Musings from the PPM Front

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak at the Seventh Annual IT Project Portfolio Management Conference organized and hosted by the Institute of International Research (IIR) in San Francisco. Listening to other speakers and having discussions with several attendees reinforced numerous beliefs that I have regarding IT project portfolio management (PPM) …

Software Last, Needs First

Every success story presented at the conference included a common principle; build the PPM practice first, look for automation software last. Companies as large as Sun Microsystems discussed how they manually built, managed, and refined custom PPM methodologies for years before they undertook the process of finding the right PPM tool.

This approach afforded them the opportunity to define explicit PPM functional requirements that could be used to precisely evaluate software solutions—as it should be.

Good Practices, Not Best Practices

Every person has their own unique view of what an PPM practice includes, but there are many common principles that exist across all of these definitions. Because of this, I teach that the best way of introducing a PPM into your company is to start with a proven framework that can be customized to the needs of your organization.

For example, the way one company estimates business value will not be the same way another company estimates business value, but both companies estimate business value.

As part of my presentation I instructed the attendees to understand that when you go to the marketplace looking for a PPM solution, none of them are built on industry best practices. I say this because I believe, when it comes to PPM, there aren’t any best practices to be found—only “good practices.”

It is only after you modify a good practice to fit your organization’s politics, skills, attitudes, and culture does the good practice become a “best practice.” Specifically, your best practice. Simply stated, a best practice is the practice that works inside your company and produces the desired results.

PPM in the PMO?

I found it quite interesting that there was nearly a 50/50 split in responses when the audience was asked if they included the responsibility of PPM within their Project Management Office (PMO) or if they had a separate PPM organization.

While some companies combine the responsibilities of PPM with project management, other companies clearly distinguished the importance of PPM by establishing positions of chief portfolio officer (CPO).

This clearly illustrated to me that the overall disciplines of IT governance are still maturing and that company politics and the CIO’s opinion are the primary forces behind IT management decisions, such as the use and enforcement of PPM.

Simplicity is Best

The most successful implementations of PPM are the ones that introduce and deploy pragmatic techniques. This has been a central principle behind the success of Exential’s PPM Framework and our success in assisting companies with their initial attempts at building PPM practices.

In fact, I have been laughed at by some PPM “scholars” for proposing what they call “overly simplistic approaches”. In the end, Exential looks like the scholar because our models are easily understandable by the IT personnel who have to use them. This makes the communication, education and adoption of the entire PPM practice easier by making it less confusing and less threatening to the IT staffers and the business managers who have to participate in and use it.

Baby Steps

IIR conference organizers shared with me some interesting facts about the conference that got me very excited about the future of PPM: First, the number of attendees increased nearly 100% in a year-over-year comparison to the 2005 PPM event.

With numbers like this do you think that Meta Group’s prediction that, “… fifty percent of fortune 2000 companies will be using some form of IT PPM by the end of 2007” may be a bit low?

Second, the number of speakers they were able to secure for the conference increased by nearly 70%. This is significant because outside of yours truly, there were only two other consultants speaking at the conference. This means all the other speakers were corporate practitioners. The fact that there are so many experienced PPM practitioners that have success stories to share is another excellent sign that PPM is reaching a critical mass.

Just One Part

It became very clear, that while PPM provides excellent insight and management over IT investments, it is not the end-all to IT governance as a whole.

PPM works very well in concert with project management to guide the selection, prioritization and delivery of IT projects, but there are dozens of other IT activities that need oversight, which PPM does not provide. The most mature IT shops have adopted other IT governance frameworks, such as COBiT and ITIL and have integrated their PPM practices within these frameworks.

The Bottom Line

If you’re evaluating the use of PPM in your organization or if you’re in the process of building a PPM practice for your company – you’re on the right track. Do your homework, look for outside help from people who have been successful deploying PPM practices, and don’t force fit someone else’s solution on to your organization. PPM is a growing and maturing IT governance discipline that is here to stay.

Jeff Monteforte is president of Exential, a Cleveland, OH.-based information strategy consulting firm, which specializes in IT governance, information security and business intelligence solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].