Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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12/12/2013
09:00 AM
Frank J. DeLuca
Frank J. DeLuca
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A Practical Approach To Project Portfolio Management, Part 3

How do you decide whose projects get back burnered? Don't make it a popularity contest. Run the numbers.

In the first column in this series, I said that the question is not "How can we afford project management?" but rather "How can we continue without it?" I laid out the two overarching keys to success. In the second installment, I discussed the first two of the four cornerstones of a prioritization process, assembling a list of initiatives that are important to the business and then prioritizing those projects.

Now let's dig into the final two steps.

  • Assess: The goal is to determine the resource impact of a given initiative and propose approaches to deliver results.

  • Source and schedule: Sourcing defines how we secure and allocate resources, while scheduling determines when we allocate those resources based on planned availability.

Step 3: Assessment
Once you've decided which projects are higher and lower priorities, you need to get an understanding of the resources and time it will take to complete each; it's possible that this stage will motivate you to adjust the project schedule. As I always say, stay flexible. For prioritization purposes, only the initial assessment is needed.

Assessments (or sizing estimates) can occur at several stages.

  • Initial sizing: The purpose of the initial sizing is to give the business stakeholder and executive team enough high-level information to approve, confirm, and do a reality check on prioritization. An initial project request should include a rough estimate for effort and cost ranges, suggested duration, assumptions, risks, and constraints. These are at a high level, with a generous margin of error, and should be completed by a very small team. The purpose for this assessment is to give an idea of the relative cost of the initiative to weigh against its benefits. This data is part of the input considered for prioritization.

  • Detailed estimate: Once a project is approved, it's time to dig into the details. Estimating project work is a time-consuming activity, so limit this step to initiatives that have the highest probability of actually starting as projects in the next 1-3 months. Estimates older than that tend to lose their relevance.

  • Final estimate: This involves detailed line-item estimates and actually allocating resources to the initiative. Project plans and capacity models (discussed later) should be updated as needed, along with a high-level calendar/schedule of projects.

Sample Rolling Project Schedule

Step 4: Sourcing and scheduling
Managing a project portfolio is all about establishing realistic timelines of when initiatives will start and finish. Assessment data is important to this part of the process, as is an understanding of your available manpower capacity. There are several specialized products that can help with this, but you can get started with just a spreadsheet to track the resources available for projects (by skillset) and the resources assigned to projects in flight, spread over time.

The difference between total capacity and what is being used represents the resource pool available to assign to new initiatives. This can suffice as a basic capacity model. The numbers portrayed in the chart show resources as total headcount. For example, under Total Resource Capacity in the chart from part 2 of this series, the number 4.00 in Project Manager Week 1 means you have four project managers available to do work in that week.

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Scheduling
In building an overall project schedule, put nondiscretionary, date-driven initiatives first, followed by important upgrades/releases during the timeframes in which they occur. With this as your base, you can plot resource consumption (from the spreadsheet mentioned above) and determine resources available to support initiatives from your prioritized list. Using the capacity model, build your calendar of initiatives for the next 12 months.

If you're in a bind, consider whether to acquire additional resources through consulting organizations or staff augmentation firms. This is easiest on the technical side. Acquiring business subject matter experts can be more difficult. Or you may slide a lower-priority but less resource-intensive project up in the queue to take full advantage of available resources.

Having a rolling 12-month view of your project schedule provides another tool to help you review changes in priorities brought on by business opportunities, competitive or economic pressures, or other changes that need to be reflected in your business strategy. Having this calendar lets everyone easily see what's in the pipeline and understand the tradeoffs that would be necessary to accommodate changes in priorities.

You don't need sophisticated and expensive software for PMO success. These four cornerstones, a business champion or two, and a spreadsheet will get you started on a project portfolio management capability. This model, adjusted to meet specific needs, has been implemented successfully in several companies. By focusing on these important areas, you will more efficiently use resources, adapt to changing requirements and priorities, and improve the business value realized from your project portfolio.

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