Skip navigation
All Places > Clarity PPM > Blog > 2019 > March

By Marla Schimke

PPM Pundit


Product portfolios is the talk of the town. While the concept isn’t new, increasing attention is paid to how we manage product portfolios. But before we take a closer look, let's consider why product portfolios management is important to the entire company.


We start with a definition of the product portfolio. At the simplest level it is nothing more than an inventory of all the products and services offered by an organization. However, to be useful, it must be a little more involved than that.


First, we need to ensure we have truly identified every offering, not just the main ones. Any organization will have those almost forgotten niche products that only one or two people know about and that only have a handful of customers using them, they must be included just as much as the main offering.


Then, we need to ensure all markets are considered – market segment, geography, etc. And we need to include subsidiary or related companies in those numbers, along with any add on modules offered through in house or partner professional services.


We also need to understand our internal products and services – those things we have developed for use by our employees – they are still part of our product portfolio.


It's a complex picture of the various elements or versions of the product portfolios that exist in the organization, and before we can manage that environment effectively we need to be able to develop a consolidated, integrated view – a single product portfolio for the entire organization. Without that we are "managing blind" adjusting one set of products without understanding the impact on other areas, and that hurts both effectiveness and efficiency. It also exposes the organization to unnecessary risk.


Organizations must therefore develop a single, integrated portfolio of all the products and services they have developed and maintain. It’s not sufficient for that portfolio to be a mere inventory of those products, it must represent a comprehensive understanding of characteristics, purpose, etc. to provide a foundation that can then be effectively managed. The following aspects of every product must be included in this portfolio view:


  • Market positioning – not just the industry verticals and geographic regions served, but also whether the product is a market leader, a niche player, the value offering, etc.
  • Financial performance – key information on the product’s value to the organization – the revenue generated (or costs saved for internal products), the cost of that revenue, historic and projected financial performance, etc.
  • Product lifecycle – whether the product is in a growth phase, mature or declining as well as information on other current products that are either designed to replace it or that it will ultimately replace.


There are numerous other elements you can consider, and each organization will have its own characteristics it wants to add.  What’s important is that you have a single integrated product portfolio that tells you everything you need to know about individual solutions and how those solutions work together to create the complete set of products and services used by your organization and its clients.


Once you have that understanding you can look at how to manage that ecosystem of connected products, and that’s what we are going to look at in the next blog entry.

By Andy Jordan

PPM Pundit


One of the most significant areas in which a modern project management office (PMO) will need to make changes in the future is with its project and portfolio management approach. While the list of things that will ultimately need to be done is long, fortunately the place to start is with a few simple shifts in your current thinking:

  1. Move away from the mental model of demand management
  2. Regard all proposals as major investments of the enterprise’s valuable resources (that is, it isn’t just about projects anymore)
  3. Begin to practice radical transparency
  4. Use “contribution to strategy” as your mandate and implicit authority

Part of the change that is occurring with the advent of digital business is that, increasingly, an organization’s portfolio of internal investment options is no longer regarded as just demand being placed on IT. It isn’t that demand for IT isn’t important (it’s still one of the most critical execution issues), but at the front end of the portfolio process, contribution to strategy matters more.


Moving up the maturity curve from demand management to practicing true portfolio management isn’t an overnight activity. The first change we recommend is segmenting demand. Strategic investments do NOT belong in the same intake process as low-level service requests. Digital business requires having an intake process, supported by the right tool, that doesn’t treat a multi-million dollar investment proposal with the same level of gravitas as a 40-hour change request. To put it bluntly, the difference between a Level 2 maturity PMO (process driven, tactically focused) and a modern PMO (strategically focused) is the ability to get out of the weeds.


The second change we recommend for moving beyond demand management is to move the portfolio management function into a separate department and retitle it something like investment portfolio office (IPO). Your goal is make sure whatever name you chose reflects the fact that the organization is separate from any day-to-day operational IT concerns.


