Baby Steps to a Successful PPM Implementation

I have been working in the Project and Portfolio Management realm for a number of years now. Over the years I have seen clients run projects in numerous industries ranging from Financial Institutions in London to Oil & Gas Companies in Houston. I have seen many failed implementations where people have hired a bunch of inexperienced ‘Cowboys’ that didn’t really know what they were doing and/or simply didn’t care about the results of the implementation. Another common scenario is where a company has tried to implement Project Server in-house; I ‘tip my hat’ to those people as even installing Project Server is a difficult process. However, I have noticed that it doesn’t matter how technically brilliant you are, there are more fundamental issues at stake. The fact of the matter is; the human race has been doing projects for thousands of years, some may argue that the Pyramids of Egypt (4500 years ago) were one of the first projects that man undertook. However, it wasn’t until 1969 (4446 years later) that the Project Management Institute (PMI) was founded, and it took them 14 years to come up with the PMBoK! In fact, the function of a Project Management Office (PMO) has only really taken off in the last 5 – 10 years. The point that I’m getting at is that in the grand scheme of things we are relatively new to structured Project Management and still have a long way to go. In my experience; the majority of organization’s project management model is not mature enough to implement a PPM tool with all the bells and whistles. Without the proper guidance I have seen organizations run into a double edged sword; on one hand you have organizations that try to implement a tool to automate their well-defined project management processes and believe that they are ready to have a full scale implementation in one hit. Then you have the organizations that don’t have a well-defined model, often no PMO office and inexperienced project managers but foolishly believe that a full scale PPM solution will help them to improve their project management processes and chances of project success. My recommendation to both mature and immature organizations is always the same: Baby Steps.


Project Server is a very powerful tool, its capabilities are tremendous. Users can compare projects based on their strategic value, create an automated workflow to pass requests around your organization, as well as use Project Server Timesheets to get dynamic updates from your project resources. In addition, each project has a fully customizable project site that can store things such as ‘project issues’, ‘project risks’, and change requests. Team members can upload project documents or create one from a predefined template stored on the site, the possibilities are infinite. Organizations that try to implement everything in one hit find that the project will seldom go as planned, this is why I always guide my clients into a ‘walk before you run’ staged approach. So how do we go about this? For most clients I suggest that we use the system to do basic project scheduling and reporting, once that is mastered we will move towards turning on the portfolio analyzer. Once people are happy using that tool and are seeing value; we could build a workflow to automate some of the manual processes that have been developed. This approach should be tailored to the client and varies depending on business needs; there is no “one size fits all” approach. Where do people go wrong? I have gone into many organizations to pick up the pieces of failed implementations. Some of these failing points include; server errors and performance issues, projects are not up to date, resources are overallocated across all projects, etc. As a result people don’t have faith in the system and are not using it or aren’t using it correctly. Ultimately, the data in the system becomes less and less valid, therefore any reports being run on the data are unreliable and lack the confidence of stakeholders begins to dwindle. So what do I recommend to avoid PPM Implementation failure? 1. Requirements It is vital that an organization sits down and gathers requirements for the system. Typically, at EPMA we run our clients through a number of workshops to elicit their requirements and make suggestions based on industry leading practices. Gathering requirements is an essential step to ensure a successful implementation. For example; I once saw a client that implemented Project Server in-house, they didn’t create project schedule templates for their various project types, trivial thing you may assume. However having various schedule templates sets out the standard of what is expected within the project schedule, and furthermore the schedules are setup correctly putting users on the road to success. 2. Training Most people think, yeah right we don’t need training and this is often the first place that people look to cut the budget. However, I have seen big issues arise from a lack of training. Even if all of your project managers have been using Project AND Project Server for years, (which again in my experience is very rare), they still need to learn the new governance processes that have been put in place and what is expected from the new system. If Project Managers don’t know how to assign resources correctly (see blog on assigning resources), update their schedules properly and keep them up to date (see blog on updating project schedules)the data in the system becomes less and less reliable, not to mention resource utilization goes through the roof! 3. Support No matter how well your system has been implemented, how good the training was or how mature your organization is there will always be a need for support. From making necessary configuration tweaks to answering questions that Project Managers have about their schedules a support contract can help with all of these. When implementing anything for the first time there are always teething troubles and issues that need to be fixed. As soon as the ball is dropped on support things start to go wrong e.g. the project server queue gets backed up, Project Managers can’t update their project, and the system will eventually come to a screeching halt. To summarize, if you want a successful PPM implementation you need to take baby steps, start with the basics and once you have a foundation in place begin to build off of that as your organization adapts to the changes. Take some time to figure out your requirements; try to figure out how you can improve your process and aim to create a structured project lifecycle. Find a good training partner; preferably one that has an understanding of your system and make sure that you have the technical support to maintain the system.  Obviously EPMA will help you with all of the above! 🙂

Thanks for reading! I am a consultant at EPMA, we don’t consult for our clients, we partner with them and as a result, we don’t sell to our clients, we provide value and solutions for them. We’re experts not only in the latest EPM technologies and tools, but also in industry-standard business processes – enabling us to design and implement a custom EPM solution perfectly aligned with your business model and industry vertical.  We leverage over a decade of best practices, proven methodologies, and process knowledge to ensure the successful implementation and adoption of your Enterprise Project and Portfolio Management solutions.