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PPM Solution Guide for Beginners

Investing in the right project portfolio management (PPM) solution requires thorough vetting and executive support. The decision is committing not only dollars to the PPM solution, but introducing change into the organization.

A PPM solution centralizes your project portfolio and creates visibility so you can streamline project effort into a single source of truth.
A PPM solution centralizes your project portfolio and creates visibility so you can streamline project effort into a single source of truth.

When it comes to a PPM solution, it is critical to match business needs with software capabilities and the right level of vendor support. Further, to aid in adoption, experts recommend that executives become solution champions to set the right tone. This guide assists project portfolio management leaders by providing a high-level overview of important considerations before a solution is selected.

The Need for a Standardized PPM Solution

Today’s organizations are challenged like never before to be nimble and agile in order to rapidly respond to evolving market demands and consumer preferences. For many companies, bringing innovative products to market quickly means maximizing resources and transforming how work is done.

Project Management Offices (PMOs) are often leading the charge, discovering opportunities for cost reduction while also focusing on efficiency and visibility initiatives. This is rarely an easy task. The changing world of work reveals issues with traditional processes that make it difficult, if not impossible, to adapt to remain competitive.

It is common for organizations to “make do” with legacy processes and technology, remaining hesitant to modernize and settling for the status quo. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, disparate tools and broken processes fail to keep up with the rapid pace of external and internal changes that constantly plague the enterprise. Companies become reactive instead of proactive, unable to truly innovate and create real value that supports and aligns with business strategies. Business leaders are crippled with a lack of visibility and data to make decisions and the PMO frequently remains a governance enforcer instead of a strategic business partner.

A recent global survey by the Project Management Institute shows that approximately $1 million is wasted every 20 seconds collectively by organizations around the world due to the ineffective implementation of business strategy through poor project management practices. This equates to about $2 trillion dollars wasted each year.


In Depth: What Is Project Portfolio Management Software?

Learn how PPM software addresses modern challenges organizations face.


Key Challenges Organizations Face without a Defined PPM Solution

  • Siloed departments using different tools and work methodologies create duplication of efforts, increased costs, and inconsistent data
  • Static spreadsheets from disparate sources are difficult to manage and quickly become obsolete, and the data is prone to errors
  • Traditional project portfolio management efforts provide little-to-no portfolio-wide transparency or visibility required to inform decisions
  • Inefficient, manual processes drain resources, delay project delivery, and add costs
  • Without the ability to properly prioritize projects in the portfolio, the wrong projects consume time, dollars and people that could be spent on higher-value projects
  • A lack of standardized processes or governance creates a chaotic environment that hinders value-driven project execution

Defining PPM and Its Benefits

If any of the above challenges seem familiar, it’s time to investigate a dedicated PPM solution that can be used across the organization to bring transparency, control, and efficiencies to the organization. There are variations in how project portfolio management can be defined, but in summary:

A PPM solution helps companies ensure they have the right capabilities to deliver the projects and programs that make a bigger strategic impact and drive faster time-to-market.

While there are many benefits to implementing a PPM solution, the following highlights what project portfolio management software can do for the PMO and ultimately, the enterprise, when utilized properly:

  • Centralizes project effort into a single source of truth to provide visibility, minimize risks, and inform decisions
  • Automates key functions required to successfully manage projects and portfolios
  • Keeps projects aligned with organizational goals and strategy
  • Supports the assignment and prioritization of resources
  • Manages the resources that have been deployed across various projects

Further benefits are achieved when the PPM solution is integrated with other corporate applications, such as enterprise resource planning, enterprise architecture, human resources, and financial systems. By integrating and consolidating data from multiple systems into a single location, data becomes an asset as it is leveraged to its fullest extent. It is no longer siloed, inaccessible, or lacking context, but paints a cohesive picture that drives smarter, more confident decisions.


In Depth: Project Portfolio Management Capabilities for Changing Businesses

Learn more about the fundamental capabilities that help organizations make the most of PPM software and best practices.


8 Steps in Selecting the Right PPM Solution

Step 1: Identify Objectives

The first step in choosing project portfolio management software is to understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every organization has different needs and requirements. It is critical to identify the objectives of the organization before the appropriate PPM solution is selected. The ultimate goal is to find a solution that grows the PMO from its current state to a more desired state. That journey will be unique to each organization and the timeframe to get there will depend on many factors.

Step 2: Analyze Current Capabilities

Before an organization can begin the journey towards more effective project portfolio management, it must evaluate its current capabilities. Gartner distinguishes distinct “maturity” levels to help organizations determine where they are now in the project portfolio management journey so they can better understand where they want to go. The Gartner Program and Portfolio Management Maturity Model presents five levels of project portfolio management maturity, from least mature to highest:

  • Level 1: Reactive – Ad-hoc capabilities that rely on spreadsheets and no formal PPM tools
  • Level 2: Emerging Discipline – Project portfolio management is evolving but still struggles with isolated systems and inconsistent data
  • Level 3: Initial Integration – A more holistic approach with organizational planning and decisions
  • Level 4: Effective Integration – Automated, consolidated enterprise project portfolio management that delivers business value
  • Level 5: Effective Innovation – Enterprise programs facilitate rapid strategy execution via an EPMO
The right PPM solution enables you to determine how your project portfolios are performing in relation to company goals.
The right PPM solution enables you to determine how your project portfolios are performing in relation to company goals.

In Depth: PPM Tools Comparison: How to Choose the Right One

Learn what to look for in a PPM tools comparison based on your organizational maturity (as defined by Gartner), goals, and needs.


