Project Portfolio Management for SMB

One of the most critical management items in IT is to manage work priority. But, how does this unfold into reality and how does an IT leader actually manage it? Lately, I keep hearing the buzzword "IT Governance", which basically equates to managing your project portfolio with the business. So, let's dive into some of the detailed steps to manage a project portfolio.

  1. Write down every project and priority.

    When I first showed up as the IT manager and took over the team I started with a simple Excel sheet. Each project required a help desk ticket to initiate the request and then got put into a "Projects" ticket bucket. Then you simply create priority and status assignments HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW, open, closed, completed, implementing, etc. Add columns for who's working on it, capital required, due dates (if known), dependencies, etc. This tool works great on a small scale. I've since grown this into a Web based tool that members of the IT team can review as needed. However, at the end of the day it's still basically a glamorized Excel sheet.

    For added transparency, we've posted our project portfolio to our corporate intranet "portal" system. The projects are posted for viewing across the entire company. This was a big step for the team and is a great tool for showing the "list" and where our clients are at in the priority. We haven't had many questions about it yet, but I expect that to grow over time.

  2. Meet with upper management on a regular schedule and let them drive the priority.

    This is usually what I like to call "IT 101" meetings. It gives executives the chance to understand what each IT project is and how it affects them. This is a great opportunity for you to work on communicating in business terms rather than technical jargon. Start off with your recommendations for priority then look at shuffling the priorities around with negotiation so that IT understands what the business wants and the business understands why some projects "must" get done before others.

    This step is usually easier said than done. It takes relentless patience to keep the meetings scheduled. And even more patience to keep it going if the meeting gets postponed or bumped. If your executives are as busy as the ones I've dealt with, it's often tough to get 30 minutes of facetime. But, when you do the crediblity of IT slowly improves. Over time, you may "earn" more face time once they see the value of the meeting and that they get a real say in how IT can help them. We've recently gone from 30 minutes to an hour as the education level of IT has matured. This allows for more questions to be asked and more details are hammered out. We've typically split our session (by agenda) into half infrastructure projects and software engineering projects to maximize the time.

    During these meetings it may be helpful for long term planning to bring your road map (see earlier blog post). Its a great visual tool that executives can see where you're going and how you're going to get there. This is great for dependency planning and resource scheduling/allocation (reality check).

    The real benefit of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is getting solutions done that impact the business most. Seeing the COO light up that his project is next on the list and believing you will actually get it done is very rewarding for you and the business. This is the part of IT that I probably enjoy most.

  3. Meet with your team and communicate the priorities, regularly and quickly.

    I believe weekly/monthly staff meetings are a waste of time, even though they may be necessary in larger IT organizations (just try to keep them to a minimum). Instead, start a short 5-20 minute daily meeting that kicks off about 20-30 minutes after the day begins. It's very habit forming and a great chance for your team to get more face time with their manager to communicate any project priority changes, daily work items and coordination, bring up issues, outages, and lessons learned. Additionally, it gives you a chance to communicate the importance of the projects with more than a list of "high priority" tasks. Explaining why the COO wants this work done and the value it brings, helps geeks get on board with the work. Just remember, keep the meeting to a minimum. If it gets out of hand, then table the topic and schedule a meeting with only those that need to be involved. If possible, make it a standing meeting to really make sure it doesn't drag on (even if you are the only one standing).

  4. Execute the work and require a report back from your team on a daily/weekly basis. I require the team to blog about their daily activities. This allows me to peruse their snippets of activity when I build my weekly report to the CEO. The benefits of a daily-ish blogging go beyond reporting. It allows the entire team to communicate with each other, share activity, and tracks what you've done. It's pretty surprising when you look back over the course of a year at your accomplishments! This makes doing that horrible annual review much easier btw!

    This step is critical in keeping your finger on the pulse of your projects. This allows you to get a glimpse into the progress being made to be able to accurately "guestimate" the percentage complete on each project.

  5. Keep your project portfolio up to date! I try to visit mine at least once per week. This helps remind me to open new projects, close the completed projects, update status, fix typos, and to keep it polished. Having fresh information is also helpful for adhoc meetings or reports.

Thanks for reading! If you have comments or questions please don't hesitate. I'm sure there's 100's of other ways to manage your IT Project Portfolio. I'd love to hear what works well for you and what hasn't. Enjoy!

User login