Written by Manfred Muell.
When looking at the program / project portfolio management from our clients we often hear, “we start many projects and initiatives, but we are having trouble seeing them through to the end” as an explanation for poor performance. This means projects get kicked-off due to urgent needs and then get stuck in execution. I.e. projects fall into the “Work-in-Progress” trap.
All too often this is simply seen as a lack of discipline from the executives, rather than an organisation-wide issue. However there are a few simple governance practices and rules that can help you avoid getting stuck in the “Work-in-Progress” trap. In order to get anything done, a project needs:
- A clearly defined product, service or result
- A clearly defined owner
- A clearly defined timeline / due date
- A realistic, approved resource budget
Our observations at clients indicate that the quality of the projects (or portfolio of projects) often is surprisingly poor, even in mature organizations. We typically identify two key issues:
- Projects or initiatives are actually ambitions, i.e. express wishful thinking not action
(e.g. increase market-share by 3%-points, reduce cost by 100 m p.a.)
- Projects or initiatives have very heterogeneous time horizons
(e.g. we have projects with a 2 year horizon together with projects with a 2 week time horizon)
Whilst it is obvious that ambitions cannot be projects simply because they cannot be actioned directly, the issue with heterogeneous time horizons is more intricate.
In order to get things done we need to start both the 2 year and the 2 week project, but the 2 year project remains stuck in “Work in Progress” for a long time with little progress visible. And the longer a project is stuck, the higher is the probability that new “more urgent” issues appear which compete for resources and management attention.
This means the long projects are more likely to get delayed, milestones are missed, the environment or requirements for the project change and eventually the initial purpose of the project is forgotten entirely.
To solve the problem of heterogeneous time horizons is actually quite simple:
As a governance rule we simply need to introduce a standard time horizon for a project or initiative (sometimes this is called “chunking”, i.e. breaking problems down into manageable chunks). In our experience a 3 month or 100 days guideline has been very successful.
This means we need to break down ALL your problems or programs into 3 month or 100 day projects and ensure that the deliverables can be produced within this 3 month period.
This allows us to plan and manage our projects in a project pipeline through the life-cycle stages (idea, plan, execute, close-out).
Then we implement a 3 month governance cycle, i.e. we review our project pipeline at least every 3 months with the understanding that once a project is approved for execution it GETS DONE, i.e. there are no interruptions through more urgent issues.
This approach has quite a number of advantages:
- Our projects in “work-In-progress” are limited
- We can create a project pipeline in line with existing capacity constraints
- We can re-prioritize every 3 months if required
- We have transparency on implementation progress at a reasonably granular level
- People are happy when they can “tick off” tasks or projects
How Scientrix supports this
The Scientrix platform enables chunking and normalizing of project time horizons because users can granulate large programs using the Matrix concept.
Here is an example for a Post-Merger-Integration Program:
Behind each Matrix intersect we can now define detailed projects with a max. time horizon of 3 months and see the complete Project List:
In the Kanban (Staging-) Board we get an overview of the project pipeline and can manage according to the existing capacity constraints.