Agile planning starts with leadership, but it also has to reach the lower-level execution stages as quickly as possible.
There’s a need to more closely integrate leadership and delivery functions in order to improve the quality of project delivery. This is a critical element of agile planning, and in this post I want to look more closely at how that integration occurs, focusing on how strategy drives execution.
We discussed the concept of enterprise agility—the need to adjust and evolve strategy to respond to threats and opportunities in the organization’s environment. This results in strategy being a very fluid notion: While there should be directional consistency in the medium term, the specific strategic goals will evolve continuously as customer demands, market opportunities and operational necessities shift. This must result in similar ongoing adjustments of the projects that are the mechanism for delivering that strategy, in order to maintain alignment between the benefits being delivered and those that are required.
For that process to be effective, it cannot involve all of the decisions being made at the strategic level. That would not only consume too much time and effort analyzing change, but it would also separate decision making from where the knowledge and understanding of the projects that need to absorb those changes resides—the execution level.
Instead, decision making on the mechanics of the changes necessary to maintain alignment with strategic goals must exist within the teams that are delivering those projects. Project managers and their teams must be empowered to change project elements to ensure their initiatives still deliver “on benefit” even when that benefit has evolved from what was originally envisaged.
This distributed decision making is challenging for both leadership and project functions. Leaders are relying on relatively low-level teams to make decisions that impact their ability to succeed, while project teams are faced with the responsibility of making such decisions.
This is where the project management office (PMO), containing effective portfolio management, comes into its own. Before any specific project starts, the focus is on creating an appropriate project delivery culture, preparing teams for frequent change in constraints, resourcing and purpose, and ensuring project managers have the skills, knowledge and context to facilitate the decisions those changes require.
Once project delivery is underway, portfolio management must act as a catalyst for effective communication between leadership and project teams, and that has two elements:
Minimizing the time it takes for change communication to flow from leadership to project teams
Maximizing the ability of teams to process that communication
This is a balancing act and an example helps to illustrate the point.
In theory a leadership team could decide that they need to increase their revenue target by a further $5 million and just communicate that to the project team. This can happen almost instantly, but without more context or explanation it will leave those project teams guessing on the right approach.
A better approach is for project portfolio management to slow down the message in order to improve the ability for it to be processed correctly. Discussions between portfolio management and leadership around where the revenue should come from (if it matters), why the change is happening, whether other priorities can be compromised, etc., will help build a full picture of what is happening and why.
Combining this knowledge with the skills of an effective, modern, business-focused portfolio management function enables the message to be delivered to teams, with the full context required for them to quickly review options for adjusting their work and select the best one. That in turn minimizes the disruption on progress, reducing the cost of the change and therefore the cost of value. The key to success is to build a modern PMO that is at the heart of the agile planning concept. This function can then maximize the benefit it offers project teams while minimizing the time needed to add that value.
It’s not easy running project finances, with all the requests for reports, limited insight into work and contending priorities in the portfolio. To better understand how Clarity PPM helps finance managers overcome day-to-day challenges, we reached out to CA’s very own finance expert, Linda Chase.
Linda uniquely combines experience with project and portfolio management (PPM) software and finance and operations. She has been in the software development industry for the last fifteen years with a variety of senior level product management positions. Most recently, her role with CA is a senior product manager Clarity PPM. Linda also brings over 10 years as a financial and operations officer for publishing and direct marketing companies in Colorado.
We started our discussion by asking Linda to complete the sentence “Clarity PPM improves the capability of financial managers by…?
“Enabling planned costs to be correctly mapped to cost categories at the beginning of a project for both capital and operating expenses,” said Linda. She went on to explain that “aligning these costs at the beginning of a project ensures financial category accuracy throughout the life cycle of the project. The ability for project managers to see line item transaction costs during project cost plan analysis keeps the project manager and the finance manager speaking the same language in discovering problems early in a project cycle.”
This is something that many organizations forget when it comes to project delivery. These organizations expect project managers to deliver projects against a fixed, and often aggressive, budget but they do little to create an environment that makes it easier for that to happen. This is a key advantage of CA PPM, it is built to make that alignment easier, allowing organizations to engage finance and project managers easily without having to define the way the relationship works.
