Project Portfolio Management Sales Calls Are Up, But Do You Really Need It?

In an economic downturn, it makes more sense than ever to carefully guard your organization's resources. The value proposition of PPM (Project Portfolio Management), which is the <a href="">project management equivalent of ERP,</a> has never been more compelling. And, if my own experience and that of my peers is any indication, IT managers are getting more sales calls than ever from PPM tool vendors.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

May 6, 2009

4 Min Read

In an economic downturn, it makes more sense than ever to carefully guard your organization's resources. The value proposition of PPM (Project Portfolio Management), which is the project management equivalent of ERP, has never been more compelling. And, if my own experience and that of my peers is any indication, IT managers are getting more sales calls than ever from PPM tool vendors.Putting aside natural cynicism for the moment, even though PPM is more about process than it is software, you do need tools if you want your job to be less painful than pounding nails in with your fist. Question is, are you OK with a $10 hammer, or do you need that $800 pneumatic nail gun?

PPM, while it won't totally break the bank, is expensive enough and transformative enough (which to staff, means disruptive) that you want to be careful. If you are a high volume project shop, the nail gun may prevent you from significant growth in headcount; but if you're smaller, buying that nailgun may be a poor use of resources.

Thinking of succumbing to the siren song of PPM? Talking to vendors like Innotas, Clarizen, Daptiv, Solution Q, and Métier? Better talk to yourself first, and answer some questions to figure out where you stand to benefit.

  1. What's your pain level? What can you not get a handle on that makes you think you need PPM? If you have no issues with competing needs and scant resources, stop here. You don't need a PPM tool. And me and about 150,000 other IT managers want your job, so watch your back, buddy.

    If you do have problems, it's important to name your pain. Typical issues include problems with scheduling (overburdening teams with multiple competing projects); having no visibility into what projects are being worked on (are we working on the right projects?); a need to reduce project expenditures without a rational methodology to do so; and a desire to increase quality of outcomes (and avoid outright failures) by correctly sizing work capacity to project queue.

    By identifying the top 3 to 5 objectives or pain points, you'll be well positioned for a reasonably sized and focused implementation. That is to say, one that has an actual chance of success.

  2. Can existing systems accomplish the mission? Ok, so you need PPM. You still might not need a dedicated tool. Ask yourself whether existing systems could be tweaked or used differently. For example, could a work order system be re-configured to accomplish the objective? Frankly, in simple scenarios, I've seen Excel used pretty effectively; if you've got more complex systems, think about maximizing them.

    Even if you take the plunge and invest in new tools, be aware of ways you can avoid duplication of work. Integration with other systems, while not a deal-breaker for a pilot program, will be necessary for a sustained effort.

  3. What capacity for change does your organization have? Do you have the bandwidth and patience for a pilot?

    PPM is a lot like ERP - it's going to have a lot of tentacles in a lot of places at your organization. Yes, PPM can certainly start in IT, but ultimately, it's going to have to have acceptance by line departments and divisions if you're going to get the bang for your buck.

    If you accept the notion that there are no IT projects, just business projects with technology components (pretty much a good IT governance maxim), then you also accept the notion that all IT projects typically require resources from line-of-business. Therefore, in addition to IT, you need to assess your line of businesses for their capacity for change.

    One practice that fits this notion: PPM vendors generally won't give you a test drive - they claim that folks who just dabble with their tools are ultimately unsuccessful, and that only folks who invest their time in an assessment with their sales consultants will end up adopting.

    I'm not sure that I totally buy that. I agree that organizations need significant self-knowledge to be successful in the process & tools that constitute a PPM initiative. To expand the ERP analogy, it would be insane to simply implement complex software without a somewhat informed approach. I just think that you don't necessarily need an external vendor involved to approach the level of PPM maturity that you need for a successful tool implementation. I do, however, agree with the notion that you need commitment for change before you implement a PPM tool.

Bottom line

There's no doubt that PPM is hot. But, hot means that you can be burned. Approach PPM with the same caution and pragmatism that you approached the many security products of the last decade. If the security boom was any indicator, new project management product innovations will be due for massive consolidation in a couple of years. The tool you pick today might very well be gone or branded something else a year from now. Those who focus on being practical, focused, and on getting real benefits out of a PPM tool in the relatively short term will be the early adopter winners.

Jonathan Feldman is an InformationWeek Analytics contributor who works with IT governance in North Carolina. Comment here or write to him at [email protected].

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About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at

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