Case Study: Prepare for Take-off: Setting Up for PPM Success

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While strategic alignment is a common theme in the board room, exactly how do you achieve that? A project and portfolio management (PPM) tool can go a long way to making sure that every project undertaken by an organization supports the bigger plan.

Two years ago MI-GSO | PCUBED began working with a national government agency in Australia. This endeavor involved implementing a new PPM platform to help the agency extend its project management capabilities in order to better deliver on the agency’s mission of overseeing aviation safety and regulation. To get the PPM project off the ground, we took a methodical approach. Here’s how we set up for PPM success.

A Starting Point

A particular branch of this agency, with 30 to 35 project managers spread across multiple regions of the country, had no PPM tool. Individual project managers used Microsoft Project to maintain project schedules and Excel for reporting. PMs could spend up to two full days each month on the process of manually building new reports. Agency directors wanted to gain greater transparency and control over their portfolio of projects and the resources required to deliver that work.

The promise of a PPM platform was that it would consolidate project information into a single repository and improve project planning, reporting and decision making. It would also enforce a common project and portfolio management framework in which to perform activities. The right PPM platform could shrink that two-day reporting project into a couple of hours.

Most of the work being overseen by the PMs at the agency consisted of IT upgrades to applications used to track aviation carriers under their purview and updates to internal programs related to human resources, safety management systems and other functional operations. Managing these dozens of projects was a real challenge. Because the data related to each project was maintained in spreadsheets by individual PMs, agency directors had no way of seeing the entire pipeline of projects, understanding the status of any given project or staying on top of project budgets. Issues and risks were reported, but that information would often end up in a black hole. In addition, Australian heads of government could not easily see how money was being allocated and whether activities aligned with the agency’s strategic, long-term corporate plan. Consolidating all of the data into one place could be a major win for the agency.

Envision the Future

As a first step MI-GSO | PCUBED undertook a vision or scoping exercise with stakeholders in order to understand what the agency hoped to accomplish. Several areas of need emerged:

  • Executive reporting
  • Financial management
  • Resource management
  • Benefits management
  • Governance
  • PPM capabilities
  • Portfolio management
  • Risk management
  • Systems integration

MI-GSO | PCUBED compiled the specifics of each area of need into a table that included columns for the “current state” of operations and the “future state.” For example, under executive reporting, the current state referenced the decentralized approach to project data, the manual effort put into generation of reporting, the inconsistency of data quality and quantity and the misalignment of the data in reports to the people receiving them.

The future state promised consolidated data from disparate sources that could provide a “single source of truth.” Much of the reporting could be automated, and the data quality and quantity could be improved by virtue of better data transparency and availability. Reports could be customized for recipients based on the roles they performed, and their decision-making would be improved because the data could be delivered in real time.

While that table displayed the “before” and potential “after” of deploying the PPM, it also included a ranking for each of the themes. Executive reporting was given a higher priority than financial management, which was ranked higher than resource management, and so on down the list.

Map out the Phases

Although the table provided a look into the future state for each area of need, the agency and MI-GSO | PCUBED knew that rolling out the entire list at one time would be impossible. No organization can digest that much change in such short order. So a further prioritization ranked the timing for various aspects of the project — phase one, two or three.

In the category of executive reporting, for instance, Phase One promised to give PMs a single structured site for managing project information, such as schedule details, risks and change requests. That same phase would give executives and other stakeholders access to summarized information regarding project status and drill-down functionality for more detail. Phase Two, on the other hand, would deliver dashboards and resource management, with a view to improving cost recovery mechanisms.

This prioritization was an important element of the initial engagement. Early on, the agency determined that its deployment timelines wouldn’t be driven by the speed at which the technology could be implemented, but by the rate at which the supporting processes could be implemented and the users could be brought along in the adoption cycle.

Initially, the project leaders settled on a three-month period between each phase. Eventually, we realized that was too aggressive, so we backed off. Yet by continually prioritizing each aspect of the overall project, we knew that the most important pieces of the work would get done.

Following a phased approach had other benefits too:

  • Application of lessons learned. Staged iteration cycles allowed project teams and management to learn as they went along and apply those lessons learned to the next deployment
  • Risk reduction. An incremental approach allowed the organization to test new business processes as they were introduced and let internal staff gain competency and adapt to the changes
  • Matching maturity growth. The functions could be introduced at a pace that meshed well with the capability levels of PMs, ensuring a greater chance of adoption among them

Confirm the Choice of Tool

The agency had already determined that Microsoft Project Server 2010 would be the optimal project and portfolio management tool solution. After all, PMs were already using Microsoft Project Professional. Project Server would bring together their data under the same roof.

Key features of Project Server 2010 that tied back to specific goals in that needs table included:

  • A central view of the projects in the system through the Project Center, with the ability to drill down and see lower level project detail and schedule based information
  • A central view of resources through the Resource Center, with the ability to analyze resource availability and see the current assignments for any selected resources
  • A SharePoint Project Web Access (PWA) site for each project, which can contain a standard entry point for project status reports, risks, issues and lessons learned
  • A number of project-, resource- and cost-based reports, with the ability to aggregate data at the program or portfolio level
  • Portfolio analysis feature that lets an organization select the most appropriate projects, based on specific business drivers, costs, resources and investment return.

An Exercise in Strategic Alignment

Although the PPM project is still continuing along its path of progress, the agency has met several of its initial goals. As one example, all of the data for active major projects now resides in a single repository, providing agency directors with project transparency. Also, individual project managers are increasingly coming around to the use of Microsoft Project Server, particularly as a mechanism for maintaining project risks and issues and drawing executive attention to those.

Setting up for PPM success is itself an exercise in strategic alignment. By laying out the goals of the project in as much detail as possible, prioritizing those, assessing the gap between current state and future state, and making sure the tool can deliver the capabilities needed to achieve your goals, you’ll position yourself well for a successful take-off.

Nick Miller contributed to this article.

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