Communicate Portfolio Value


I recently finished a project helping a CPG organization within a large retail company implement a product portfolio management process. The company as a whole tends to avoid developing business processes, but this CPG organization recognized the need for greater process discipline around its product pipeline and work in-take. Any endeavor to implement portfolio management can be difficult due to the organizational change component, but one factor that makes it easier is to communicate portfolio value.

Portfolio communication is a significant component of good portfolio management and often requires communicating along the four PPM lifecycle steps shown below:

Communicate portfolio value
Communicate portfolio value

However, as it relates to managing organization change, to communicate portfolio value is to communicate how the portfolio process benefits the organization. Success stories must be shared to reinforce how new changes should be welcomed and adopted.

Communicate Portfolio Value Through Success Stories

Within the first few weeks of the new process, a project manager told his peers that the work in-take processes actually helped him determine that a new product he was about to propose was not a good project after all. He elaborated by saying that the extra rigor required him to ask tough questions about the value of the project, which led him to the conclusion that his proposed product was not worth bringing to market! Prior to a product portfolio approach, numerous project managers would have brought forth new product ideas with little governance or oversight. Now, with greater scrutiny over new product proposals, it was easier to determine early on whether a product idea was worth going after or not. This kind of testimony should be widely circulated throughout the organization to help communicate the value of the portfolio process.

Another project manager approached me recently to share another success story about how his project team believed that making a change to a single product would result in a one-time costs saving of $100,000. However, as a result of the increased cross-functional collaboration required by the new Stage-Gate process, the project team discovered that these changes could be applied to an entire product line resulting in an annual savings of $1,000,000. This was a huge win for the team and is another success story to help the entire organization adopt the Stage-Gate/product portfolio process.

Summary

To communicate portfolio value is not just about communicating the value of the portfolio, or of the individual project components in the portfolio, it also involves communicating the value of the entire portfolio process. This creates positive momentum for helping organizations adopt new processes, resulting in greater success in the future.

Who in your organization manages portfolio communication? How effective is the portfolio communication at your company?

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Gate Review Filters


Gate reviews are a critical component of project selection. A winning portfolio must contain winning projects, therefore the project governance board must be able to discriminate between good projects and great projects. The decision gate process enables the project governance board to review these projects based on preselected strategic criteria at the gate reviews of the decision gate process. At each of those gates, important project information is provided to the project governance board to make a go/no-go decision related to the project. Without this mechanism, unnecessary or poorly planned projects can enter the portfolio and bog down the work load of the organization, hampering the benefits realized from truly important and strategic projects.

The ability to screen out misaligned projects is based on the types of decision making criteria used for gate reviews. Another way to look at the criteria is that they act as gate review filters.  For instance, some companies may have no filters and approve every project; another company may only judge projects based on financial contribution and screen out very fewer projects; whereas other companies will makes gate decisions based on financial contribution, investment risk, and resource availability. We can see this by the image below.

Gate Review Filters

Types of Gate Review Filters

There are many types of decision making filters available for companies to use, the key is to apply the filters that match the organization’s current maturity and culture. Let’s take a look at a few gate review filters (not an exhaustive list):

1)      Financial filter: this gate criteria requires some sort of financial analysis to determine the profitability (or value) of the project. Applying financial hurdle rates may be one way of screening out lower value projects. Using financial benefit (e.g. net present value) is one approach to rank ordering projects.

2)      Strategic filter: most companies implementing PPM recognize the need to evaluate projects in light of strategic goals and objectives. However, if the criteria is not detailed enough, most projects can be shown to align to strategy to a certain extent.

3)      Risk filters: risk criteria at gate reviews should really be thought of as investment risk. Detailed project risks may or may not be known, but based on the type of project being proposed and the initial analysis the riskiness (or risk nature) can be understood. Depending on the risk tolerance of the organization, more projects may be screened out based on the riskiness of the project.

4)      Resource filters: a more advanced criteria is resource availability or the utilization of key resources who are currently unavailable. Since many organizations do an inadequate job of measuring resource utilization, this filter may not be used as often.

5)      Portfolio filter: for simplicity, a portfolio filter takes an aggregate portfolio view when reviewing individual projects. It measures what the impact to the portfolio is rather than only evaluating the individual merits of the project. It also relates to the balance of the portfolio (short-term versus long-term, risky versus safe, good distribution among business units, etc.).

As organizations mature their project selection process, more gate review filters (criteria) should be used to ensure that right projects get included in the portfolio. More criteria often means fewer projects get approved which means that the project pipeline more closely resembles a “funnel” rather than a “tunnel” (see this post for details).

