I’m sure this phrase has been used more than Lao Tzu would have ever imagined, but it is one that resonates with us when we speak to customers about implementing a project portfolio tool to support and uplift their project management practices. We demonstrate Zeno.pm a lot and almost always receive positive feedback – which is of course great! What we do find is that although many potential customers see what ‘great’ could look like, they struggle to see how they can get there given the amount of organisational change across people, processes and technology that might be required.

In this series of blogs, I’ll share our thoughts on how to travel this journey. I’ll discuss a number of the considerations that should be worked through at various stages and draw upon some experiences gained from project life pre and post Zeno.pm.

Let’s start with some fundamental inputs into the investment that is about to be made.

1. Why are we doing this?

Due to the extent of change involved, you need to be very clear on why you want to undertake this journey. Do you need a single point of reference for all project and program data? Do you have a system now but upgrading it is not possible/too complex/too costly? Or do you just need to be more agile ‘cos everyone else is?’… Whatever the reason, like any investment, it’s easy to get in and harder to know when to adjust and/or get out. Make sure it is clear as this will underpin the implementation strategy and ongoing use.

2. Who will be consuming this data and what do they need to do with it?

Again a fairly fundamental question to ask, the old stakeholder analysis piece, but nonetheless, still vitally important for your implementation. Reporting for reporting’s sake is

inefficient but the right reports, with quality data, standardised layouts and KPIs/measures used consistently across the PPM world help stakeholders make decisions quickly and effectively. Downstream systems, 3rd party reporting and analytics tools may also be consuming core PPM data so think about these too.

3. What structure makes sense for us across our project, program and portfolio landscape?

What is a project? How do we split out (or include) business as usual activity? This one is challenging and indeed many consulting hours could be spent on different definitions, models and governance overlays. We tend to advise focusing on trying to identify all activity rather than what someone has called a ‘project’. Better to have wide visibility of effort and cost by casting the net more broadly, than potentially missing things. During discovery, look for all significant change activities. Try to use some basics to test these: agreed start date, end date, defined outcomes/deliverables, approved budgets, etc. Collate the data and if you have one, work with your exec/sponsor to agree ‘the’ list. Spending time on the project/program/portfolio relationships right in the beginning can save a lot of rework and potentially mis-information later on, especially if you are looking at data that will be aggregated up to programs and portfolios for analytics and reporting.

4. What is your organisation actually in the business of doing?

Projects and programs are control mechanisms for the implementation of change. Make sure you spend time working with business unit reps/leaders to make sure their requirements are included. Seems obvious, but we often see PMOs creating from the ‘inside out’, pushing reporting and performance measures that make sense in project theory land, but may not be optimal for business leaders to make the decisions they need to. You’ll need these people, so early buy-in to the implementation is critical to ensure support during the rollout and ongoing run/optimisation.

5. Where is the project data now and what state is it in?

What systems, tools, applications and people’s heads are utilised to complete periodic project reporting and performance analysis? Spending some time on this early helps identify ‘nuggets’ of mature, relevant data and potentially process/capability that could be re-used and even uplifted/propagated. Managing projects is about managing a range of variables; how they change over time and reduce/amplify in combination with others. Look for these sources and ensure they align with the key variables you want to start tracking consistently as part of your PPM implementation. Project type and methodology will inform this, but in our view there should be at minimum something like deliverable performance (value, milestones, outcomes), time based performance (schedule adherence, sprint progression) and financial performance.

6. Who will be using the system and what will they be doing?

Similar to number 2, but different as we are now thinking about those people creating the data that will be reported on and used to inform decision makers. Easy to simply say it’s the project/program managers, PMO staff and analysts, but don’t limit it to this. Your PPM tool should draw inputs from SMEs, business leaders, the project community and any one in between. Ideally, seek to have owners of items being responsible for the project data associated with them. For example, while the PM may update the status, milestones, sprint progress etc, let risk owners update the risks and actions assigned to them.

7. What are the right (realistic) objectives and how will you know when you are there?

It’s important to be realistic about gauging progress and this should also be linked to your investment rationale. It can be incredibly difficult to gather all project information as it often resides in silos and business unit-specific information stores. For example, if a key outcome is a single source of truth for all project activity, the first objective might be a master list of all projects, defined start/end dates, a PM and a business owner. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to get even this. The second may be associating a budget to these projects. The third; risks and issues. And so on. Remember this is ultimately about building a project PORTFOLIO, where data completeness, quality, consistency and an understanding of the interdependence between projects, will help decision makers see the bigger picture.

I have no doubt you’ll have considered the above to varying degrees, however these 7 inputs have been a constant in the initiation phase of our implementation playbook and we find working through them greatly increases the chances of a successful first step in the journey of 1000 miles.

To find out more or extend the discussion, do contact me directly at jgumley@zeno.pm.

Please feel free to leave comments.

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