Project and Portfolio Management

One of the greatest and most pressing challenges is coordinating business and IT effectively. Everybody talks about it; few know how to make it a reality. For this reason, it is often considered one of the “soft” issues in the area of IT Service Management (ITSM). An issue that organizations too often believe they can ignore while they focus on more “concrete” measures for optimizing IT. Organizations that adopt such an attitude do so at their own peril. In a challenging financial climate, the costs of poor project portfolio choices can be prohibitive. And the need to integrate IT with the business is in many respects at the root of the new iteration of the ITIL framework. If business is to wield IT as a competitive differentiator and if IT is to assist the larger organization as a service-providing business partner, then IT needs to find a way to better understand the objectives of the business and move forward with IT projects that support them. This becomes all the more critical during an economic downturn, when resources are scarce and prioritization of the IT project portfolio can mean the difference between overall corporate success or failure.

Here again, a solutions-based approach, combined with effective organizational and process change, can drive successful business and IT collaboration. In other words, it can help to actualize the recommendations put forth in ITIL v3. The crux of the issue comes down to more effective project portfolio management. An end-to-end process that extends from the initial ideas for business and IT projects to their ultimate implementation. To manage this otherwise unwieldy process in an orderly fashion, organizations first must capture ideas, requirements, and requests from appropriate entities throughout the extended enterprise. This can be accomplished through a range of integrated tools that collect feedback and store it in a centralized repository, accompanied by effective processes and organizational frameworks.

With such a repository in place, decision makers who straddle business and IT can generate a list of prioritized requirements and the potential projects to fulfill them. Critical to this prioritization process would be an ongoing cost-benefit analysis process based on solid information regarding the resources available to support the project, the trade-offs involved in moving forward, and the potential business outcome. Solid integration into back-end resource planning applications can facilitate evaluation of human capital, financing, and budgeting. As business conditions change rapidly, moreover, organizations should conduct this analysis on an iterative basis to make difficult but more effective project decisions that align with business strategy. A company, for example, might consider killing a year-long project only three months in, if the organization’s business model suddenly changes. But before doing this, estimators will want a clear understanding of how such a decision will impact the business and the customers it serves.

Once a project gets the go-ahead, IT organizations need a clear process for moving it into and managing the execution stage. This will include integrated project management tools for breaking the project into discrete steps, building schedules, creating milestones, establishing review and quality gates, defining budgets, and assigning resources. All of these steps need to be understood in the context of the overall portfolio of existing and planned projects so that upper-level managers can continue to make informed strategic-level decisions throughout the course of the project. Coordinating between project portfolio management and application life cycle management tools (such as requirements, change management, quality) can facilitate effective software creation and metrics for assessment.

After the project is implemented, IT also needs a smooth process for transitioning the implementation into operations where knowledge acquired during the project thus far can be transferred and managed to facilitate software deployment and ongoing maintenance phases.

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