Understanding Successful Project Portfolio Delivery


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Thought leadership explaining the PA Project Portfolio Delivery Effectiveness survey.

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Understanding Successful Project Portfolio Delivery

  1. 1. Understanding successful project portfolio delivery Businesses must transform themselves to adapt and survive in the long-term. Today’s ever quickening pace of change is forcing businesses to remake themselves more frequently to become stronger competitors. Projects are the key vehicle for implementing change, • Delivery capacity – enhancing the capacity to project management is increasingly recognized as an deliver more projects, without increasing cost essential business skill, and successful delivery of an • Benefits realization – achieving tangible organization’s portfolio is critical to achieving its strategic business results regularly and reliably objectives and ensuring its ongoing health. throughout the planning horizon Projects might be the method that organizations deliver • Delivery reliability – meeting expectations new products or services, internal business changes and reliably and ensuring you can deliver on improvement initiatives, technology or IT upgrades and promises every time new functionality – or everything they do (because their • Delivery quality – ensuring fitness for purpose business is about delivering assignments for clients). and attaining a better result every time • Delivery speed – delivering results faster The primary improvement objectives of organizations we (and hence more efficiently at lower cost). have assisted recently may be characterized as one or more of the following: • Strategic alignment – focusing effort on more of the ‘right things’ and aligning better with strategic business objectives Thought Leadership
  2. 2. Do you recognize any of the following symptoms? o There’s a tendency to start everything, but you can’t deliver it all o It’s accepted that projects frequently run late or deliver short of original intentions o Accountability for delivery is unclear o It’s difficult to balance resources between business as usual and project work o You are perpetually short of skilled people; so you employ a large proportion of contract staff o It’s not clear how many projects are on the go, or what effort they absorb o The link between strategy and what the projects are delivering is unclear o Accurate estimating is difficult o You don’t know what capacity or capability exists o Effort is often duplicated o You find it difficult to deliver multi-discipline projects through the functional structure o Processes suit business as usual activity but not projects o Project managers are often regarded as an unnecessary overhead. If you checked two or more of these boxes you might want to take our diagnostic.
  3. 3. Figure 1: Maturity correlates well with effectiveness ‘Entrepreneurial’ ‘Planned’ Effectiveness least mature most mature ‘Informal’ ‘Bureaucratic’ Maturity PA research into portfolio management practices and Research demonstrates a clear their resulting effectiveness has confirmed that firms correlation between maturity which systematically plan for success are more likely and overall effectiveness – to achieve it. A comparison of survey respondents’ performance is illustrated in Figure 1. In other words, with some caveats Clearly certain organizational characteristics, relating to the more an organization puts in to managing its portfolio size, complexity and culture, are also significant factors. of projects, and the means of delivery, the more its gets out. While this was to be expected, there were a number This suggested, to us, the following categorization: of surprising findings: • Entrepreneurial – Success characterized by the • Outliers, very large organizations with apparently extraordinary efforts of talented individuals applying mature processes, reported unsatisfactory outcomes ad-hoc processes and tools – generally in smaller, • Similarly, outliers (generally smaller organizations) with more ‘agile’ organizations. ad-hoc processes, reported more favorable outcomes • Planned – Success was planned for by developing • In addition, while one might expect that the nature and and inserting the right processes, technologies scale of an investment program (ie what is at stake) and people. should drive the need for more mature processes, • Informal – Ad-hoc approach to portfolio development the survey indicated that this was not always the and management has not resulted in effective delivery. case. Certainly the most developed practitioners had substantial project portfolios; however, the two • Bureaucratic – Significant investment in standards, organizations with the largest portfolios had the least tools and processes is not supported by the necessary effective approaches. behaviors to deliver success.
