Supercharge Your Project Portfolio Management

By Jeff Monteforte

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Achieving alignment is the first challenge, but maintaining it is another. My experience with big and small companies alike has shown me that the saying, “form follows function” directly applies to PPM. Organizing to maintain alignment, produce transparent decision-making and providing exceptional communication is a requirement for long-term success of any PPM practice.

Whether you have realized it by now or not, portfolio management is mainly about changing the attitude, process and behaviors by which a company selects, prioritizes and funds its IT-related projects. Once you have accomplished introducing a portfolio management process to your company, it quickly becomes apparent that the new process and its activities require dedicated support resources with specific skill sets.

An essential responsibility of the IT organization is to establish open and consistent communication with the business. This is essential to ensure IT is involved in business decisions that will affect IT before positions on projects and selected technologies become entrenched. Additionally, this communication also ensures business leaders are making informed decisions about the total costs and risks of business initiatives.

Bridging the Gap

When combined with the discipline of portfolio management, this early information allows the CIO and business leaders to understand how and if a desired solution is in agreement with and, integrates into, the planned direction of the IT portfolio.

As a best practice, many companies and CIOs dedicate IT personnel to this communication and liaison role with the business. Commonly called relationship managers (RM), these liaisons have the imperative of working directly with business leaders and providing day-to-day planning and portfolio analysis of new applications.

The RMs act as IT’s principal connection with key internal clients defining strategies and tactics, and planning the IT road map that best supports the business goals. In essence, RMs extend the eyes and ears of the CIO throughout the organization. In doing so, they have a critical role in planning the deployment of new technology and assisting business leaders through the stage-gate process of PPM.

Don’t Stumble

One of the most common causes of RM failure is in attempting to move too quickly to the level of partner. Initially, pragmatic service (e.g., expediting the purchase of PCs or getting printers fixed) buys the RM credibility. This does not mean the RM should not initially be involved in business planning, but if this level of access is blocked, patience should be exercised.

As IT gains in credibility, the RM increasingly becomes more of a partner. The progression for IT to move from order-taker to collaborator requires an initial focus on solid execution. This includes disciplines of project management, portfolio analysis, and the establishment of the relationship management function.

Once accomplished and a track record is established, IT can focus on the delivery of new capabilities. In this phase, portfolio analysis may extend to metrics for measuring business value (benefits realization) and communications control put into effect.

Finally, the third stage can be established where IT is a partner with business leadership in proactively assessing new opportunities. At this point, the interface between IT and the business becomes blurred as projects and activities become joint efforts.

Get the Right People

Because the RMs represent the face of IT, as well as the face of the PPM practice, they must know your specific, step-by-step PPM process inherently. The RM should be positioned as the focal point for working closely with the business in the completion of the initial screening stage-gate, the development of the business case analysis for proposed projects, as well as the executive documentation required by the IT steering committee for the review, approval, and funding activities associated with proposed IT projects.

Specific PPM responsibilities that should be streamlined and performed consistently by the RM include:

  • Working with other information technology areas to develop PPM and IT governance policies and procedures.
  • Have strong knowledge of the PPM technical analysis, evaluation methods & required portfolio reports for senior management.
  • Effective execution and management of the PPM and IT governance process.
  • Translation of the business’ functional and information objectives into IT strategic/tactical business plans and systems development requests.
  • Ensure PPM screening evaluations (i.e. alignment, ROI, risk, etc.) are executed in an efficient, effective, and consistent manner.
  • Manage feasibility studies and business case analysis of projects progressing through the PPM practice.
  • Works with other information technology areas to analyze project needs and determine resources needed to meet project objectives.
  • Maintain a strong working relationship with the finance department to ensure effective financial estimates and benefits realization measurements.

    If you've already started down the path of deploying a PPM discipline and you are struggling because of a lack of understanding or commitment from the business, then establishing the RM role may be the key to solving this problem.

    With their inherent knowledge of the IT environment and it’s processes, combined with their exposure and influence with business leaders, RMs can be the greatest assets that bring success to an IT PPM effort. Leverage this essential IT position to supercharge your PPM efforts or get it back on the track to success.

    Jeff Monteforte is president of Exential, a Cleveland, Ohio-based information strategy consulting firm that specializes in IT governance, information security and business intelligence solutions. He can be reached at jmonteforte@exentialonline.com.