The beauty of this change is that it doesn’t need to involve anything more than a new org chart. Your staff can do double duty in multiple boxes on the org chart, and you can work on drawing a dotted line between the portfolio office and the CIO if the current IT PMO reports somewhere else in the organization. The goal with this move is to make the case that the portfolio office at least has the inherent right/permission to talk to business leaders directly about their investment proposals without being perceived as having their IT “hat” on.


Once the construct of a portfolio office is in place, the next thing to do is begin to change the language used to refer to the work in the portfolio. We strongly suggest using the term investments. Adopting this terminology will allow for discussions that include products, services, programs and projects all in the same portfolio (an approach product-based companies have been using for years).


The third change is to begin practicing radical transparency, and this is another place where having the right tool to support your organization will be critical. Microsoft Excel® simply wasn’t designed to allow an entire organization to understand what contextual information is known about a particular investment at any point in time during its lifecycle. Level 2 organizations often get off track with their portfolio because the annual budget process for capital is done based on nothing more than a list of proposals that includes title, a sponsor and a request for funding.


To avoid confusion, we recommend that a modern PMO/portfolio office take these budgeted investment ideas and place them onto a roadmap for each business area. With modern tools preparing a roadmap is easy and will provide a future basis for discussion. Radical transparency as a practice requires always finding a way to take data and translate it into information that others can understand. A list of investment requests is simply a list; a roadmap of what an organization would like to accomplish and when is something that has contextual meaning to even a casual observer.


The final change is to begin to use strategy as the source of implicit authority for the portfolio function. What does this mean in practical terms for the modern PMO? It means that you have the right to ask (politely) very pointed questions of some fairly senior managers. For example, “please, Ms. VP of marketing, can you tell me how this particular proposal will increase customer engagement? I know it will because you wouldn’t have proposed it if it weren’t important, but to execute it correctly, we’ve got to know what about this project makes a unique contribution to strategy.”


This conversation can take between 30 minutes and an hour, and you will obviously do it only for the most important (read expensive or risky) proposals. In this short a discussion, you won’t get all the answers you might want, but you should get enough information to begin to understand what each proposal that claims to contribute to the corporate strategy is bringing to the table (its unique contribution). Later on in the portfolio lifecycle—when it becomes clear that not all the proposals supporting, for example, customer engagement are created equal—you will be able to explain, using the evidence you’ve collected in your portfolio tool, exactly why what proposal G seems to offer is not as fully fleshed out as what proposal K offers.


Life in an old-style Level 2 IT PMO was focused on recording and prioritizing demand. Life in a modern PMO is about executing strategy for the greater good of the enterprise through transparent data, and a clear but flexible sequencing of the right investments. So ask yourself, if your portfolio isn’t executing strategy—what is it doing?

By Andy Jordan

PPM Pundit


Let's play.


If you could implement a simple solution to make 87 percent of employees feel more productive, 84 percent more engaged and 82 percent happier, would you do it? Of course you would, and that’s exactly what gamification delivers, according to a recent survey by TalentLMS.


That survey was by a software company in the learning-and-development industry, and those are two areas – software and learning – where gamification is seen as having a big impact. But gamification can be leveraged to improve many different aspects of all businesses, this blog has some great strategies to consider.


Teams are becoming ever more critical to organizational success today – more and more money is focused on transformation and change, as the speed of evolution for all industries continues to accelerate.


To deliver that change, there's a shift from projects to products, replacing scheduled periodic releases with an ongoing stream of functional enhancements.


That results in a shift to more permanent teams, where the need to build and maintain, cohesion, engagement and performance is more important than ever.


Gamification isn’t a solution to all of the challenges your teams face, but as part of an overall team development and engagement strategy it can be a tremendous asset.


The perception that it only works with millennials, or in certain corporate cultures is wrong. That same TalentLMS survey referenced above showed that 90 percent of employees over the age of 45 believed gamification would help them achieve better results.


