How to Improve Project Intake
Select your PMO Leaders above and explore the questions and answers below for comprehensive insights into how to improve project intake.
What are the most common challenges you’re hearing about project intake processes?
The two biggest challenges that I hear are actually two opposites of each other. One is not having a process at all and the other is making it so complicated that people are looking for every excuse possible not to follow that process or engage in that project intake process.
So not having one at all means you’re missing key opportunities to answer really important questions about the project, intended benefits of the project and how you’ll know your successful. That’s clearly a problem because you are almost guaranteeing that that project is set up for failure right from the start because you don’t have any information what it’s going to take to make sure that project is successful.
The other side of the coin and something I’ve seen PMO leaders do too often is having a project intake process that is so complicated that people will do everything they can to avoid it. When you make your project intake process super complicated or time consuming, you’re just creating barriers to entry, barriers to PMO services and capabilities and barriers to adoption.
You have to make sure whatever you do is one you have a process and two you don’t have a process that will turn people away and have them looking for excuses not engage. Keep it simple. Ask basic questions and then use that opportunity to guide them further in building out the business case and answering questions around what the project is going to take to be successful.
What market trends are you seeing driving the need for project intake processes?
We’ve recently identified a shift of how PMO leaders are being measured. They are no longer being measured by on-time, on-budget, but rather delivering the most valuable projects and driving the business forward. So how can organizations do that? Through an effective project intake process. By defining a project intake process that aligns with the strategic initiatives of the business, your PMO will be able to ensure the projects in flight will ultimately execute on the strategic goals of the business. An intake process is crucial to defining and identifying the projects that will deliver the most value. The role of the PMO has shifted to become a strategic value driver of the business and an effective project intake process supports just that.
How does maturity level of an organization impact project intake capabilities?
Observing the intake process is a very strong indicator or organizational maturity. Immature organizations will struggle to create intake requests consistently, there will be gaps in the information provided, a lack of clarity about what’s needed, etc. Intake will likely be a standalone process that isn’t integrated into prioritization and delivery, and it won’t be trusted by anyone in the organization. This can have a knock-on impact that results in shadow IT, a lack of trust between business and technology stakeholders, and a lack of collaboration when delivering work.
In contrast, high maturity organizations will not only have an effective intake process, the contents will be reviewed and updated regularly, intake will be integrated with everything from work delivery to strategic planning and all stakeholders will have a shared understanding of where everything sits and what the plans are for resolution.
Why is project intake important?
Project intake has become increasingly important for the PMO to address. But why? In the recent PMO Outlook Report, 44% of PMO leaders cite their PMO is measured by delivering the most valuable projects and driving the business forward. With almost half of PMO leaders being measured by those two things, the project intake process is absolutely crucial to doing both of those things. PMO leaders need to start thinking about project intake as a strategic process to align the PMO with the organization’s initiatives and ensure that the intake process defines the projects wholistically so only the right projects are being put through for execution.
How would you recommend tackling project intake if you’re just starting out?
Project intake for a new process really requires everybody’s input. Oftentimes in the project management space, we think of ourselves as the receivers of the request and we build the process to support that, but what I think we should do is when establishing a new process is reach out to those who are going to be submitting projects into the intake process. Get their input. Talk through the process with them. See what tools they would like to use, what is convenient for them, the timing for this, how to respond back to them. Understand your customer because ultimately we are going to be doing their projects and we want to know their inputs to the project intake process.
What is the main goal of project intake?
The main goal of the project intake process is to answer two questions: “What is the business problem we are trying to solve?” and How will we know we are successful?” In there, you are going to uncover things like why did they want to do this in the first place, specific data points on success and what it’s going to take to do the work. But, first and foremost, you need to know what business problem which really gets to why are we doing this and then what does success look like Ultimately, it turns into metrics that you can use to determine if you are still on track to achieving those metrics and if you’re going to see those business benefits at the end. Another key place that PMO leaders aren’t looking is that whole lifecycle of the project process – look outside project execution and understand how do we set these projects up for success right from the start. Get clear on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’ll know we are successful. Then at the end, you need to measure what you said you were going to do and the business benefits you said you were going to get align with the cost you said was going to get there. If you do that, you will be off to a great start with your projects.
What does an effective project intake process look like?
Intake should be one of the simpler processes that organizations deal with. It only needs to capture work requests in a consistent manner. The specifics will vary somewhat from one organization to the next but generally should include:
- What is being requested
- Why it’s important (customer issue, operational issue, improved efficiency / effectiveness, innovation, strategic priority, etc.)
