There can be no digital transformation without effective project portfolio management

Apr 5th, 2018

Did you know?

  • 29% of projects are successful (objectives met, within budget, and on time);
  • 52% of projects are challenged (lateness, overspending, not properly completed, etc.);
  • 19% of projects purely and simply fail.

Source: Standish Group Chaos 2015 report on project management in software development.

And with digital transformation likely to bring about deep-rooted transformation in businesses, these are not very encouraging figures! The sheer number of projects, and their cross-functional nature, has become such that it is increasingly difficult to successfully complete them under the best possible conditions.

The real issue with project management, and even more so with project portfolio management, is the successful achievement of objectives, on schedule and within budget.

So before firing the starting gun for the race for new technologies, and starting a plethora of “digital transformation” projects at every turn, let’s take a step back…

Is digital transformation a new buzzword?

What exactly is this “digital transformation” that is currently all the rage? And why has it become a strategic priority in organisations?

A lasting trend or a flash in the pan?

A few years ago, all the talk was of sustainability. Everything happening in a business had to be sustainable, from the purchase of paper clips to production methods, waste sorting and employees’ working conditions. Now sustainability has become a cliché, a marketing strategy bereft of any meaning, but one which had the merit of being on-trend.

So, is digital transformation set to follow the same path? Is it the latest fashionable buzzword? A fashion that will pass, making way for some other concern? Of course not!

Digital transformation is not a passing fad; it is an absolute necessity. It is unfortunate that the implementation of digital transformation, and the management of the resulting projects, being sometimes chaotic and often too wildly enthusiastic, wrongly impede its success. Because if current businesses fail to negotiate the digital curve, their longevity is threatened. It is therefore crucial for organisations to implement innovative projects for their digital transformation.

Managing the digital transformation

Digital transformation consists of integrating new digital technologies within all areas of the business. This is not only about using email or even tablets, it is now a question of rethinking the way we do business, how the business operates with regard to the Internet and the new tools available, such as mobile devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), real-time information, collaborative working, and so on. This digital revolution is also a cultural revolution within an organisation.

Deciding where to focus and which projects to undertake first is no easy matter

Senior management, sometimes caught unawares, tasks various departments with finding and running “digital transformation” projects without necessarily foreseeing the amount of dialogue and cooperation required to provide a decent overview of this transformation in its entirety. Nowadays, we see a large number of projects starting (although not always ending successfully), sometimes duplicating each other, with rather opportunistic management of resources and costs, and producing results that are too often a mixed bag, if not actually discouraging and frustrating for staff. So, how can this be fixed?

Project portfolio management comes to the rescue of digital transformation

Change of any kind has to be managed. Rather than leaving each department to run its own projects, centralised project portfolio management will make a success of digital transformation.

Too much independence or not enough?

First of all, digital transformation will attract attention. Consultants and service providers will sell you whatever you say you want, to bring some digital action into your business. If the process does not include the IT Department and simply leaves departments to their own devices, it becomes a free-for-all. You risk ending the year with three mobile apps for customers, and as many project management packages or Excel files as there are project portfolios to be managed. Conversely, if the IT Department’s supervision and approval are required every step of the way, projects will stagnate with “too much” of this, “not enough” of that, and some “risk of” the other. The only projects to survive will be projects initiated by the IT Department itself.

Specifications but no obligations?

In theory, a specification is an important means of communication, explaining the objectives to be achieved, requirements and expectations, and the roles and responsibilities of all concerned. It also serves to confirm the compliance of the product or service delivered. That is the theory.

In practice, specifications are often off-putting documents, scarcely readable, too often used as a means for all concerned to dodge any responsibility at all. All the more so for digital transformation, where projects make iterative progress and where any specification can become obsolete in a matter of weeks. The right questions are in fact rarely asked before projects start, and obstacles and risks are rarely detected before they appear.

The tunnel effect

“So, how is the project going?” “We’re getting there…” is the vague but unfortunately all-too common response in companies. It is however important to ensure that a project will be ready on time, if it is to meet with success. This in turn means precise visibility over the tasks done and those still to do in any project portfolio is crucial.

As a result, either projects are curtailed and digital transformation occurs little or not at all, or too many projects are launched independently with the inevitable outcome of a total shambles a few months down the line. The only way to avoid these pitfalls is managing project portfolios.

Successful project portfolio management

More often than not, digital transformation projects are interdependent to some extent. They share not only a common objective, but also resources from different departments. Project portfolio management will therefore serve to:

  • Improve project selection to start only those projects aligned with the company’s objectives;
  • Facilitate prioritisation of the projects with the best ROI;
  • Improve decision-making between projects, with some postponed and others halted;
  • Optimise use of resources allocated to projects;
  • Improve success rates by managing project resources and budgets collectively.

Project portfolio management is first and foremost a matter of governance and transparency. The project tracking dashboard and the indicators selected provide an overview of all the actions underway in the business, making it possible firstly to take (the right) decisions, and secondly to communicate with those concerned, whether closely involved or more remotely. Project portfolio management also means directing the company’s energy and workforce towards achieving the common strategic objective of digital transformation.

The objectives of project portfolio management and digital transformation

Coordinated project portfolio management should deliver improved project success rates and ROI alike. Successful completion of the much-desired digital transformation entails propelling the business towards change, improving it and driving its development. However, no change will occur without the goodwill of all the stakeholders in the organisation. Staff need to be successfully persuaded and galvanised to act.

To achieve this, two key success factors are that the whole business must be considered, and the right project management systems must be used.

Senior management must instil a project culture, support change and train their employees who, in turn, will put clear and effective methods in place to manage projects. Provision of a collaborative project management platform is also crucial for a clear picture, and to facilitate both progress with tasks and the reporting needed. Current digital tools do in fact deliver effective solutions, provided the right choice is made. And could there be a better way to achieve a successful digital transformation than using an innovative platform promoting collaborative working practices?