When it comes to project management, there are a lot of options available in the marketplace. The challenge is not finding a product, it’s finding the right product to meet the exact needs of your organization. There has been confusion in the marketplace between the various classes of tools and products available and we wrote this article to help clarify the similarities and differences. Read on to learn more about the three categories of solutions available and determine which one is right for your organization.

Whether you are a small enterprise that just needs support for collaboration and workflow management or a large organization with a vast portfolio — or a portfolio of portfolios — hoping to harness the vast benefits of a top-down PPM, identifying and selecting the right project management application can be a difficult process. If the application is too robust for your needs, you end up leaving money on the table by paying for features you will never use. If it’s too simple, you will leave your team underserved and overwhelmed. 

Collaborative Workflow Management

Collaborative workflow management is the first tier in the project management hierarchy, but it still packs a punch when it comes to solving common project management challenges. As indicated by the name, it facilitates collaboration amongst team members and smooths out the bumps that can derail workflow, like lack of visibility, missed deadlines and missing data. A 2018 Forrester report noted that “collaborative work management is essential for digital businesses, which means that even the smallest of businesses can benefit from a project management tool in today’s digital economy. 

Collaborative workflow management creates a centralized digital platform for sharing information and communication, allowing each team member to work on and display their piece of the workflow puzzle to their fellow team members, their project managers and any other invested party.

Who Needs Collaborative Workflow Management?

CWM works well for organizations that have a small number of projects that can be managed easily with a limited number of project managers and that have an expectation that team members will be participants in the management of their individual workflow. CWM works best for teams that need support with centralized document management, scheduling, deadline reminders, progress updates, meetings and communication and for teams with members working in and out of an office environment. Like its meatier counterparts, which will be discussed further, CWM promotes visibility for all parties and keeps everyone in-the-know, no matter where they are. 

CWT Capabilities to Look For:

Plan projects

2. Plan tasks

3. Track projects

4. Integrate with existing applications

5. Provide visibility to stakeholders

6. Collaborate with team members using social posts

7. Share documents within projects

8. Support mobile access to projects and tasks

9. Build and share ad-hoc and scheduled reports 

Project Management (PM) Applications

On the surface, a Project Management Application and CWM may appear quite similar. However, it would be more accurate to say that a PM application is the natural next step in project management growth, utilizing and expanding upon the features common to CWM to expand an organization’s project management capabilities. A PM application should, ideally, increase visibility, collaboration and reporting and put more control in the hands of the project manager by increasing the number of projects that can be managed simultaneously — and managed well.

While collaboration is still critical to workflow, automation of more tasks reduces each team member’s responsibility for managing their portion of the project and also puts more control in the hands of the project manager.

Who Needs a Project Management Application?

PM applications work well for organizations that have a decent number of projects to manage but have not yet reached the portfolio level. Organizations with PMs who need more control over tasks, resources and visibility across more projects also benefit from upgrading from a CWT to a PMT.

PM Capabilities to Look For:

1. Integrate with existing applications

2. Collaborate with team members using social posts

3. Share documents within projects

4. Support mobile access to projects and tasks

5. Build and share ad-hoc or scheduled reports

6. Reporting dashboards

7. Provide high visibility to stakeholders

8. Expanded project planning

9. Provide detailed scheduling

10. Share files between team members

11. Allow for customizable features

12. Expanded budget and resource management

13. Generate automated status reports for individual projects or groups of projects 

Project Portfolio Management Applications

As the highest tier in the project management hierarchy, a project portfolio management application provides the broadest array of capabilities of any project management offering. While CWT and PM applications typically work from the bottom up, a PPM application works from the top down, equipping decision-makers, PMOs and project managers with extensive data and reporting capabilities to help make informed choices every step of the way, from backlog generation and project selection to resource and budget allocation.

PPM applications provide the highest level of visibility, detailed reporting, expansive data and increased control over every facet of project management. They turn project management into a key asset in driving growth and value for the business.

Who needs a Project Portfolio Management Application?

A PPM application is an excellent choice for organizations that have grown to the point that they require a PMO to manage their vast portfolio(s) of projects. They also work well for organizations with multiple complex projects that require an extensive amount of time and resource management. Stakeholders who desire expansive reporting to drive decision-making such as project selection and budget allocation should also strongly consider adding the capabilities provided by a PPM application

PPM Capabilities to Look For:

1. Top-down portfolio management

2. Centralized project data

3. Expanded reporting and analytics

4. Manage and track budgets across multiple projects and portfolios

5. Measure the alignment of portfolios to business objectives

6. Prioritize portfolios based on custom criteria

7. Provide visibility into the stage/status of projects across a portfolio

8. Provide access to system features based on roles and groups

9. Configure dashboards per user, group, department, or companywide

10. Model and compare portfolio options using “what-if” scenario planning

11. Track deliverables and high-level milestones

12. Support risk/issue tracking

13. Measure the value and benefits associated with projects

14. Generate automated status reports for individual projects or groups of projects

15. Configure dashboards for individual projects or groups of projects

16. Manage projects by exception using configurable data boxes

17. Provide visibility into the allocation of all resources

18. Measure the impact of project demand on resource capacity

19. Forecast resource capacity by project and portfolio

20. Centrally assign and schedule resources

21. Manage resources by name or by role

22. Track an inventory of skills and certifications

23. Manage resources by exception to identify under- or over-allocated personnel

As you can see from the long list of capabilities, a project portfolio management application adds a great deal of strategic value to an organization because it allows PMO leaders and executives to have a complete picture of all the projects in an organization and most importantly, to understand how they individually and collectively serve the overall mission. Regardless of where you are on your list of requirements, successful project management is one of the most important functions of any organizations. Ensure that your business reaches its full potential by selecting the best project management application for your needs.

Back to PPM Evaluation, Selection and Implementation.

Rachel Hentges
PMO Influencer
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Rachel Hentges

Rachel Hentges is challenging PMO leaders to think differently about their role. Rachel is the author of key industry related surveys, reports, blogs and more that challenge the status quo of today’s PMOs.