With no clear vision and direction, the delivery of measurable business benefits from a project becomes difficult, if not impossible. We need to spend more time up front understanding what the potential benefits are and how we plan to get them. Getting very clear on what we’re trying to achieve and how we plan to make that vision a reality sets expectations that are understood by business and project teams. Getting value from your portfolio of projects requires a shift in focus from the traditional “on-time, on-budget” project paradigm to the more holistic view — programmes. A programme is best described as a structured grouping of projects designed to produce clearly identified business results.
Programme planning and the discovery of potential benefits requires a systematic approach using a “benefits mapping” technique. This helps set direction and enables understanding of the complexity of the proposed work. Based on simple cause-and-effect modelling, this technique enables the creation of a programme design — a logic-based picture of the potential end-benefits and the actions that are necessary to get the desired result.
However, as I mentioned earlier, benefits rarely appear in the way we originally anticipate they will. Initial benefits maps are a reflection of what we think is possible based on what we think we know at the time. Benefits maps become infinitely more powerful when we actively incorporate improved understanding of what we’re doing over time, and become more certain about the likelihood of achieving the result we’re seeking. The process of keeping maps alive ensures the business gradually gains confidence that its investment in the project will produce the expected results, and keeps project teams aligned with the ultimate goal.
Only at this point can we move on to delivering the programme and its projects, tracking progress and measuring the benefits for all to see. Delivery brings with it a whole new set of challenges. A key issue that restricts our ability to get the planned results is that even the best project management methodologies are not, on their own, enough to guarantee success. While I acknowledge that traditional project management will always remain a critical ingredient in the recipe for success, these practices need to be supplemented by disciplines that require an almost obsessive focus on value and total commitment to achieving results.
An increasingly popular governance model that enables this level of focus stresses the importance of programme management practices that set direction and monitor the achievement of benefits throughout the life of the programme. Within this model, project activities are coordinated and controlled from within the context of the programme and its objectives.
Most businesses have more opportunities than they have financial and human resources available to pursue them. It is critical that limited resources are committed to the initiatives likely to produce the most valuable outcomes. How do you choose which programmes to include in your portfolio? If 20 initiatives are proposed and you can only realistically do five, which five should you do?
Picking the winners in part depends on your ability to “put a figure” on the value of each initiative under consideration. A process within benefits realisation known as value assessment examines and scores three dimensions of value: alignment to strategic objectives, financial worth and the risk of not getting the desired benefits. The use of purpose-built tools that enable each assessment to be carried out in exactly the same way every time is critical to enabling comparison between proposed initiatives and informed decision-making.
Although selection decisions should be based on what is likely to produce the most value, having an enterprisewide view of all active initiatives and what they are seeking to achieve is also crucial. The implications of lack of visibility are significant and numerous — no understanding of across-the-board resource consumption, no co-ordinated dependency and risk management, unrecognised opportunities to generate cost and effort efficiencies, just to name a few. Making good portfolio decisions rests not only on how potentially valuable the proposed initiative is, but also on our capability to deliver successfully.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.