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Your PPM solution is no longer relevant? Maybe you’re doing it wrong

Embracing a PPM solution is tough work. Jonathan Hassell discusses the difference between good project and portfolio management and “good enough.”

A recent conversation on Twitter saw someone positing that the project and portfolio management (PPM) phenomenon had become irrelevant. An interesting comment, but I have to disagree and say with absolute conviction that a solid PPM solution is still entirely relevant.

Jonathan Hassell

In these days of increased productivity through fewer employees, reduced budgets and business that reaches the far corners of the globe, keeping track of strategic initiatives and multi-action business items that move your organization forward is an increasingly important task.

What may indeed be happening is that PPM is not being deployed or used properly. Like the old computer science maxim “garbage in, garbage out,” the usefulness and success of your PPM software and deployment will only be as good as the time and effort you spend setting it up and adding good data.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind about PPM and obstacles to surmount as you evaluate PPM solutions that you either already have or in which you’re considering investing.

  • PPM is a governance and strategic prioritization tool, not a technology deployment. Often the executive ranks of a company -- particularly those running the business and not necessarily the back-office operations -- will hand over the reins of PPM software and its use to some technology henchmen and then expect IT to deliver business-targeted results to the C-suite based on use. That’s a bit like asking people at Jiffy Lube to tell you what the best car for your money is -- they know how a car works and how to do maintenance, but only you know your driving habits, your family makeup and what you can afford.

    Interpreting PPM tool results -- and gathering the correct data to put into the PPM system in the first place -- is a business exercise, not a technology procedure. Inputting the entire scope of all company projects, strategic initiatives and their related priorities, budgets and assigned and available resources generally requires access to data and business intelligence that isn’t typically under the IT department’s purview. Delegating such important forward-looking tools to IT and expecting them to “just work” is shortsighted and will not result in an effective PPM deployment.

  • To get where you’re going, you have to know where you are. That seems like a simplistic statement, but again the industry has both a set of project and portfolio management best practices and a standardized scale for evaluating where your organization resides in terms of maturity and execution on each of the best practices:
    • Level 1: Ad Hoc
    • Level 2: Reactive
    • Level 3: Defined
    • Level 4: Managed
    • Level 5: Optimized

Recognizing where you are on that scale is a first step. Resist the temptation to define your current position as “success.” Developing a plan for getting each best-practice outcome is the only way to ensure success. 

  • PPM software isn’t a magic bullet. PPM software isn’t a magic button to instantly give you results. It’s a tool, one of many on the path to good results. Just as obesity can’t be cured with a simple pill, obtaining a good overall picture of the status and deliverables of your major projects and initiatives can’t be completed with the installation of one tool. Getting status updates and resource information into the system is a process, and finding the right personnel and rhythm to keeping it updated is also a procedure that must be implemented.

It’s important that the results presented by the PPM software can be taken seriously and used in confidence in executing business decisions.  To have any sort of success with a PPM rollout, ensure that you have a top-to-bottom, left-to-right commitment from business stakeholders to feed good information into the system regularly. Policies and procedures need to be put in place that will emphasize the importance of entering accurate data in a timely manner into the system and the executive suite should be responsible for both implementing these procedures as well as adjusting them as business reviews warrant.

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and, most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.  Contact him at

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