Burning Questions: Portfolio Planning

Author: John Sherman

In a recent webinar, Plan Your Portfolio Like an NFL Team, we had a number of questions from attendees about portfolio planning. Here are a few of those burning questions with answers.

Question #1: Organizations try to forecast capacity without having any real data (project planning) in hand...how does KeyedIn approach balance the high level capacity planning against the need to really understand the work required to deliver the project?

 Some type of estimate is needed to assess the impact of a project, but KeyedIn does not require a full project plan. Our solution allows PMs to build forecast estimates without the entire project schedule. For scenario modeling, our clients typically have a mix of complete project plans and forecast estimates (especially with unapproved project ideas).

Question #2: What advice do you have for a PMO with a lack of corporate strategy & vision?

This is tough. I’d like to understand further. My initial thought is to approach executive leaders to explain the intent of the organization to optimally select the project mix that will have the greatest impact on the success of the business. In order to this effectively, the team needs to know the strategy and vision. If no one will provide this, the PMO team may need to formulate their assumption of the strategy. While this is out of the norm, it may represent an opportunity. If you have to define strategy yourself, I would start with answers to these questions:

  1. Competitive Category or Blue Ocean? If your firm has created its own category, strategy will likely be very product focused, with less emphasis on competitive strategy (if there are no competitors). If you are in a competitive category, you need to define why customers work with your company over alternatives. What advantages do you have? Do you create more value than other options? Do you deliver your offering at a lower price? This information clarifies where effort should be spent.
  2. Objective: Has a precise, measurable goal been given for where the firm wants to go?
  3. Target Market: Do you have a definition of the target customer? Definition of key partners? Competitors? Other context about the category or industry?
  4. Value Proposition: What problems does your offering solve for customers? How is it done?
    1. For interacting with executive management, you may get ideas from this article titled, "Managing your Boss." https://hbr.org/product/managing-your-boss-harvard-business-review-classics/2288E-KND-ENG

Question #3: What steps can we take to become more strategic?

  1. Prioritization: Develop a scoring mechanism for prioritizing projects.
  2. Portfolio Management: Depending on the size of the organization, you may need tools to analyze portfolio options. "What if" analysis" or "scenario modeling" tools allow you to formulate the mix of projects that will create the most value for firm while remaining within your realistic capacity to deliver projects. Choosing the right projects with the right sequence and schedule affects the ROI of the portfolio more than any other activity. Rockstar project management is always important, and if you are doing the wrong projects, you are not getting the best value of great project management skills and effort.
  3. People (Resource Management): Protect and optimally schedule your people. This is challenging, especially if diverse skill sets are needed to deliver projects. Using good resource management tools will keep you from burning out your best talent and ensure you create value with your most precious asset (effort, or human resource capacity). Make sure you do not take advantage of your star players reliability. The temptation is to overwork the people who already do the most. You can't afford to have them leave.

Question #4: You mentioned having a good process as a key to success, if we don't have a PPM tool in place, what is your recommendation of what should come fist, a good process or a PPM tool?

Yes (both). In theory, you would want to establish good process and then a get a tool to support it. In practice, the exercise of getting a tool often drives an organization's initial adoption of some best practices. We recommend taking a phased approach to implementing new processes and tool capabilities (crawl, walk, run). If you try to jump to advanced maturity practices too fast, you will put your change initiative at risk. By starting with basic functionality, tool configurations will reinforce the new processes. I would do both, while being cautious about doing too much of either in the first phase. Be aware that no cool software features can make up for a poor implementation driving poor process. Before buying any software, I highly recommend you discuss the vendor's implementation methodology and ensure you are working with PPM professionals. Software skills are not enough.

To view the webinar on-demand - click here!