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Pipeline Management-Stage Gates Part 2


Stage gates are a governance structure to evaluate, authorize, and monitor projects as they pass through the project lifecycle. In the last post, we looked at the first four reasons for establishing a stage gate process in the organization. In this post, we conclude with the last four reasons for establishing a decision gate process.

5) Greater visibility of important projects
The stage gate process provides much needed visibility to the entire organization of what  projects are being reviewed and what is the current status of each project. Without a decision gate process, it is easy to lose track of projects, and even worse, shadow projects get approved without formal reviews, eroding portfolio value.


6) Monitor the progress/outcome of project work
A stage gate process not only allows greater visibility of work, but also provide a mechanism for tracking progress and status of projects at different phases of the process. Projects that have been stalled in a particular phase or are in difficulty can receive help from , senior management faster because the projects are being monitored.


7) Improves communication throughout the organization
Communication throughout the organization is improved and strengthened by providing greater visibility of projects in the stage gate process. By utilizing a common project language and having a consistent process, employees will better understand the work being done across the company.


8 ) Provides structure to the project management process
Finally, the stage gate process provides structure for the project management process by determining a minimal set of project deliverables needed for gate reviews. Although the decision gate process by itself does not replace a formal project management methodology, it does standardize the process for bringing projects through each review phase, thus reducing confusion and strengthening the project management process.

Do you have a decision gate process in your organization? How well is it working? Let us know.

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Pipeline Management-Stage Gates Part 1


Stage-Gates™ are a critical component of project selection. A winning portfolio must contain winning projects, therefore the project governance board must be able to discriminate between good projects and great projects. The decision gate process enables the project governance board to review these projects based on preselected strategic criteria at the gate reviews of the decision gate process. At each of those gates, important project information is provided to the project governance board to make a go/no-go decision related to the project. Without this mechanism, unnecessary or poorly planned projects can enter the portfolio and bog down the work load of the organization, hampering the benefits realized from truly important and strategic projects. There are eight reasons for developing a decision gate process, and Part 1 looks at the first four reasons:

1.    Screen out misaligned projects
A Stage gate process functions as a filter to screen out poorly aligned projects. Every organization will have more projects than it can execute, which requires the PMT to carefully select which project enter the portfolio. Some projects may look good on paper but are completely misaligned from the organizational objectives and strategies. When organizations have well established evaluation criteria, decision gates are an excellent way of filtering out these misaligned projects.

2.    Control the flow of incoming work 

Stage gates are also a valve to control the number of projects entering into the portfolio. Even if every proposed project is a winner, the organization still has limited capacity to execute the work. Therefore, projects need to be initiated at the right time so that the organization is not overloaded with work. This process works in parallel with portfolio planning (discussed in the next chapter) to authorize projects at the right time.

 

3.    Enables management to direct (steer) the scope of project work
Stage gate reviews afford senior management an opportunity to direct the scope of projects. There will almost always be more than one way to execute a project. Mature and successful organizations review the statement of work for each project and identify “must have” versus “nice to have” components of scope. This is important because it gives the PMT options when selection projects and does not force them into making “all or nothing” decisions.

4.    Evaluate and prioritize workload
Stage gate processes provide decision makers with project deliverables that contain key project information. The deliverables themselves ensure consistency in the process and helps ensure that a good project plan is in place. This information also directly feeds the prioritization process (which will be discussed in a later chapter). Without good project information, prioritization is inconsistent and poorly conducted. This information also helps the PMT commit the right resources to the right projects at the right time.

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Project Pipeline Management


Project pipeline management is an important component of project portfolio management (PPM) because it encompasses the work needed to “select the right projects”. Pipeline management involves steps to ensure that an adequate number of project proposals are generated, evaluated, and screened out at various stages of the intake process that meet strategic objectives. There are four major sub-components to pipeline management: ideation, work in-take processes, and Stage-Gate™ reviews illustrated in the figure below.

1) Ideation
Ideation is the process by which new project ideas are generated. This is slightly different from the work in-take process by which project requests are formally brought forward to a governance board. Ideation is important for collecting the best ideas from the organization, for collecting a sufficient number of project proposals to generate higher quality projects, and to maintain a healthy organization by engaging employees to submit their ideas.

2) Opportunity Management
Opportunity management complements ideation and further strengthens the project selection process. Some ideas may be great, but for one reason or another, the timing is not right or some other constraint makes the execution of the idea difficult or impossible. For this reason, organizations should establish a “parking lot” of good ideas waiting to enter the project pipeline. This parking lot is really a collection of all of the opportunities waiting to be captured.  The processes for managing opportunities are similar to the processes for managing risks except that opportunities are future events that could produce positive outcomes for the organization. Opportunities often fall into the “should do” or “could do” categories, but enable organizations to achieve more or perform better than planned. Without an opportunity management process, organizations risk losing visibility of potentially beneficial future projects.

