Achieving alignment is the first challenge, but maintaining it is another. My experience with big and small companies alike has shown me that the saying, “form follows function” directly applies to PPM. Organizing to maintain alignment, produce transparent decision-making and providing exceptional communication is a requirement for long-term success of any PPM practice.
Whether you have realized it by now or not, portfolio management is mainly about changing the attitude, process and behaviors by which a company selects, prioritizes and funds its IT-related projects. Once you have accomplished introducing a portfolio management process to your company, it quickly becomes apparent that the new process and its activities require dedicated support resources with specific skill sets.
An essential responsibility of the IT organization is to establish open and consistent communication with the business. This is essential to ensure IT is involved in business decisions that will affect IT before positions on projects and selected technologies become entrenched. Additionally, this communication also ensures business leaders are making informed decisions about the total costs and risks of business initiatives.
Bridging the Gap
When combined with the discipline of portfolio management, this early information allows the CIO and business leaders to understand how and if a desired solution is in agreement with and, integrates into, the planned direction of the IT portfolio.
As a best practice, many companies and CIOs dedicate IT personnel to this communication and liaison role with the business. Commonly called relationship managers (RM), these liaisons have the imperative of working directly with business leaders and providing day-to-day planning and portfolio analysis of new applications.
The RMs act as IT’s principal connection with key internal clients defining strategies and tactics, and planning the IT road map that best supports the business goals. In essence, RMs extend the eyes and ears of the CIO throughout the organization. In doing so, they have a critical role in planning the deployment of new technology and assisting business leaders through the stage-gate process of PPM.
One of the most common causes of RM failure is in attempting to move too quickly to the level of partner. Initially, pragmatic service (e.g., expediting the purchase of PCs or getting printers fixed) buys the RM credibility. This does not mean the RM should not initially be involved in business planning, but if this level of access is blocked, patience should be exercised.
As IT gains in credibility, the RM increasingly becomes more of a partner. The progression for IT to move from order-taker to collaborator requires an initial focus on solid execution. This includes disciplines of project management, portfolio analysis, and the establishment of the relationship management function.
Once accomplished and a track record is established, IT can focus on the delivery of new capabilities. In this phase, portfolio analysis may extend to metrics for measuring business value (benefits realization) and communications control put into effect.