  4. 4. More successful organizations demonstrate capability across all key dimensions When comparing the performance of the most and least developed practitioners, the best performers rated themselves consistently across the range of measures; in other words, they do all aspects well. In contrast, the poorer performers rated themselves poorly in a number of fundamental areas, most obviously in the quality and consistency of business cases. This indicates a number of significant discontinuities in what is essentially an end-to-end process – or perhaps a highly integrated meta-process - but which is not treated as such. Hence, overall effectiveness is vulnerable to the weakest link in the chain. This is illustrated in figure 2. The ‘most developed’ firms exhibit capability in all dimensions and are most differentiated by the: • Strength of linkages between projects and strategies (portfolio management) • Quality of their business cases (the front end of project management) • Proactive considerations of project constraints (resource and workforce management).
  5. 5. Figure : End-to-end consistency is key to maturity Strongly Least mature agree Most mature Ambivalent Strongly disagree ct n s es e in t an ch ar to f im f ua ly ra n rs ct o tt o se le ee oc ibl nt ca cle al pid ch oa en use n s d ts ge od e pr d ca se tw io te co gnifi de pa n re to pr ev ra s d be s ive io c un im em in nt ap es s i ct d ls io an ks ag nt ct le an io s sin ie le ar ol s an ie al je in sil ib rtf ine en m fic se e bu ob ive l er re ex tiv ct ng Ef po s Sc sid Fl lity s Bu ec s je tro es on ua bj ob S sin O C Q Bu Some features initially thought to be essential The issue of project management standards is appear less so: interesting in that, while it is not possible to have highly effective processes without such standards, having • Use of technology-based support systems (tools) them is no guarantee of delivery effectiveness. More to facilitate the process was found to be necessary, important are the values, attitudes and behaviors of but not sufficient to improve effectiveness at most those responsible for delivery. levels of maturity • Similarly, the presence of project management standards does not directly correlate with delivery effectiveness • The formality of the process and the prioritization technique applied were not found to significantly impact the effectiveness of project delivery. On the surface, some of these seem to be contradictory findings. However, at early stages of the maturity curve, technology may be largely irrelevant – more important are defining the strategies to guide project identification and the quality of project definition. At the mid point of the maturity curve where standardization and consistency is required, often technology takes the place of solid governance and often distracts the focus of work towards checklist completion, rather than excellent delivery. At the mature end of the curve, technology is a critical enabler for larger scale, complex environments (ie with multiple projects, or distributed teams and geographic dispersion of activities).
  6. 6. Negotiating your way through We have observed that there usually isn’t much guidance on the prioritization of prescribed practices the delivery minefield and usually no direct matching on how those practices In organizations that deliver many projects, there is can help deliver an organization’s specific improvement perpetual pressure to do it better. This might be because goals. Equally, the focus of the practices is generally their customers want to focus effort on more of the ‘right on the ‘harder’ elements (organization, process and things’, do more with the same (or less) or improve standards), with insufficient emphasis on the ‘softer’, speed and reliability of delivery. people aspects (the really difficult stuff – accountability, team work, careers, learning and development). It is clear that there are many drivers that can contribute to, or impede, overall delivery performance, spanning We contend that a more succinct definition of best the fields of governance, portfolio, project, workforce, practice in this arena (as others) would be a set of resource and financial management. practices that are ‘supremely fit for purpose’. There are a lot of things organizations could do; the real question is Many emerging maturity models are predicated on what they should do. the assumption that “best practice” is an absolute, and if sufficient of the many prescribed practices are To answer this question, we have established a new documented and complied with, an organization’s diagnostic survey as a quick way to find out where to outcomes will be better. While this might be true in some focus your attention. It has been tried and tested in cases, it is rather undiscriminating and might imply a organizations in a variety of industries and geographies. huge and expensive challenge for an organization to contemplate (particularly a relatively immature one).
  7. 7. Figure : Our diagnostic focuses on key dynamics for improvement Adapt Objectives Outcomes ‘what you want’ ‘what you get’ ure Pla as n Me Practices ‘what you do’ It examines three areas: • Objectives: What you want to improve • Practices: How you measure up against key elements of practice that have been observed to contribute to tangible success • Outcomes: What results you currently experience. By understanding the dynamics of how these three aspects interact, we can help you understand how to chart a course to remove key bottlenecks and build a sustainable delivery capability. The survey takes no longer than 20 minutes to complete and once submitted a draft report can be turned around in a matter of days and respondents will have a reasonably robust assessment of their capability and the beginnings of a plan to focus their improvement efforts. You can access the survey at www.portfoliodiagnostic.com.
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