Project Portfolio Management Software: Focus on Your Business Issues, Not Bells and Whistles

Ian Needs

With over 20 years of experience helping companies drive successful projects, we have seen many organisational change and project initiatives become mired in the selection stage as teams become too focused on the detailed features of a prospective PPM tool —and are not focused enough on their team’s challenges.

It’s a familiar process: An organisation wants a tool to help them re-engineer the way they evaluate and manage projects across the company, so they submit an RFP with requirements, which draws responses from many potential vendors. After this, the company must wade through the sea of responses and create a short list of vendors for further discussion. Of course, every vendor on the short list says, “Yes, of course we can deliver this functionality.” After all this, is the company really any closer to selecting the right tool?

The answer is no, unless they are working with a vendor who, in addition to promising bells and whistles, also lifts the conversation out of sheer functionality and speaks to the core business issues that drove the need for change in the first place. These challenges, not functionality, should be the guideposts for the discussion. What problem are you trying to solve?

Thinking should be centered on making sure that your true business drivers are going to be addressed by the solution, which happens to involve features and functions. It’s not just about the tool; it’s about the right tool and the yin/yang of people and processes.  (Tool and processes work together to address business issues and drivers—you can’t do it with just one or the other.) There is a subtle trap in letting the RFP process change the way you do business and fit the requirements of a software tool, rather than the other way around. True business process management does not come from a bunch of requirements.

Many strategists with whom we work find it refreshing when we drill into the true business drivers behind the search for a project management solution. Having discovered the pain points and helped to prioritise them, we can advise on a phased implementation approach, rather than the “big bang” rollouts that mark too many change initiatives.

This is not to devalue the “bells and whistles” - those features are important, especially to execution-level team members who want to work more efficiently without having their world turned upside down by a feature-bloated solution with a daunting learning curve. But features should not be the sole driver. And as is the case with many a company that is looking to bring in projects more profitably and on time, what is needed as much as robust features is a partner who can help make sense of both the what and the why of project-related initiatives.