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Project Portfolio Management

Project Prioritization with Strategic Work Intake

Questions and answers from Planview’s on-demand webinar with Parkview Health

Planview recently held a webinar with Michael Havison, Portfolio Director at Parkview Health where the focus was on project prioritization with strategic work intake. The On-Demand webinar is called, “Parkview Health: Prioritizing Project Investments with Strategic Work Intake.”

We encourage you to listen to the full webinar, but in the meantime, review the following answers to questions that participants raised during Michael’s presentation.

Michael asked attendees to think about projects as investments when considering what initiatives to prioritize. This was an interesting concept to many, and one participant asked…

1. Question: Project as Investments…can you expand on why you think of projects as Investments?

Michael’s response: A project being an investment is a more powerful statement than just a project is a project under the hood. It means you’ve really done your homework; you’ve done your due diligence to really understand what you’re going to achieve at the end. I came from a project management background and I was always concerned about time, scope, and budget.

  • Did I deliver the project on time, was it in budget or under budget, and did we accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish?
  • What I wasn’t thinking about was what is this project going to deliver?

Once it’s closed and it’s done, it’s going to create some type of product or service, but the bottom line is that it needs to create some kind of return-on-investment (ROI). Now some projects don’t create an ROI, and you should know that up front. As you plan your business fiscal year, you need to understand how you’re going to create more bottom line for the organization. You need to understand why you are working on projects that won’t have an ROI. As a community-based healthcare system, we often choose projects that don’t have an ROI because we know it’s good for the community. But we understand that up front.

Michael spoke about what he calls the ‘Business Case Gap’. Most organizations spend time setting up a mission or vision, creating a great strategy, coming up with goals, setting objectives, and discovering what the magnitude of the project will be. Then, a project is initiated, planning takes place, project execution happens, and the project is then closed out.  Michael then introduces a missing key ingredient where the strategic work intake leads to the foundation that many organizations overlook. He calls this phase of the process, Business Case Development which comes right after the project objectives are identified, but before the project work starts. Here, organizations should spend time converting project goals and objectives into the concept, the proposal – where the money is, where the return is needed, and where the resources are identified. Next, select from a pool of identified projects those that the organization will focus on. Selected projects must be prioritized because the organization can’t work on all selections all at once. Then, when the money is made available, the process continues by initiating the work.

parkview health

2. Question: As the request moves through the Business Case Process, what is the criteria you use to determine which ones end up getting rejected versus moving forward?

Michael’s response: We’ve developed criteria using a scoring model within work intake. We look at two planes of geometry, one is risk and the other, of course, is reward. We’ve got two questions for risk and two questions for reward. I’ve noticed over the years, and even here at Parkview, that you want to keep those criteria to a minimum. If you’ve got too many criteria, then you know what happens? One kind of washes out the other. As we’re going through and doing this scoring, we look at a few components:

  • How did it score for risk?
  • How did it score for reward?
  • What does it look like on the impact diagram (bubble chart of reward versus risk)?

Then, we look at the payback period, at the ROI, and we really look hard at the resources to know if we have the talent that can do the work and get it done by the indicated period. You’ve got to look at multiple things, but the number one thing really is the impact diagram, the questions that we’ve set up, and that overall output.

Michael then introduced a book by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled, “HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case” which he used when creating or building a business case for prioritizing those projects that move forward. He spoke about this book with the next question.

3. Question: For those leadership members that were not always in agreement, or that perhaps were a bit more resistant (to the process change), how did you go about getting them to accept the strategic work intake process?

Michael’s response: Just continued education. Not giving up on them. Some people take longer than others. It’s just a new concept. Portfolio management is one of the newer processes they’ve had to learn, and it hasn’t been around for a really long time in all our organizations.

