Using PPM Tools to Deliver Adaptive Portfolio Prioritization and Funding

Shawn Dickerson

Panta rhei.

That’s the ancient Greek phrase that Heraclitus of Ephesus, who lived around 500 BC, used to sum up the purpose of life. It means “life is flux,” or for a more contemporary translation, “The only constant in life is change.”

I don’t personally have any tattoos, but if I were the head of a project management office (PMO) these days, I might seriously consider getting panta rhei printed across my forearm. If 2020 did anything (besides giving me a reason to re-learn the guitar), it showed us how quickly a PMO’s priorities could be entirely rewritten in a matter of days.

If there’s a silver lining to all that change and disruption, it’s that PMO leaders saw firsthand the potential of project portfolio management tools to deliver flexible, adaptive portfolio prioritisation and funding. Forward-thinking organisations that already had those tools in place when the pandemic hit and markets slowed, were able to shift resources and funding to new initiatives with only a minimal loss of productivity. Companies that didn’t have those tools in place faced an uphill battle that resulted in months of disruption, and for many, a renewed focus on finding the right project portfolio management (PPM) solution.

For those PMO leaders looking to invest in PPM Tools so they don’t get caught flat footed again during a time of major change, here are three principles you can use to build a business case:

The Right PPM Software Lets You Reprioritize Without the Politics

Project portfolio management tools allow you to objectively score the merits of each project using criteria of your choosing, such as potential revenue growth, cost savings, strategic alignment or customer impact. This approach allows you to quickly deliver adaptive portfolio prioritisation as the market or organizational goals change.

For instance, let’s say you have a prioritised portfolio of projects that’s optimised to deliver the highest value – until a new law goes into effect that has serious compliance implications for your organisation. Simply adjusting the strategic alignment score for those projects that focus on regulatory compliance instantly reprioritises the portfolio based on the impact of the new law and enables quick organisational action to ensure compliance. Later, if some project sponsors are throwing fits about the reduced priority of their initiatives, you can lean on the PPM software to show the tradeoffs that had to be made to accommodate the new compliance requirements…and, you know, not go to jail.

The Right PPM Software Ensures the Most Valuable Projects are Funded

A second way project portfolio management tools enable you to deliver an adaptive portfolio of projects is by funding the most important initiatives. With your project priorities reset, the PPM system cascades those changes to a revised forecast and budget, so the latest priorities have the funding they need to succeed. This swift action helps to minimise the budget and timeline overruns that are usually common with strategic changes. They are the kind of modifications that would take far longer if you’re just relying on shared spreadsheets and email to change direction and then communicate those changes. In contrast, a cloud PPM tool is available to all authorised users all the time.

The Right PPM Tool Ensures the Right Resources are Focused on the Most Valuable Projects

In addition to flexible budgeting, another hallmark of an adaptive portfolio is the ability to assign and reassign resources to the most valuable projects without a lot of lag time. Perhaps a specialised skillset, such as certain software development expertise, is required to execute the new priorities. Using email and phone calls to redirect those unique resources is far less effective than having the updated requirements available to every resource as soon as the priorities shift. Also, in the case of a software developer, your PPM tool can integrate with systems like Jira or TFS to allow those highly skilled engineers to keep working in the system they’re familiar with, while receiving an updated workload based on the priorities and funding enacted by adaptive portfolio management.

PPM Software Supports the ‘Flux of Life’

I have a feeling Heraclitus would have appreciated project portfolio management tools and their ability to absorb and redirect the impact of strategic or market changes. Investing in this unique software solution can be the difference between success or failure when another curveball like 2020 hits the PMO.