- High level estimate of size (may simply be large / medium / small at this point)
- High level estimate of complexity (again three-point scale works)
- Any deadline for completion where appropriate
What tools/processes can organizations implement to solve for project intake challenges?
Each organization is unique so the challenges you face leading your PMO will be your unique challenges. While the challenges are unique to your organization, there certainly is some level of commonality across organizations. I’ll start by saying at The PMO Squad we always work to address and improve process before tools. A great start for any organization with project intake challenges is to conduct a Gemba Walk. In many engagements we find that PMOs build processes without fully understanding the impact to the broader organization. A Gemba Walk with your stakeholders is a great first step to identify the challenges and opportunities from those involved in the process from start to finish.
How does the right approach to project intake impact the business?
In the recent PMO Outlook Report, we’ve discovered that there is a disconnect between how the PMO is measured and what defines project failure. To ensure your PMO is setup for success define your project intake requirements based on the goals of the business. By ensuring alignment during the intake process, this will ensure that the business and the PMO are on the same page and both rowing in the same direction. By aligning initiatives upon intake, this sets up the PMO for success and ultimately ensure that project KPIs and in sync with driving business results ultimately eliminating garbage in, garbage out projects that don’t drive business value.
What steps can organizations take to solve for project intake challenges?
The most important step that the PMO and organizations as a whole can take to solve for project intake challenges is make the barrier to entry low. Keep the process simple. Most organizations and many PMOs try to overcomplicate things and therefore lose the intended benefits. Keep it straightforward. Keep it simple and make it easy for people to engage. If you have a 45 question form, I guarantee people are going to go around you and say they don’t need the PMO or anything else the PMO provides because it’s too complicated and they don’t want to follow your process. Remember the purpose of that project intake process to help ensure that the projects are set up for success right from the star, so if you don’t have answers to really important questions like what business problem we are solving, why it’s important to solve that problem and how we will know we’re successful you’re going to are setting yourself up for a lot of confusion including the risk of never being able to achieve those benefits.
What is the role of the PMO in project intake process improvement?
The role of the PMO with project intake of course varies from company to company. Some organizations don’t even have a PMO, but if you do have a PMO and you’re looking to improve your process and try to make it as efficient as possible – set your boundaries. Understand where the PMO span of control and their scope comes into play. You may, for instance, only receive the project and then it goes into a prioritization process afterwards that’s outside the scope of the PMO. Make sure that all parties involved in the process from beginning to end know their scope, know their role of the process, and who’s going to receive what, who’s going to get what from an output perspective and who has influence over the process to make improvements.
What are commonly asked questions about project intake processes?
The PMO Squad has developed the Project Management Journey which is a roadmap of milestones all organizations travel as they mature their organizational Project Management capability. The first milestone on the journey is Ad Hoc Project Management, which is the informal delivery of projects by Accidental PMs and trained PMs who are working independently across the organization. Leaders find the structured approach to project delivery beneficial to the company and request these steps become repeatable and consistent.
This leads an organization to the second milestone on the journey, Standardizing Project Delivery. In this stage of maturity, we start to see Project Intake defined and implemented. Some of the common questions and objections on Project Intake include;
- Which projects are included?
- What information is needed to submit a project request?
- How do I know if my work is actually a project?
- What do all these project management terms actually mean?
- What happens to my request after you receive it?
- Who can I contact for a status of my request?
What roadblocks do teams face when trying to get better at project intake processes?
The biggest barriers to success are created by a lack of consistency. Either teams don’t know how to create an intake request in a standard manner, they’re not clear on when intake requests are needed, or they try to circumvent the process. That wouldn’t be as bad as it usually is if those actions are corrected, but often there is not only no proactive education on what the process is and why it’s important, there’s also no attempt to realign any missteps.
In addition, some organizations find that their intake process isn’t driving their work. Either items ‘go missing’ before making it to prioritization (if there is a prioritization process), they are continuously pushed down the list without explanation, or they are skipped over. This lack of communication and explanation can be a real barrier to improvement and a catalyst for people to ignore the process.
How to get internal buy-in for proper project intake processes?
The key here is to do change with people instead of to them. Instead of imposing process to people figure out the best process to lead them on the journey. Any process you create you must make sure that that process is as simple as possible and easy to follow including setting up the people who need to go through the process up for success by standing by them and staying with them on the journey. If you want people to resist the change that you’re doing, tell them the process. If you want to see success with any process you’re trying to create be sure that the stakeholders understand what it is that you’re doing, why it is important, how it specifically effects them and how going through the process will help them achieve their business benefits faster, with less frustration, and ultimately achieve the intended return on investment.