So, a lot of education, hand holding, and one-on-one meetings are necessary to help business leaders understand and feel more comfortable. We gave them copies of the Harvard Business Review book (Guide to Building Your Business Case) as we met with them. We took them through examples of impact diagrams. But I think the one-on-one meetings and private coaching really helped tremendously, not only for them, but for my team. Just having the ability to go out and meet with them created that relationship to show that they weren’t afraid to ask questions. I like individual face-to-face time. In some organizations that is just not feasible, so virtualization is the next best thing, or a phone call certainly can help. Don’t give up on them. Some take a little bit longer to understand, that it’s really logical, and if you lay this out right it is pragmatic, and they start using it.

4. Question: To help participants better conceptualize Michael’s point, Sherrill Packebush, Senior Product Manager at Planview said, “I think I remember one of your stories before involving fruit. Can you share that story with our listeners?”

Michael’s response: Oh yes, sure! I have a really cool slide I developed years ago. It is basically an impact diagram that has fruits on it…apples, oranges, pineapples, coconuts, all scattered throughout. I ask people I’m meeting with to choose which fruit they want. They pick the ones that are easy to eat and are very tasty. Then, on the next slide I say, “You know what, those aren’t available right now” or “They are available, but the price is $16.00 per pound now whereas last week they were $0.99 per pound, due to a problem with the weather in Costa Rica. So, we’re not going to be able to have that. You must pick another one.” I take them through that exercise and show them how you’ve got to select things based upon some criteria. It’s a fun exercise to go through.

5. Question: How does alignment to strategic objectives play into the proposal process?

Michael’s response: This is a very important component. You don’t want to create proposals that don’t align with your mission statement and you definitely don’t want them to not align with your organization’s goals and objectives. It’s very important that we have questioning throughout the process on the intake forms. For example, there’s one question (our Parkview Diamond) that aligns us back to our mission and goals. It’s extremely important that it does align to Parkview’s goals and objectives. For strategic, the qualification looks like this:

Qualifying Work Intake

6. Question: How often do you re-prioritize, and do you use the same criteria that is used with work intake?

Michael’s response: We set the criteria at the beginning of the year and we never make a change. It’s got to be consistent. Now, there could be times where you want to make a change, maybe market conditions are changing or you want to get into a different line of work, but people need to be notified about that. Have the conversation and make sure you understand the repercussions of making changes.

7. Question: Do you use the same criteria with work intake as when you look at the project later?

Michael’s response: Yes, we do.

8. Question: Looking at the business case process Parkview has implemented, and the fact that there was a culture of never saying “no” where all projects (or as you state, investments) were being worked on, what happened when some of those investments didn’t move forward because they didn’t pan out with a good ROI (or whatever you’re looking for)? How did you handle those cases where projects were denied for internal stakeholders, when previously they were not denied?

Michael’s response: First off, we don’t use the word “deny”. We tell people “now is not the right time for this particular project.” Because our environment is very respectful, and we want everyone to have an opportunity. But, as you can imagine in any business organization, you’ve got one leader that really wants to push his great concept through. The important aspect to remember is that we’re able to quantify now for everyone, and there is complete transparency into that quantification process. So, for example, people are starting to understand that we’ve got three projects that have a 1-year payback period and have a 20% ROI. Now, I understand my project which has a 10-year payback period with absolutely no ROI. Logic and common sense say it’s time to move on those other projects first. So we tell those individuals (with the projects that have no ROI) that when the portfolio is ripe, when all of our projects are in the upper right hand quadrant with low risk and a high rate of return – at that time, it might be the time to bring those other items into the portfolio that have a higher risk and a lower return on investment. It’s all about balancing out the portfolio and educating people. Sometimes, we even leverage old theories like the Markowitz Portfolio Management Theory on having a balanced portfolio. Put it in context of your (own) investments, like your retirement portfolio, making sure you understand the risks to it and as you get closer to retirement you want to be able to minimize risks to your portfolio. We tell them a really engaging story around that.

9. Question: When other departments in the organization or executive leaders consider moving in the direction you suggest, how do you respond to concerns about it taking too long to make this transition and operate in this new way?

Michael’s response: It depends on what you mean by too long. It took us 6 months to get things moving in the right direction. Hire the right people that know the process. Or, reach out to me and I’ll be happy to share with you. Another good choice is to buy into education around portfolio management. There are a lot of good universities that have curriculum as well as the PMI Institute that offers certification in Portfolio Management as well as Project Management.

