Right Time


From a very pragmatic point of view, getting the right data at the right time is at the heart of good project portfolio management. If the right data is not available for decision makers to use, the issue will be mediocre results at best. Portfolio management is about selecting the right projects, optimizing the portfolio to deliver maximum benefit, protecting portfolio value to ensure that that value is delivered, and improving portfolio value by maturing organizational processes. At every step, data is required. The quality and quantity of data correlates to portfolio maturity. Some less mature organizations will collect insufficient data which leads to sub-optimal decisions. Other organizations may try to collect too much data before they are ready to utilize it and can do more harm than good by burning out employees with burdensome processes. Mature organizations will have the discipline and rigor to collect the right amount of quality data.

Therefore, understanding the data needed upfront is a success factor for portfolio management. There are several types of portfolio data:

  • Strategic data
  • Resource data
  • Schedule data (forecasts and actuals)
  • Performance data
  • Financial data (estimates and actuals)
  • Time tracking
  • Request data
  • Etc.

Senior management bears the responsibility for identifying the right data to be used in the portfolio management process. In addition, senior leadership needs to drive the accountability for collecting the right data. Without active engagement and feedback from senior management, data quality can suffer.

Organizational processes are very important for ensuring that the right data is collected. Selecting the right projects requires that good data is collected about each candidate project. Such data must be relevant to the senior management team that makes portfolio decisions. Data that is not used for decision making or information sharing is considered a waste. Collecting data comes at a cost, and organizations need to put the right processes in place in order to collect good data. From this angle, portfolio management processes are about collecting a sufficient amount of the right data. Without good standards and processes, important portfolio data will be collected inconsistently resulting in confusion and possible error.

Portfolio tools have a very important place in the portfolio management ecosystem, but only after leadership has identified what is required and lean processes have been created to facilitate data collection. Portfolio systems store and transform project and portfolio data for general consumption (aka reporting and analytics). For less mature organizations with fewer data requirements, simple portfolio systems such as Excel and Sharepoint can be used in the portfolio process. Maturing organizations should select portfolio software that meets the needs of its data requirements.

Lastly, senior leadership needs to use the data in the system for making better portfolio decisions. Strong portfolio systems will generate the reports and analytics necessary to support better investment decisions. Good data is the fuel that makes the portfolio engine run! Without good ‘fuel’, senior management will be unable to drive the organization toward its strategic goals. The data perspective of portfolio management begins and ends with senior leadership.

Data-Perspective-of-PPM

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The Need to Develop a Deep Understanding of PPM


Portfolio Management practitioners need to thoroughly understand the implications of various portfolio management practices and disciplines. I read an article last year discussing the misapplications of Lean principles. In contrast to other companies, Toyota’s success with the Toyota Production System is rooted in a deep understanding of the principles and theories so that they can adapt the principles in new situations. Unfortunately, wannabe Lean practitioners (or Six Sigma practitioners, or Theory of Constraints practitioners, etc.) may barely understand the basic theory and principles (but completely lack a deep understanding) and end up misapplying the methods or fixate on tools. The end result is that the methodology is criticized as not working well.

I think we could make a similar case for portfolio management. People commonly talk about various tools such as prioritization without fully realizing the cultural change and governance required or the breadth of influence portfolio management can have on an organization. When well executed, portfolio management can touch many sectors of business not limited to: finance, sales and marketing, engineering, information technology, and operations. Walking in sync with the various functions to make better decisions is a large part of what portfolio management is about. When people fixate on portfolio mechanics, or worse yet, on portfolio software, the whole organization may miss the boat.

With any kind of management discipline or quality improvement methodology, having a deep understanding of the principles and theories is very important in order to best apply the principles to a given situation. One person likened this to teaching someone how to drive a car; there are standards and rules to follow when driving a car under normal circumstances, but during unusual circumstances, an expert driver may adjust the way he/she drives in order to accommodate the conditions. A similar view could hold true with portfolio management—the application depends on a deeper understanding of the methodology. Unfortunately, people are often too quick to develop a deeper understanding and rush into applying the tools. Some time later without realizing the intended benefits, the methodology is blamed rather than the persons who improperly implemented it.

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Checklists Plus Discipline Improves Portfolio Quality and Efficiency


Atul Gawande, a well-respected surgeon, is the author of The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Done Right. The book is focused on using checklists as a means of improving quality and reducing defects in such areas as hospitals, businesses, construction projects, airplane flights, etc. Moreover, a number of gripping stories help to convince the reader of the benefits of using checklists across these varied disciplines. The entire book is fascinating and deliberate on its message of using checklists, but the book takes a very interesting turn in chapter eight to see the application of checklists in the business world.

In short, checklists=discipline. The checklist helps business professionals be as smart as possible and helps teams improve their outcomes without any increase in skill (p. 168). I love these quotes because it shows that anyone can improve their outcomes today through the use of a simple tool. In the age of complexity, simple tools like a checklist can give someone an advantage over people who think they can remember all the critical details all the time. Using a checklist doesn’t mean that someone no longer has to think about basic tasks, rather, it marks the most critical steps (steps that should never be missed) so that more time can be devoted to the critical thinking, based on experience and training.  Sadly, many surgeons (and business professionals) have ignored the checklist because they want to ‘be in control’ and not bound by something that appears to be petty.

Chapter eight also highlighted the experience of three investors who used checklists when evaluating companies in which to invest. They noted that the checklists improved their efficiency, allowing them to comb through far more prospects because by the third day it would be very clear which companies were worth continued evaluation and which ones should be dropped. This compares very well with project portfolio management and the benefits of using a checklist at gate reviews. When due diligence is performed, misaligned and doomed projects can be caught earlier on so that critical resources can be put on winning projects. If organizations are disciplined enough to learn from past mistakes and capture the potential pitfalls of projects, they could significantly increase the value delivered through the portfolio of projects. To repeat, this requires discipline.

In my experience as a portfolio analyst, I have seen checklists used in various ways:

1) Project deliverable checklists to ensure that the right deliverables are produced at the right time.
2) Decision-Gate content check lists to ensure that the right information is communicated during gate reviews.
3) Implementation checklists to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken (e.g. training, documentation, support) in order to implement the project solution in production (operations)

Here is the link to the surgical checklist produced by the World Health Organization discussed in the book:
http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241598590_eng_Checklist.pdf

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