Read more from the PPM Pundits.

By Andy Jordan

PPM Pundit


The PMO has evolved from providing strategic investment guidance, managing budgets and monitoring high-level execution, to a much more tactical role focused on waterfall execution and Gantt charts. The trend, unfortunately, didn’t pan out for most organizations. Today, the PMO is transitioning back into a strategic role focused on portfolios over individual projects, and identifying the right initiatives at the right time, executed by the right teams.


But the PMO isn’t moving away from tactical execution entirely. It’s simply expanding its scope and shifting its main focus to business results. This, of course, makes the ability to view the business at ground level as well as from 35,000 feet essential. Only from this dual vantage point can the PMO help implement investment controls that tie project execution and delivery to budgetary constraints, governance and an outcome that brings value to the portfolio and the organization.


For this degree of visibility, PMOs must have the right tools. That’s why the integration between CA Agile Central and CA Project & Portfolio Management (CA PPM) is proving invaluable to customers. CA Agile Central allows PMOs to monitor—and to a degree orchestrate—work happening at the project level. CA Agile Central also shares real-time information with CA PPM where it’s combined with pertinent financial information to provide the intelligence necessary to make strategic, data-driven decisions.


The strategic PMO starts with results


The right tools are essential in supporting the strategic responsibilities of the PMO. But those tools are a lot more effective for the PMO that already has the right mind-set and the right approach: the PMO that starts with the desired results and works backwards, mapping out how the company will achieve them. Following are some tips for turning the PMO into a strategic powerhouse:


Define successful outcomes: Start by defining a specific business goal. Break it down into supporting goals at the individual, team and departmental levels. Ensure they’re clear and highly visible. Everyone should know exactly what needs to be done, how each activity will impact the overall objective, and the status of their progress at any given time.


Consider using both KPIs and OKRs: Key performance indicators (KPIs) are very effective at measuring the performance of a given activity, and they should be used in circumstances such as achieving milestones. But the modern PMO is focused on outcomes. That means setting a specific objective and delineating a series of steps to reach it. For this, objectives and key results (OKRs) can be more effective due to their enhanced ability to focus on, measure and achieve those outcomes.


Track progress: Leverage tools that provide automated, fact-based feedback to track progress. Use that feedback to streamline ongoing projects, eliminate waste and guide teams toward continuous improvement—and to avoid train wrecks like budget overruns.


Provide a postmortem: At the end of the project, the right metrics and reporting will provide a true picture of the cost to value of the initiative. This should be calculated and shared with executive management to illustrate the continuing value of everyone involved.


Report on the benefits realized over time: At the end of the project, most PMOs simply move on to the next initiative. This is a mistake. The end of the project is probably just the beginning of its results. It’s through the continued monitoring of those results that we can understand the real, total benefit to the organization, and compare those benefits to the costs associated with the project. And the learning here can be applied to all forthcoming projects.


Promote sound investment strategies: Use all the information and learning gleaned above to create viable, dynamic portfolios as you steer the work within the organization toward those projects that can deliver the most value. By illustrating how specific projects can generate revenue and how rationalized execution can minimize resource requirements and save money, the PMO becomes indispensable.


This transition by the PMO will provide significant upside to the organization, but it will also place a lot more responsibility on the office. And project managers might be wondering how they could possibly take on any more than they already have on their plates. But that’s the beauty of it. The modern PMO can accomplish all of this without growing the team significantly or requiring people to work 80 hours a week. It just comes down to combining the right tools with the right priorities and focus.


Clarity PPM is built to help PMOs manage strategic portfolio plans and implement best practices and governance through a work style suited for today’s teams. CA PPM provides clear insights into demand, resources and financials to confirm that you’re on track or show you what adjustments are required. It helps to align investments with corporate goals, ensure the best possible use of resources, prioritize investments, and forecast and manage budgets. Soon, it might be able to do your taxes too.