Sherrill Packebush from Planview adds: If “too long” is in terms of how long it takes to go through a workflow when using a PPM solution like Planview PPM ProTM, there are two things to consider:

1) Workflow actually can expedite the evaluation because, as part of the workflow, there are notifications (reminder emails) so you are getting the information you need to make the right decisions

2) It actually shortens your time and reduces your risks. Especially if you end up identifying that requested work should be placed on hold or not move forward because other work is more valuable at the current time.

Michael adds: The longest piece in the puzzle is creating the proposal for a strategic project. There are a lot of meetings that have to happen, discussions, documentation, and market analysis. For strategic work, there are a lot of artifacts that are generated, but for things that are not strategic, you’ll cut that time by as much as 50-75%. With strategic work you’ll want due diligence to look at the investment. For Parkview Health, it could take anywhere from 2 months to a year to create a proposal depending on how complex the proposal is and if it affects the community at large or just Parkview. There’s a big difference between these strategic projects. Don’t worry so much about how long it takes to do. Think about what you’re going to get at the end of it. That’s more important.

10. Question: How do you handle “emergency” requests that crop up from the highest level?

Michael’s response: It has only happened once this year. We utilized the Gate Skipping feature of Planview PPM Pro to bypass some gates.

11. Question: Do all projects you consider have to have a financial benefit / payback using this Business Case Process, or are other benefits such as customer and employee satisfaction also covered in this process?

Michael’s response: Good question. Criteria can be anything you want. The Project Management Institute’s Guide for Portfolio Management has a page in it for criteria. There must be 40 or 50 of them in the list. Referring to this list will give you some ideas. There are criteria for marketing, customer satisfaction, financial, human resource, and many others. You can come up with your own criteria that makes sense for whatever is important to your organization. If you are a not-for-profit organization, you’re probably not really that interested in Total Return on Investment or Payback Period. It depends on what line of work or industry you’re in. You have the ability to customize your criteria. More importantly, once you get that criteria, make it consistent and use it regularly. Every project that comes forward should use that same criteria and judge those projects based on your corporate mission, vision, goals, and objectives. I recommend that you don’t constantly change your criteria because it suits someone in the organization. It’s got to align, be realistic, and consistent.

12. Question: Do all project requests go through this process? Or, is this unique to strategic projects and do you have criteria that distinguishes between a strategic and non-strategic project?

Michael’s response: Right now, this is just for strategic projects, although we have added a dozen different request types – some are projects, and some are not. We are utilizing the new Planview PPM Pro Reporting Module for not only for projects but for other things as well.

13. Question: How does general “run or maintain” work fit into your portfolio’s?  Are they treated as projects, and how do you measure ROI on them?

Michael’s response: We have multiple portfolios that support our business. We have portfolios for Strategic, Strategic Minor, Non-Strategic, and Maintenance/Replacement. Currently, we create proposals, track them and work on subsequent projects for the Strategic portfolio only. We may develop work intake for the other portfolios later.

14. Question: I am curious about how access is being offered to project requesters. Are all requesters setup as request users in PPM Pro? If so, how many people is that?

Michael’s response: We have our entire organization as request users which is 14,000 people and those that are reviewing work intake are part of the approval process. We also have a different user type called “Stakeholder User” and they can participate in the workflow, add documents, approve or deny, send items back in the workflow, and move items forward.

Be sure to listen to the full webinar for more details on how Parkview Health is benefiting from the changes they’ve made to improve their strategic work intake process and deliver value sooner.

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Sherrill Packebush
Written By

Sherrill is a Senior Product Manager for PPM Pro. She manages the product Roadmap and new feature requirements and design, working closely with customers for feedback and validation, and running the PPM Pro customer inner circle program. Sherrill has over 25 years of experience in requirements analysis, user interface design, and evaluation, focused on promoting customer success and ease of use. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering with a major in Human Factors/Human-Computer Interaction from Texas A&M University.