We asked Linda to tell us why that was important to finance managers and her answer demonstrated the importance of this relationship between finance and project management – “finance and project managers are in constant communication. Knowing the financial categories are correct speeds up the process of facilitating project financial accuracy. Less errors and journal entries are discovered and needed to align the financial numbers into the correct buckets. As project managers work with finance managers, the ability to review the financial transactions to communicate and ask questions simplifies and speeds up the process.”
In other words, it’s important for finance managers because it’s important for project managers and improves the performance of the project as a result. By extension, that also means that accurate and accessible financial management information is important to organizations as a whole. As Linda puts it, “financial accuracy it critical to any project. If numbers are not in the correct category or errors not discovered early enough, the business is making decisions on wrong data. Keeping these cost plans in sync with the financial system is critical to running a smooth operation and making sound decisions.”
This really is the bottom line. Organizations today are facing a world that is constantly changing, where technology, competitors and customers are continuously redefining what is possible and what is expected. In this environment organizations must make decisions quickly and confidently, knowing that they are acting on the best possible information. With investment budgets limited and the need to generate a return on investment crucial, accurate, complete and timely financial management capability is vital to organizational success. Clarity PPM understands that, and it delivers in a way no competitor can.
If you’re reading this you're interested in PPM. You may have a solution already, or you may be looking to implement one. And every vendor will tell you theirs is different. But when you ask how it’s different you don’t get much – a different interface, a couple of workflow variations, but that’s about it.
Clarity PPM really is different. Clarity defined project portfolio management (PPM) processes in the early 2000s and our competitors are still working to refine them. We’ve moved on, recognizing that traditional PPM approaches in isolation don’t work anymore because of the way the world has evolved.
We view PPM not as a series of different functions, loosely tied together, but as a single integrated platform that makes it simple to get work done, usable in the real world to simplify that work and powerful enough to make business more effective. We achieve that with a number of powerful elements.
Roadmaps bring executive driven top-down planning to the table to provide a results focused addition to traditional bottom-up planning. Clarity PPM is accessible to all users, regardless of their background, allowing all business leaders to spin up projects in minutes. Those projects can then be managed intuitively with task boards and scoreboards that allow relevant information to be shown in ways that work for each person.
Team collaboration eliminates the administrative overhead of long meetings, providing meaningful digital collaboration that allows for the sharing of information in ways that work for teams. In addition, we free those team members to work whenever and wherever they want with integration of key functionality like time tracking with mobile devices. We then power the entire platform with business intelligence and analytics to create a solution that truly supports innovative growth.
If you want a simple, usable, powerful solution that works with you to achieve success, you need Clarity PPM.
In a recent study, McKinsey found that 84 percent of executives thought innovation was an important part of their growth strategy, but only 6 percent were satisfied with their innovation performance.
To be successful organizations must deliver solutions to their customers that are innovative, but they must also consistently deliver them in less time than their competitors. So how do you do that? How do you constantly innovate while reducing the time from idea to solution?
The answer is in how you plan. You must ensure your product development is always pursuing a well-defined, strategic, growth path. That’s where the idea of product roadmaps come in. A roadmap defines the broad direction your products will take as they evolve, providing guidance to short term project efforts.
Project teams can then focus on delighting customers’ current demands, advancing the product along the roadmap, and delivering solutions that leverage current technological capabilities in ways that have never been achieved before. When product and project teams have to reinvent what innovation looks like with every release the chances of failure increase. When they can use roadmaps as their guide, the right solutions become much easier to define.
Of course, those roadmaps have to be defined in the first place. Organizations must invest in innovative product managers who not only understand their markets and customers, but who are also prepared to challenge accepted norms, asking "why not" whenever a new opportunity arises.
Innovative roadmaps, executed by innovative organizations will result in consistently innovative products and services that delight customers and drive sustainable value.
We recently published an eBook that looked at some of the challenges faced by resource owners when working in projects today.
Building from that we wanted to understand how Clarity PPM helps project managers overcome those challenges and we reached out to our very own resource management expert, Dave Sprague. Dave is a product management professional with 20 years in diverse industry segments. He has been with Clarity PPM team for almost three years.
We started our discussion by asking Dave to complete the sentence Clarity PPM improves the capability of resource owners by…?
"Filtering available resources and investments down to the department or team level, allowing the resource manager to match supply and demand across the enterprise" said Dave. "Multi-value searches, like capacity based on role and geography, optimize an organization’s already stretched staff. Once the resource manager finds the right people, they can allocate specific percentages of their workload without having to use a full-time equivalent calculation."
