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Project Portfolio Management

Standardize Your Portfolio Attributes to Better Align Strategy and Execution

Published By Guest Blogger
Standardize Your Portfolio Attributes to Better Align Strategy and Execution

The success of your organization’s project portfolio is dependent on several factors, including the alignment of portfolio attribution. Having a standardized view of portfolios is essential in order to make effective business decisions that deliver better business outcomes.

In most organizations, Project Portfolio Management (PPM) investments are significant, and portfolio attribution for strategy and execution alignment is vital. Defining and quantifying various portfolio attributes and following appropriate business processes helps maintain data integrity; this is the best way to visualize the performance of your product, project, services, application, and strategic portfolios. But what does this all really mean for your organization? And, just as importantly, how should your organization do it?

Top-down portfolio alignment is pivotal in establishing common attributes. It standardizes and centralizes a view of each portfolio of projects — and focuses on improving portfolio planning, execution, and value. This helps with resource allocation across an entire organization’s project portfolios and facilitates more informed decisions and prioritization.

As you probably already know, monitoring and reporting on projects can be challenging. Every organization is different in myriad ways: function, size, reporting structures, and so on. Larger organizations also tend to be cross-functional vs. project-centric. Thus, it’s essential to have a solid grasp of the business and a sound methodology that standardizes the organizational layers, business processes, and other portfolio attributes your organization needs to define and track.

A Methodology for Precise Decision Making

Why is tracking so important? Say, that out of the hundreds of requests across your organization only 40% are vetted and leading to revenue-generating projects. That could mean 60% of your resources are being wasted on unnecessary work and you don’t know about it. Tracking is crucial in order to become highly efficient and to avoid losing windows of opportunity and revenue. This can be significant, for example, if too many projects and requests are getting into your portfolio that aren’t getting completed. Establishing more rigor and creating more formality around inter-company and intracompany projects can reduce waste and increase clarity around project delivery metrics.

The goal of creating and applying a standard methodology across your portfolios will be to provide an environment in which business leaders can zoom-in and zoom-out of their portfolios or products, projects, services, applications, and strategies while also supporting measurable performance metrics at all levels of the portfolio to enable effective business decisions. That means a leader can take a quick glance across the portfolio and dive into specific areas of need so that they can make precise decisions that drive clear action. This means your portfolios will shift from a strictly top-down or bottom-up view to more of a living, breathing matrix.

It’s important that the view these leaders get is consistently accurate, timely, and definitive so that decisions they make drive intended outcomes. The benefits of doing so are vast but keeping these top tips in mind should help you avoid any pitfalls.

  • Know where unnecessary noise is coming from across your entire organization.
  • Ensure there are checks and balances in the right places.
  • Make sure that you’re not tracking unnecessary things or things that are not of value.
  • Use rule-based attributes to aggregate data at a higher level.
  • Orient all of your program managers or sub-portfolio managers to enterprise-wide attribution processes. Understanding business processes and linked attributes help drive your business processes.
  • Establish metrics for everyone who is trying to extract information out of the portfolio. Make sure goals are simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely (SMART). This helps with reinforcing adoption and ensures that everyone is doing what’s needed to make that business successful.
  • Leverage data collecting techniques to re-measure progress once information is readily available. This ensures the work that everyone does on a day-to-day basis is in support of strategic imperatives.
  • Ensure there’s organization-wide portfolio visibility to help stakeholders know what’s expected of them.

Attribute Challenges

While some portfolio attributes will be more important to measure than others, be sure to involve the collective organization with functional representation; don’t create attributes in a vacuum. While working as a team should help to avoid unique pitfalls to your organization, in my experience many companies tend to struggle with these four areas. I point out these four because without them it’s difficult to know how an entire organization is being impacted and can hamper your ability to pivot quickly and adjust course.