3) Work In-Take
The work in-take process refers to the steps of developing a project proposal and bringing it to the governance board for a go/no-go decision. This process works in conjunction with both ideation and stage-gate, but can also be a standalone process. When used with ideation and Stage-gate, the work in-take process helps bridge these other two processes together.  The work in-take process is important so that all project proposals are created in a consistent manner with common tools and processes. The unintended consequences of not having a work in-take process include organizational confusion, time delays, and quality erosion.

4)  Decision Gates
Decision gates (also known as Stage-Gate™) are a critical component of pipeline management. A winning portfolio must contain winning projects, therefore the portfolio management team (PMT) must be able to discriminate between good projects and great projects. The decision gate process enables the PMT to review these projects based on preselected strategic criteria at the gate reviews of the decision gate process. At each of those gates, important project information is provided to the Portfolio Management Team to make a go/no-go decision related to the project. Without this mechanism, unnecessary or poorly planned projects can enter the portfolio and bog down the work load of the organization, hampering the benefits realized from truly important and strategic projects.

Project Pipeline Management

 

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Project Pipeline-Funnel or Tunnel


Project pipeline management is an important component of project portfolio management (PPM) and involves steps to ensure that an adequate number of projects are being evaluated and screened out at various stages of the intake process to meet strategic objectives.  Other factors such as organizational budget and resource capacity also come into play so that the organization is not overloaded with work, which can be a risk factor for completing organizational and strategic goals.

The question you should ask yourself today is whether or not your organization’s project pipeline resembles a funnel or a tunnel. In theory, as projects pass through the work intake process, those that do not meet key criteria or are deemed of lower value should be screened out. This would cause the project pipeline to look more like a funnel (shown below).

Project Funnel

Unfortunately, in reality, this is not often the case. I know of one large Fortune 500 company that killed three times (3x) more projects after they were authorized than when they were initially being evaluated.  In this case, there is hardly a funnel, but more of a tunnel (shown below)  in which most projects get approved. This can cause organizational chaos since more work is authorized than people have time to work (a capacity management issue).

In a future post we may explore success factors for managing the project pipeline, but for now it is sufficient to highlight two success factors: strong strategic leadership and clear screening criteria. When senior leaders can say “no” to projects for the right reasons, this will foster a leaner project pipeline and healthier project portfolio. Clear screening criteria make it easier for senior leadership to say no to misaligned projects, which requires a solid understanding of organizational goals and objectives.

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Greater Value From Portfolio Management Systems


Portfolio management systems have a very real place in making PPM processes successful. These systems have the potential to drive value in a number of ways, some of which are highlighted below:

1) Enterprise repository (“single source of truth”)—having a single system that contains up-to-date and accurate project and portfolio data is valuable. Gone are the days of maintaining multiple versions of static Excel files that contain the current “authorized” list of projects. This value is magnified the easier it is to access the system and the greater the number of users who access the system.

2) Process enabler—on top of merely storing project and portfolio data, portfolio management systems can better enable portfolio processes through workflow automation. This is particularly useful for stage-gate project reviews that have a number of review steps and need approval by multiple parties.  Portfolio management system can also better enable project management and capacity management processes. Thus the tool reduces the amount of work needed to carry out these processes, reducing lead time and costs.

3) Portfolio tools—portfolio management systems commonly come with tools that make portfolio management easier overall. One clear example is portfolio optimization, which is difficult (if not impossible) with spreadsheets and other databases. Portfolio management systems can make this otherwise difficult job easier by providing the tools needed to effectively get the job done.

4) Reporting and analytics—one of the greatest benefits of utilizing portfolio management systems is to get accurate and up-to-date reports on the status and health of projects, programs, and portfolios. Buying a portfolio management system and not utilizing the reporting capabilities or analytics is like buying a car with only two gears—you’ll make progress but not as quickly as you will by providing decision makers with insightful information and up-to-date reports.

The critical question then is, “how much value are you getting out of your portfolio management system?” If the cost of the system plus the cost of entering data plus the cost of maintaining the system exceeds the value of the information coming out of it, senior leadership either needs to reconsider its ways or change its portfolio management system.

As we discussed in an earlier post, leadership plays a huge part in making sure the right data gets fed into the system at the right time. Yet, leadership plays just as big of a role in making sure the organization gets value from its portfolio management system. Let’s quickly review the four areas where companies can derive value from portfolio management systems and the potential risks.

