Portfolio Management: The Final Hurdle

Through our continuous improvement initiatives, we identified aspects of our approach to project management that could be improved upon and took on the challenge of developing and implementing a series of improvements. To meet the needs of our diverse business environment, we combined the traditional waterfall model with a select number of Agile ceremonies.

With a clearer picture of how to proceed, we needed to unwind years of learned behaviour to ensure the successful adoption of our new approach. Our solution was to define a set of factors that we believed to be critical to project management success to set a benchmark for assessing adherence.

While our critical success factors help us drive the adoption of the right behaviours, they alone can’t provide an overarching view of every currently active project. To ensure that we don’t lose sight of the overall state of affairs, we wanted to outline our method to actively manage our project portfolio (a term we use to refer to the total collection of our in flight projects).

Building Strong Foundations

The very first course of action towards a management solution was to formulate a consistent and accurate inventory of all in-flight projects. Historically, we have always had a good internal understanding of which projects are being worked on, however, we wanted to implement an agreed and centralised list of which projects are active, which are closed and which are yet to start. Without such a structure in place it is easy for there to be several different views of what state a project is in. By maintaining a list we would create a single version of the truth and achieve an improved level of clarity. Even if it may sound like an obvious place to start, we needed to establish a strong ground on which to build the rest of our approach.

Diving Down into our Project Portfolio

All current projects are evaluated during a weekly project review, which underpins our portfolio management process. The objective of the review is to ensure all participants, which include members of the board, share a common and consistent view regarding the status of each project and that there is agreement on necessary issue resolutions and risk mitigations.

The Support Behind the Deep Dive

To help secure a productive meeting, we utilise a portfolio dashboard to maintain focus and ensure attention is drawn to areas that need to be addressed.  Unlike the project inventory, this dashboard shows the projects alongside red-amber-green (RAG) statuses that reflect the condition of key project considerations such as:

  • Purchase order cover
  • Quality
  • Delivery to cost and time
  • Resourcing
  • Issues and risks

To get the biggest benefit out of the dashboard, we must be able to understand and trust what each RAG colour is reporting.  Therefore, it stands to reason that having a standard definition for each consideration will drive reporting consistency across the dashboard.

Making an Active Change

In addition to an updated portfolio dashboard, one of the outcomes of the weekly project review is a set of specific remedial actions agreed by Senior Zircon Management and Directors. Where a condition is given either an amber or red RAG score, potential resolutions are discussed and actions to address any underlying issues are agreed upon.

Much like the tasks in JIRA, each action will be assigned to the appropriate individual, who is responsible for ensuring its swift completion. Previous actions are reviewed during the deep dive to confirm their completion, and those unable to be completed are subsequently escalated.

Where many companies follow through on this process, it is all too easy for actions to get lost amongst the day to day activities. The act of assigning responsibility, and as a result ownership, helps maintain their visibility.

Directing Resources where they are needed

In tandem with the weekly portfolio review, a separate meeting is held to review staff allocation to projects. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that engineers are allocated most productively, to ensure the successful delivery of the entire portfolio. Where one project ramps down we can pre-emptively reallocate resources to where they are most needed. Project managers can utilise this as an opportunity to make sure that their projects are adequately resourced, and decisions can be made about where best to deploy resources to best optimise delivery across the portfolio. The key is in balancing resource supply and demand from the whole portfolio perspective and not from the particular demands of individual projects.

With this final process in place, we had all of the infrastructures behind our new approach and could begin its implementation. In the next and final entry to this project management series, we turn our attention to the future. Though we may have met our initial goal, there is still the potential for further development and continuous improvement.