One of the areas that I get questioned about most is around how large an organization should be to benefit from project portfolio management software or PPM software. There seems to be a belief that until organizations reach a certain size there is no need to consider the formality of a PPM structure, and certainly no need to consider an investment in PPM software. Further, the belief seems to be driven by a belief that PPM is going to be an extremely challenging adaptation for organizations, and that they should therefore delay it for as long as possible.
This belief is generally driven by misconceptions of project portfolio management software rather than the overall approach; there is a perception that PPM tools are cumbersome unless you are prepared to adapt your business model to their software. This perception exists in other places as well – Professional Services Automation or PSA software is perceived in the same way by many organizations. These perceptions are simply incorrect and organizations that believe them are losing out on a valuable opportunity.
The truth is that modern PPM (and PSA) tools are designed and built to adjust to the needs of the organization, and as a result, PPM can be considered much earlier in an organization’s growth – the organization and the use of the tool can mature together. That said, the software should be driven by the organization’s commitment and approach, not the other way around, but implemented correctly, PPM early can be a catalyst for considerable organizational growth.
Let’s distil PPM down to its most fundamental level – it’s a way of looking at projects from a more strategic standpoint – taking a broader view of the projects that should be executed and considering those initiatives as part of a single portfolio, not a series of standalone initiatives. I would argue that a portfolio should ultimately extend from idea generation to benefits realization, but that full life-cycle can evolve over time, it’s not required for a portfolio to exist. Neither do I believe that an organization should view PPM across all its business areas, if it chooses to start ‘just’ with IT, or with strategic projects, that’s fine too. Finally, I don’t even believe that PPM requires any specific processes or methodologies to be in place.
So, what does that leave? It leaves a portfolio focused mindset – an attitude. PPM can start simply with a commitment by an organization to look at all its projects as part of a collective whole. PPM can be a management approach that recognizes that upcoming projects may need to be adjusted based on current project performance to preserve the achievement of goals and objectives. That kind of attitude doesn’t require organizations to have reached any size; it simply requires commitment and vision.
There is the implication that an organization should have reached a certain level of project execution maturity, organizations that have not yet embedded a consistent approach to waterfall and / or Agile are likely not ready for PPM, and those that struggle with project selection and approval would benefit from some stabilization of those processes, but beyond that I see no reason to delay the start of a PPM journey. Project management offices or PMOs can come later and birth to death processes can evolve over time. However, if the organization can begin to have all the organizational stakeholders to think consistently about the projects that the organization invests in, and how each of those contributes to the goals and objectives that the organization should achieve, then they can speed up their growth, and potentially gain a significant advantage over the competition.
PPM software can provide a support infrastructure to that growth, modern tools are incredibly flexible and modular, allowing the tools to grow with the organization, and allowing for that growth to be driven by the organization’s priorities, not the software’s limitations. Organizations shouldn’t rush into a software choice until they understand their own abilities, shortcomings and ambitions, but they also shouldn’t avoid software because of outdated and misplaced fears that the software will be too complex for them to use effectively.
Whenever I am asked the question about how large an organization should be before considering PPM my response is always the same – large enough to have multiple projects. The better question is how does an organization know whether it is matured enough for PPM, and answer to that is often simple, if it is far enough along with project maturity to be considering PPM, then it is mature enough to start with PPM. However, project portfolio management is a journey, so while you can start early, you’ll never be finished.