Can you remember writing the business case for the mighty spreadsheet that you currently use in the weekly and monthly reporting cycles in your PMO? No? Thought not.
I caught up with PMO Conference exhibitor, Jon Lewis from Ninth Wave, last week to find out more about the current challenges organisations are facing when it comes to utilising tools in their delivery of programmes and projects. We got talking about what drives some of Ninth Wave’s customers when it comes to making that investment in their SmartCore solution and invariably there are a few different tipping points involved.
The first was the use of increasingly complicated spreadsheets, often full of errors, that not only take too much time within the PMO to administer but which lead to problems when the staff that created and understand those spreadsheets move on. Jon made an interesting point about how many PMOs start off using spreadsheets as their main reporting tool without any formal evaluation or business case, because it is deemed to be ‘free’.
In the early days, reporting requirements can be simple enough. However as time moves on, the investment in this spreadsheet reporting can be significant – costs associated with the inefficiencies it creates and also the staff time needed to operate and maintain it. As people move on and the PMO staff change, the knowledge and knowhow around this now, extremely bespoke spreadsheet, is easily lost. Consider a spreadsheet first created ten years ago. Today it could be run by the third or fourth generation of ‘owners’, with each generation having made changes and created inefficiencies.
The second tipping point is around the need for consolidation – often across different parts of the organisation – some regional, some departmental. Tools which can combine project information with that from finance and HR systems have started to turn executive’s heads.
The third tipping point is a need to get on top of what’s happening within the business and being able to create competitive advantage based on the data that is regularly being produced. One of the drivers is portfolio management. Most organisations have already focused on how to improve the way programmes and projects are being delivered; now it is about understanding which programmes and projects to carry out, when, where and with whom. A spreadsheet simply cannot cope with this level of functionality – what you need is a ‘proper’ project portfolio management (PPM) application.
The Business Case for a PMO Tool
Jon sees many different types of business cases produced by PMOs so I asked which top three areas does he think makes a good case?
- Focus on the efficiencies of the PMO
- Focus on the cost of not having the information
- Make the case for alignment of programmes and projects to strategy
The efficiencies of the PMO should focus on those key areas that are most valued by the business – be it reporting, governance, quality, cost control etc. For each service area the PMO provides, there should be a direct efficiency or saving of some kind that will be delivered with the new tool.
Focusing on the cost of not having the right information should be an interesting task for the PMO – and again, each service area can be considered to give a robust response. And finally, with project portfolio management becoming more mainstream, maybe now is the time to ask senior executives if strategic alignment of projects is already on their radar?
How Does the PMO Role Change?
I was keen to find out what really changes for the PMO when a new tool is introduced. If so much time is taken up with managing spreadsheets, what can the PMO expect when a new tool comes online?
There are four areas to consider:
- System administration
- Continuous improvement
- Focus on quality data input
It stands to reason that there will be a system administration role focused on maintaining the system, starting with the basics of user administration. For Ninth Wave customers, some with many thousands of users, choosing a tool that is both user friendly and closely aligned with key processes is vital. Organisations which have tried tools in the past are often surprised at how much today’s solutions have evolved.
The training on the system itself is normally done through creating a short user guide with process experts in the PMO to provide further training if needed. With Ninth Wave’s SmartCore solution, continuous improvement is relatively easy through a configurable open interface – recognising that a tool has to be able to evolve with the organisation and not just remain static. Easy changes such as extra fields and reporting can be set up by the PMO, with more complex enhancements provided as required by Ninth Wave. Some mature customers’ PMOs ask users for feedback on whether the system needs changing or enhancing. This feedback is then collated and researched before improvements and changes are prioritised.
With less time needed by PMO staff to ‘crank the handle’ of a spreadsheet each month, it frees up time to focus on the quality of programme and project data. The PMO can also provide more meaningful commentary, information, insights and alerts – ultimately providing the ‘value added’ role that PMOs believe they should be offering the business.