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Prioritising and managing for a results-oriented programme and project portfolio

Large organisations often have an extensive portfolio of programmes and projects for IT development. The increasing pressure from the market creates the need to invest in the IT developments that add the most value and, subsequently, implement these as quickly and efficiently as possible. A desire exists, driven by the business agenda as well as the CIO agenda, to be able to prioritise more effectively on various management levels and to make adjustments where necessary.

Effective prioritisation and management of development is hampered by:

  • The lack of a well-founded translation of long and short term ideas to concrete project initiatives with a solid business case

  • Limited understanding of the business value of projects, especially during the development process (are we still focusing on the right priorities?)

  • Little understanding of project and programme outcomes (we have stayed within this year’s programme annual budget of 5 million, but have we really delivered what we agreed to deliver, never mind achieved the business value?)

  • Project execution in large organisations is often aimed at processes ad/or methods at the expense of a focus on the desired (client) outcome. This means that a lot of time and money is spent on activities that do not add any direct value, such as 'filling templates'

  • Information management in projects is not standardised, making it impossible to aggregate information and/or get insights on issues across projects

  • Reports mainly focus on the past (accountability) and less on the future (forecasting), whilst management is all about influencing the future.

So the question is how the IT project portfolio can be better prioritised and can be managed for optimal effectiveness and efficiency.

1. Clear choices and priorities

Establish a clear focus and create clear priorities in the development portfolio, driven by a long-term vision and roadmap from the business

  • The long-term vision is created by or in close cooperation with the business, considered from the long-term ambition and using the present situation as a starting point

  • The vision is translated into a medium-term plan. This medium-term plan has a content perspective (e.g. architecture and information plan) and a delivery perspective (programme plan). The impact on operations is also part of this plan

  • Taking this medium-term plan (road map) as a starting point, concrete projects are initiated, each with a clearly defined business case

  • Ensure a good understanding of the relationship between new and ongoing initiatives in terms of time, resources and risks.

2. Structured information

Ensure a clear definition of the outcome and the project structure, linked to the development methods and technologies.

  • Determine the projects and project phasing in all relevant data systems (financial as well as operational systems)

  • The nature of development (maintenance, renewal, innovation) defines the process (for example, sequential/waterfall, iterative or agile approach)

  • Use a uniform information management system for all projects, so that aggregates and cross sections can be made

  • Record the information in a limited number of source systems: work with 'one version of the truth'.

3. Managing the project outcome
In project boards and steering groups, aim for the outcome - make trade-offs between the scope, quality, time and cost (and risk) dimensions.

  • Approach scope and quality not only from 'internally oriented' parameters, such as function points or the number of defects, but also from the perspective of the client, such as by qualitative assessments of the senior users

  • Present the plan, actuals and forecast on scope, quality, time and cost in coherence in dashboards, creating a focus on the trade-offs between these dimensions. Forecasting is crucial – after all, this regards the part of the project or programme which can be influenced

  • Secure this type of management (and this provision of information) on all management levels, for example, project, programme and portfolio

  • Use clearly defined roles for management, such as in MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) and/or Prince II

  • Use insight into the availability of resources for testing the feasibility of the plans. In practice, there are limitations here. Simultaneously starting several projects with the same crucial resources usually leads to a deviation from the plan. Relatively small, fixed teams are most effective.

4. Impact on benefits realisation and operations
Link the completion of projects to the impact on operations and the benefits realisation. A project brings a change to the existing situation. It is important to anticipate this and to provide insight into the foreseen effects.

  • Focus the user organisation’s attention on realising benefits in the business process by making these clear upfront and allowing them to be a part of the programme. After delivery of the technological solution, a substantial amount of resources and time are often required to optimise the use of the system and for the business to start realising benefits

  • Find a pragmatic way to measure and monitor benefits realisation. This can sometimes be challenging, since operational KPIs are prone to many influences; it is hard to distinct project effects from other effects on operational KPIs

  • Clearly define the impact of development on the operation (in cost, volumes, quality and risk), not only when drawing up the business case, but also prior to the go-live. This means that better trade-offs can be made between run and change (for example, a choice to extend a project in order to reduce disruption in operations)

  • Create a feedback loop: make sure the findings from operations and benefits realisation will be used as input for the road map process for the years to come.

To speak to PA to about how to prioritise and manage for a results-oriented programme and project portfolio, please contact us now.

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