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Navigating Modern Project Portfolio Management - Part 1

PART I: Core Capabilities, Plug-Ins & Integration
Read Part 2 of this blog series here.

If you want to know where you’re going, you’d usually consult a map. Back in the day, the map in question would be on paper and only covered a small area. That was handy if you were exploring a limited area. Today, none of us rely on physical maps. Our maps – and multiple versions of it – live in our pocket on our smartphones. Not only do these maps show us the lay of the land, but they also pinpoint where we are, provide us with information about our favourite places and tell us how to get there.

Project Management tools have also been on similar trajectory. Back in the day most project plans were created on paper. With the proliferation of computers, project planning and management began to be digitised. Many used generic tools and created spreadsheets to draw out project plans and registers. For the more sophisticated project manager, dedicated project management tools such as the ever-famous MS Project began to take hold.

The world of project management tooling today has taken several steps forward. While most traditional digital tools used to live on an individual’s machine, today’s leading tools live in the cloud, are offered as Software as Service (SaaS) and can be accessed from desktop and mobile devices. The gamut of capabilities have also grown. Today one can manage an entire project, program or portfolio end-to-end: from ideation to portfolio decisions, projects to programs, waterfall and agile, and everything else in between. Welcome to the world of modern Project Portfolio Management (PPM).

Navigating the world of modern PPM tools however isn’t as straightforward as selecting your preferred navigation app. There are numerous vendors in the market that offer tools that differ by capability, hosting model, commercial model and price. This article calls out a few considerations to think about when embarking on your PPM tool selection journey.

One of the first things to consider is the functional capabilities that are required. Most tools cater for the basic project planning and scheduling as a basic capability while some others offer the true end-to-end experience right out of the box. Some offer a foundational capability set and have the option to bolt-on additional capability plug-ins or supplementary products - more on this later. So consider what you’d need in the PPM capability set as the first step in making a selection.

Agile has been the buzzword in the world of PPM for some time. While its popularity continues to rise, there are still many projects that rely on more traditional waterfall delivery approaches to achieve their goals. The delivery approach is often a polarising decision and most PPM tools tend to favour one approach over the other. For example, Jira is much better suited for an Agile project over a waterfall project. Complicating matters further, many projects choose to employ the hybrid delivery approach that blends a combination of waterfall and Agile attributes, processes and culture. This complication can be navigated by considering the approach bias. Waterfall-biased hybrids for example may need to have hard dependencies and track Earned Value, so a waterfall friendly tool may be better suited. If running sprints however is critical to your project, then an Agile tool may be a better choice.

Some PPM tools allow for enhancements of its capabilities through plug-ins. These plug-ins could either be developed by the tool provider themselves or by a third party. Plug-ins are relatively straightforward to implement and are an easy way to enhance capabilities without cumbersome and costly application customisation. Plug-ins are often not free, so it’s important to consider the cost implication when adding plug-ins to your solution.

Sometimes a single PPM tool may not meet all of your needs. There are situations where multiple tools may need to be combined to deliver the required capabilities. Most leading PPM tools co-exist with a selection of integration capabilities that enables connecting two different applications together. The method of this integration can differ significantly and have major accountability and cost implications. It is generally considered advantageous when two tools can integrate application-to-application without the need for third-party middleware. In more complex implementations, third-party middleware may be required. It’s important to remember that third-party integration usually comes with the responsibility to host and maintain the middleware so ensure that the cost and effort is worth the investment.

There is also growing demand to integrate PPM tools with enterprise systems for consistency, transparency and efficiency. Common integrations include integration with Identity and Access Management (IAM), IT Service Management (ITSM), enterprise finance systems and data visualisation tools. These integrations not only elevate value through synergies from leveraging pre-existing enterprise capabilities, but also unlocks new insights through combined datasets across different domains.

Having looked at the PPM core and extended capabilities, the next part to this article will discuss how information captured and managed can be turned into insights through reporting and data visualisation. The next part of this article will also examine a few non-functional considerations that are crucial to get right.

Advancements in PPM tools have also increased the complexity of tool selection. This is the first of a two-part article celebrates these advancements and is intended to highlight key considerations. References to tools are just examples and is not tantamount to a recommendation. 

Trevor Richard is a Director in Deloitte’s Technology Strategy & Transformation practice. He believes that a great PPM setup bases decisions on facts and greatly sharpens delivery focus.