1) Enterprise repository—if employees and managers do not access the system often, or if there are competing places to get similar project and portfolio data, the system loses value.

2) Process enabler—if project and portfolio processes are not regularly followed, then the effort to load the system with data to enable those processes is a waste of time.

3) Portfolio tools—if the organization does not leverage the tools available in its portfolio management system, then it paid extra money for tools it doesn’t use.

4) Reporting and analytics—if senior management does not pull reports and use the data, then all the effort to ensure that quality data is going into the system is a waste of time. Even worse, if management does not communicate that it uses the data and demonstrate how it uses the data, the organization easily becomes skeptical of the value of portfolio management.

What value do you currently get from your portfolio management systems? Have you encountered any of the problems mentioned above?

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Prioritization Matrix


In a recent LinkedIn discussion, questions were asked about the short-comings of prioritization matrices. I would like to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of using such a tool for portfolio management. Firstly, a prioritization matrix differs from a more traditional scoring approach in that it offers a limited number of priority selections. The most simplistic prioritization matrix has three choices, low, medium, and high. Of course, to be effective, every choice should have some predefined criteria. Otherwise, the matrix is of little value because decision makers can have wildly different views for what is of high importance versus low importance.

Strengths
Prioritization matrices have three primary strengths: simplicity, speed, and applicability to all types of work. Prioritization matrices are easy to understand and simple to use. Calculations are not required for determining the relative priority of a project. Basic criteria should be developed for each part of the matrix, but once complete, decision makers can apply the criteria to various types of work. Because of its simplicity, prioritization becomes a much faster exercise and allows decision makers to quickly distinguish important projects from less important projects. In addition, various kinds of work can be prioritized using a prioritization matrix. With a traditional scoring model, it is difficult to evaluate “keep the lights on” type of work, but with a prioritization matrix it is easier to compare priorities for project and non-project work.

Weaknesses
Prioritization matrices are unable to produce a rank ordered list of projects in a portfolio. At best, such a matrix can provide a categorical ranking of projects in the portfolio, but this won’t help prioritize projects within the same category. Prioritization matrices cannot do a good job of evaluating projects based on multiple criteria, and therefore cannot do a thorough job of distinguishing important projects from less important projects. When evaluating multiple large projects, a scoring system will provide a more accurate analysis over a prioritization matrix.

When Should a Prioritization Matrix Be Used?
Prioritization matrices are good for organizations new to the portfolio management process. Due to the simplicity, organizations can quickly get the benefit of prioritization without spending the time to do a thorough scoring of each project. Even in organizations where projects are scored and ranked, prioritization matrices can be used for “pre-screening” purposes to do a preliminary prioritization. This would be commonly used in a stage-gate process before a formal business case has been developed. A governance team could quickly determine a categorical priority for the project at an early gate review. Prioritization matrices can also be used to triage large volumes of project requests to focus the organization on the hottest projects. I have seen this approach used in an organization that received a high volume of small project requests. In this case, scoring would be an over-kill; the organization just needed to determine the most important work at that time.

Priority Matrix Sample

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What Are We Optimizing? Part 1


Portfolio optimization entails all the steps necessary to construct an optimal portfolio given current limitations and constraints. These steps occur repeatedly in the portfolio management lifecycle and work in tandem with Stage-Gate processes for selecting the right projects. The purpose of optimization is to maximize the portfolio value under certain constraints. Understanding and managing these constraints is critical for making portfolio optimization a useful component of the portfolio management process.

We can optimize a portfolio in multiple ways:
1) Cost-value optimization (aka ‘efficient frontier analysis’)
2) Resource optimization (aka ‘capacity management’)
3) Schedule optimization (project sequencing)
4) Work type optimization (portfolio balancing)

The question then is, when we are optimizing the portfolio, what is it that we are optimizing? Many portfolio management computing systems promote efficient frontier analysis which commonly focuses on cost-value optimization. However, as useful as this is, it does not often take into account resource optimization, schedule optimization, or even work-type optimization.  It is possible for portfolio systems to include some of these constraints, but most are not advertised in that way.

Furthermore, it is fundamental to understand the limitations and constraints on the portfolio, for without knowing the constraints it is not possible to optimize the portfolio and maximize organizational value.  The constraint for cost-value optimization is the available budget. This helps us determine an optimal budget based on limited financial resources. The constraint for resource optimization is human resource availability. This can be measured in a number of ways and will be discussed in another post. Optimizing against critical resource availability is recommended. Schedule optimization is focused on project timing and dependencies. Work type optimization is focused on categorical designations (i.e. portfolio balancing—how much do we want to invest in key areas).

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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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