  1. Project scope: This is a big one. The sizing and the rigor that you need to apply from a business process standpoint when delivering a project is tricky. Organizations may not have an easy way to quantify project size, which could be the hours or cost it takes to deliver the outcome, but it’s important to set a standardized definition of what size means to your organization so that you can measure and report on it consistently.
  2. Non-project work: Understanding what’s happening outside of project work is also essential. Overarching initiatives and deliverables are all part of the responsibilities, administrative duties, and operational activities of everyday work. Leadership should know what these non-strategic activities are to help sort through what is and isn’t necessary.
  3. Cross-analysis: Having a solid grasp of how much your cost centers are supporting your revenue-generating projects is also vital. It involves knowing how much or what’s needed to make your organization run smoothly. A well-designed PPM environment coupled with the right processes makes this easier detect. Being able to measure things such as resource and product utilization can start to drive and validate business decisions, such as the efficient structure of your organization.
  4. Resourcing conflicts: If you don’t know what all of your resources are working on — strategic or otherwise—you won’t know how to ensure that the work that is being completed will deliver strategic outcomes. Take an IT organization, for example. Although the team understands its primary role and function, the team might have to suddenly pivot and support one particular group on a new initiative. With a clear portfolio management view a leader will be able to not only make well-informed decisions on investments of resources but also know how their decisions will impact their people.

Benefits to the overall business, strategy, and leaders

Seeing it through the challenges along the way will be worth it as you’ll begin to see your entire business in new ways. Further, executives and business leaders will be able to make informed and timely decisions that are meaningful to people as they drive precise and aligned action. Here are some specific benefits I have seen as a result of this approach:

Level peaks and valleys

Whether it’s small or large projects, or even non-project work, having a standardized view allows portfolio managers and organizations to clearly visualize year-over-year information to identify natural peaks and valleys across the business. Having the right data allows teams to see trends, such as excess resources during certain months or not enough resources in others. Having access to relevant information helps your project management office (PMO) and business leaders identify things that may not be readily apparent — including whether your organization is getting more or less efficient. Once you start to make those data points sing in a picture, it’s like an orchestra. This helps everyone take a step back to see the final masterpiece. 

Address ‘hot zones’

There are also hot zones, such as comfort zones, that team members may settle into. Taking a look at all of the types of things going on in your organization allows you to quickly identify and correct when someone is falling back into their comfort zone. It’s hard to do a strategic project because, in most organizations, employees often work on activities as individual contributors. Suddenly, they’re thrown onto a project as part of a team, and six months later, you realize the team isn’t going to hit its goals because some individuals were distracted. Being able to see and measure performance across the entire organization — including various hot zones – ensures that each individual understands their role, including what’s most important.

Quickly recognize fluctuations

More significant initiatives tend to have greater visibility — but not always. Sometimes larger projects don’t have the needed rigor which may contribute to initiatives falling behind. As an example, let’s say your organization plans on spending millions of dollars on a project, and you’re expecting a return on that investment in two years. If the project’s delivery is two years late, employees and other key stakeholders should be in the loop — they need to know the impact on the expected return. Without this knowledge—especially if the investment is material to your organization’s budget—it could significantly impact your entire company.

Some examples

While every organization is different – and the attributes and business processes you choose to establish, follow and measure will be unique to your business – here are some examples of attributes and business processes I have seen tracked in different organizations:

  • Attribute Examples:
    • Business Unit
    • Category of Work
    • Expected Outcome
    • Relationship to Strategic Effort
  • Business Process Examples:
    • Funding Model
    • Cost Indicator
    • Anticipate Staffing Model
    • Internal vs. External facing project

Don’t get too comfortable; continuous improvement is essential

Aligning your organization across strategy and execution may feel like a never-ending task – that’s because it is. You will always be strategizing, and you will always be executing, so it should be expected that you’ll always be aligning. Increasing your focus in portfolio attribution aids in developing top-down portfolio management that effectively does this aligning for you so that you can focus on making decisions and become the hero of the organization you’ve always dreamed to be.

While Alyssa has been an employee of Changepoint since August of 2019, she has worked with Changepoint for nearly a decade and lends that experience to our customers as a Premier Solutions Consultant. Before joining she spent over seven years at Radial Inc., most recently as the Tools Configuration Manager for Enterprise Portfolio Management.

With over 15 years of experience, her background includes:

  • Radial Inc. – Tools Configuration Manager, Enterprise Portfolio Management
  • Additional roles included: PMO Program Manager, Omnichannel Operations Program Manager, Sr. PMO Business Analyst.
  • SEI – Business Analyst, Cross Platform Applications. Additional roles included: Business Support Specialist, Business Management Analyst, PMO Admin, Sr. Analyst, Analyst.

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