Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.
“Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all….” – Oliver Wendell Holmes.
I have developed a reputation within Slalom as a “tool bigot.” My skepticism is well known across the gamut of portfolio management tools, program/project management tools or any other garden variety of project management panacea. For those of you who don’t know me, let me explain. Over the last twenty years I have seen too many corporations make the same mistake: investing heavily in a software tool they believe will auto-magically solve all problems. And, much like Mr. Holmes, I recognize that project management has many tools, but a bad process fits them all.
I advocate a strong process–not a strong tool–as the indispensable prerequisite for managing project portfolios. Typically our clients don’t need to invest in expensive and sophisticated tools to develop a strong portfolio management process. They absolutely need to develop a process that allows the right initiatives to be nurtured, developed, executed or shut down. Then, as the process matures, tools can be added to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The odds for success increase significantly when well thought out process precedes tool selection and implementation.
One of the keys to a strong portfolio management process is the development of detailed business cases. Pro’s and Con’s of projects must be weighed in a standardized, repeatable, scalable fashion. Costs and benefits must be assessed (and “hard” benefits separated from “soft” ones). Timelines, resource capacity, priorities…all must be brought into the mix. And while some of the best tools on the market (e.g., Microsoft’s SharePoint) can make a contribution to information gathering, the tools themselves are less effective without a strong process.
Another key to a mature portfolio management practice is the ability of the governance process to initiate the shut-down of a project. This enables the team to get past sunk costs, strategic drift compensation and overly optimistic project teams who are trying their best to succeed (but who cannot). According to Sarah Fister Gale, in the February PMI Network magazine, “In today’s economy, it’s even more imperative that poorly aligned projects not be allowed to move forward.”
So as you look around your company, be like that other Mr. Holmes (yes, Sherlock!) and ask: Are your teams over reliant on a sophisticated tool that is barely useful as a time tracking application? Is there a lack of process to enable good decision making? Is there even a decision making framework for standardized, repeatable and scalable decision making in support of the portfolio? Or, are there just the sunk costs, annual licensing and on-going support fees for a big tool? While we won’t be able to vanquish all of the tool-dominated project management processes (a.k.a. “sins), we can equip our clients with a better way to “handle” their project portfolios through improved processes.