Step 3: Consider Current, Near Future, and Extended Future Goals

The road to project portfolio management maturity is not a straight line, nor is it a succinct series of predetermined steps. PPM capabilities can only evolve at a pace that considers an organization’s tolerance for change. Goals may shift as other priorities take precedence and certain capabilities may be more easily adopted than others at any given time.

Here are the most typical goals in implementing a PPM solution, arranged from those that require the least amount of change to the most:

  • Centralization of projects
  • Resource management and time tracking
  • Work intake, demand management, and prioritization
  • Project budgeting and financials
  • Investment and capacity planning
  • What-if analysis and portfolio optimization
  • Strategic alignment and continuous planning

To reduce the risk of having to reevaluate tools later, consider goals along a continuum. What is “must have” immediately, near future, and extended future? What is “nice to have” along the same timeframes? The ability to prioritize goals will aid in selecting a solution that can scale to meet those goals as the organization becomes ready to take on additional capabilities.

Step 4: Compare Features

All PPM software is not created equally. To effectively achieve the above goals, certain software features should be present.

  • A simple, highly functional user interface: If the tool isn’t easy to use, few will utilize it. Make sure the user interface is customer-configurable to provide the data that users and business leaders need most.
  • Applications that are optimized for collaboration and communication: Cloud-based PPM applications ensure easy access to real-time data, enabling team members and leaders to easily see who is working on what, bringing accountability and transparency.
  • Options for visualizing and organizing projects: The selected PPM solution should provide a high-level, global view regarding the progress and sustainability of multiple projects. When information is arranged in a meaningful way, it builds momentum and creates a framework for realistic views into project performance.
  • Functionalities to effectively manage resources: Demand and capacity planning is pivotal in project portfolio management. Find a PPM solution that offers the ability to create “what-if” scenarios and offers time tracking to not only allocate resources more effectively but to understand context and interdependencies.
  • Robust reporting and analytics: Data-backed decisions require historical and real-time data that enable forecasting and roadmapping for more predictability. Customer-configurable dashboards and reports should provide just-right data for each stakeholder.
  • Supportive of different work methodologies and organizational needs: Because teams often work differently to fulfill the needs of the organization, a PPM solution must be flexible and versatile while still serving as the single source of truth.

Step 5: Compare Features

Many organizations seek the research and guidance of peer review sites, such as IT Central, TrustRadius, and Peer Insights before making decisions. Consult industry analyst firms such as Gartner, IDC, and Forrester.

Gartner is a preeminent authority on many business processes and tools, including PPM software. Its annual Magic Quadrant for Project and Portfolio Management evaluates and ranks top PPM software providers based on their ability to execute and completeness of vision, delineating each vendor as a PPM “Leader,” “Challenger,” “Visionary,” or “Niche Player.”

Keep in mind, the goal is to bring together projects and resources in a single project portfolio management solution. Project management “tools” will address only part of the program and won’t enable ongoing growth into prioritization, planning, work intake, and demand management. Look for a purpose-built PPM solution that provides consolidated functionality that can scale and grow as your needs change.

Step 6: Evaluate the Ongoing Support Offering

All of the features and capabilities in a project portfolio management solution are nothing if they aren’t implemented and utilized properly.

The PPM provider must offer varying levels of support in order to maximize the effectiveness of the solution, both during implementation and as needed as the organization adopts new software capabilities.

The best service offerings will provide 24/7/365 online support that includes a virtual training center with various tutorials, videos, community discussions, and even virtual workshops with experienced consultants.

Step 7: Access Scalability

An investment in a project portfolio management tool should be for the long term. No organization wants to undergo the evaluation and implementation of a new product on a regular basis. The goal should be to find a PPM tool that can grow as the company evolves and objectives change. Even if certain capabilities seem to be years down the path towards adoption, it is better to choose a solution that provides that functionality now than to outgrow the software and have to start over.

Step 8: Understand Integration Capabilities and Ease

One of the best ways to optimize the full capacity of a project portfolio management solution is to ensure it can integrate with other systems and applications, such as finance and HR. Integrations help the organization gain further efficiencies as the PPM solution becomes part of the enterprise system. For example, if a customer has a BI reporting tool they prefer that accepts OData, make sure the PPM tool can also support OData.

Not all integrations are simple, however. Ask providers if they offer an easy-to-use API that automatically integrates the PPM solution with other systems without specialized coding skills or advanced training.

Conclusion

The decision to embrace a project portfolio management solution is one that inevitably yields a significant return on investment. Whether a company is at the beginning stages or advancing its PMO to the next level, the right PPM solution can provide the ability to collect, prioritize, and execute projects, enabling PMOs to focus resources on the work that delivers the most value. Projects are more apt to be on time and on budget with every team member collaborating in a single solution to get the work done.

The PMO is in a position to bring value to the enterprise, but it needs a foundation of tools and best practices to enable it. If left alone, the organization will be challenged to evolve to meet the needs of the business. With a solid PPM solution in place, however, growth is the inevitable byproduct of the newfound ability to innovate.

Meet our author


Sherrill Packebush

Senior Product Manager

Sherrill is a Senior Product Manager for PPM Pro. She manages the product Roadmap and new feature requirements and design, working closely with customers for feedback and validation, and running the PPM Pro customer inner circle program. Sherrill has over 25 years of experience in requirements analysis, user interface design, and evaluation, focused on promoting customer success and ease of use. She holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering with a major in Human Factors/Human-Computer Interaction from Texas A&M University.