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PPM Gets Your Projects In Line

Project portfolio management is more about process and behavior than tools.

IT project portfolio management can be messy. Picture a consultant selling it to your executives, sticking around for 18 months at $200 an hour, and then running away when things go wrong--leaving you with the broken promises and unrealized investments.

That's too bad, because a practical PPM implementation, sized correctly for your organization, can boost IT's credibility and overall effectiveness. As we're discussing it here, PPM is the set of practices and processes IT organizations use to prioritize their projects. It also defines methodologies for tracking and managing resources, including people and capital investments, throughout those projects' life cycles.

How do you get started, and avoid the disaster we described? PPM software tools can help you track and compare things like budget expenditures, how you're using staff time, what business problem is being solved by the project, and so on. Or a gung-ho staff member could write a tool or manage your portfolio of projects through Google Docs. Or a good consultant can help you define the problem and figure out what you're willing to invest and what your organization will tolerate. In other words, there's no one right way to do it.

PPM tools, even when you're talking about on-premises software, aren't all that expensive--depending upon the size of your organization, you can start for less than $20,000. Software-as-a-service tools, starting at about $50 per month per user, aren't a huge expense either. The dollar cost isn't as big a barrier as the difficulty of changing organizational culture and a limited time budget for trying new things. To maximize your effort, here are nine best practices we've observed.

1. Decide on what problem you're solving and how to know when you've solved it.

PPM is complex, and it can soak up time and money. It can cause people to get irritated with you because you're trying to change their work habits. Why would your people get on board with it if they don't get something in return? That pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will provide great motivation for you and your co-workers to get past the headachey parts of PPM. And, as with any initiative, if you know what the end goal is, you can start to quantify how close you are to that goal.

2. Fit your PPM governance to either a grassroots or top-down approach.

PPM purists (usually those selling consulting services or tools) will tell you that your chances for success are highest when the initiative comes directly from the CEO, and when all organizational projects, not just IT's, are under a project management office umbrella. Ideally, of course, it's best to have the CEO available to knock obstacles down for you. But in the spirit of picking priorities, we suggest that if the problem you're trying to solve hasn't already bubbled up to the CEO, he or she will be reluctant to jump in.

A grassroots approach can work, with a few caveats. Your goals must be pretty modest. That's OK, because it's easier to tackle fewer PPM goals at a time. But be careful if you have more ambitious goals, particularly if you're hoping to push PPM out to all projects, not just IT projects. In a grassroots scenario, you won't be able to use the king's scepter to affect behavior, so you'll need other tools to coax the right behavior out of staff. The way we've seen this play out is for savvy CIOs to build coalitions at the senior management team level.

InformationWeek: March 8, 2010 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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For additional action-oriented analysis on IT project portfolio management, including a listing of key SaaS tool vendors, you can get our 17-page report, $99 for a limited time.

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