This is not just a new way of looking at resource information, it’s a fundamentally different approach to the discipline of resource management – recognizing that availability is a complex discipline that is far trickier than simply asking, who has bandwidth?
Resource management should be more than resource allocation, yet for many organizations, and many tools, it’s simply an exercise in finding an approximately correctly skilled and available person to match the need. Elevating resource management to a more strategic discipline takes things to a much different level and Dave went on to explain just why this was so important to resource owners.
"From a resource perspective, resource managers gain visibility into all work for which their people are engaged within a familiar Excel paradigm. With telescoping, for example, resource managers are able to focus directly on identifying and solving problems. Simply select a time horizon to zoom into an area of focus or time horizon to spot staffing problem."
"Resource managers can focus even further on specific resources and view only ‘pinned’ resources to balance work between 2 or 3 people at a time in order to resolve bottlenecks. From a staffing perspective, resource managers can focus on people with the “My Team” view and easily address staffing requests."
This is clear recognition that resource management is a complex discipline, and it’s something that is becoming even more complex as organizations face increasing competition, ever greater customer expectations and ever shorter time horizons for projects.
It’s also a discipline that is dynamic as work executes and actual time and effort needs experience variances from what was planned – hence Clarity PPM’s focus on quickly identifying (and resolving) resource problems and bottlenecks.
Effective resource management can be the differentiator between success and failure, and Dave points out just how important effective resource management is to organizations.
"The system provides visibility into what the organization is working on and the amount of time they are spending. The system helps organizations validate their forecast for labor resources and milestones for delivery. It also provides resource managers and the portfolio management function the visibility organizations need today."
Want more? Download the eBook: Projects Fail Without Engaged Resource Managers
Multiple project tools, manual tasks and a never-ending demand for status reports are but a few of the many pains and aches of a project manager. Talking to Clarity PPM product manager, Brian Nathanson (PMP), we'll try to remedy some of these issues.
Brian learned project management principles during several years at KPMG then actively applied those concepts for several more years as a PMI-certified Project Manager in software development at a boutique consulting firm in Reston, VA.
He has a Master’s in Technology Management through a program co-sponsored by the Wharton School, where he focused on advanced portfolio modeling and simulation techniques with special consideration for how such techniques can assist in the management of high-risk technology projects.
Brian has worked with dozens of customers to apply financial portfolio principles and technology to the management of business portfolios. He has also conducted training in project management fundamentals at various conferences and spoken on a variety of topics at PMI chapter meetings.
We started our discussion by asking Brian to complete the sentence: Clarity PPM improves the capability of project managers by…?
"Providing a common set of tools and as a result, a common set of practices that project managers can use so that regardless of where they are they know they can do the same thing," said Brian. "It also allows them to have a common language in the organization whether they are project managers who come with experience, new project managers, or maybe a subject matter expert who got thrown in to being a PM."
"This consistent approach and language is critical, it creates a common framework that ensures PMs can focus on the challenges of their projects, not how they do the basics of the work."
We explored this further with Brian by asking him what the key benefits were for PMs using Clarity PPM.
"The main thing that is in it for them is the saving of time and what I would call busy work," said Brian. "Previously they'd spend an enormous amount of time preparing a status report used in a three-minute update. Now, they share with a few clicks. They also get more resource visibility – understanding that a team can’t finish a task because they are being called off to do other things for example."
We don’t know any project manager who won’t take less administrative overhead and better insight into their projects, as Brian sums up “a PM can focus more on things that are more strategically important about the particular project they are working on right now.”
This ability to focus on what is more strategically important also speaks to why this better environment for project managers matters to organizations, and that was our final question for Brian.
He explains the organizational benefit. "Businesses are very much focused on the ability to change more quickly – being agile. A large part of what you gain by making project managers more efficient in delivering the administrative aspect of their job is that they can spend more time on the critical parts of their job, which is making those decisions that are unique to the project they’re working on. This makes people more responsive and the organization is better able to respond – to be more agile."
That’s perhaps the ultimate gain here. Organizations want to become better able to respond to their environment, to pivot more quickly and even to become proactive, recognizing when opportunities are being created. Giving project managers the right tools not only make it easier for them to execute their work, it also benefits the entire organization – improving that responsiveness and enabling proactivity.
We understand that, which is why Clarity PPM should be your catalyst for business agility.
Want to know more? Flip through our eBook: Your Project Managers Are the Engine that Drives Success