The Future of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Technology

The end of 2013 is nipping at our heels; I find it hard to believe that yet another year has flown by, and I marvel at the great many things that we have accomplished at EPMA this year. If I still paid for things with written checks, then I would already start planning for the number of checks that I would need to tear up and throw away because I forgot to write “2014” instead of “2013”. I DON’T write checks anymore, though; in fact, I barely carry cash and I rely heavily on a little plastic rectangle that I carry everywhere in my wallet. This little plastic rectangle allows me to purchase nearly anything (provided that I have the currency or credit to back it up), it allows me to see a history of all past transactions from any computer (fixed or mobile), and it rewards me for loyal use by accumulating points that I can spend at Amazon. When I received my first little plastic rectangle in high school, I had no idea the possibilities that awaited me in the future (and the trouble that it could get me into!).

Just as credit and debit cards have changed how we conduct business over the past couple of decades, they, too, will be eventually replaced with new and innovative payment methods… just as cash and hand-written paper checks were replaced by little plastic rectangles. Whether the next universal payment mechanism involves our mobile phones, Bitcoins, or something else entirely… it will inevitably arrive and replace what we use today.


…what does any of this have to do with Project Portfolio Management? Plenty… because just as financial transaction technologies are in a constant state of evolution, so are PPM technologies… and we have some very exciting things ahead of us.

I have been helping people to implement Microsoft PPM systems for over a decade, and I have seen them evolve from stand-alone, simplistic, centralized project repositories to rich, full-featured, integrated work management systems that are capable of…

…Schedule Management

…Program Management

…Portfolio Management

…Demand Management

…Resource Management

…Artifacts Management

…Time Management

…Cost Management

…and more.

Although these have been some exciting innovations, we have many more innovations ahead of us that will make today’s PPM systems look like stone tools tied to wooden sticks. There will be a day in the not-too-distant future when we will join an intelligent project ecosystem where projects will build and update themselves automatically. The projects in this ecosystem will analyze themselves, identify risks and issues, and suggest solutions to us. These projects will have conversations with us, with one another, and with a connected matrix of cloud-based systems such as sales clouds, financial clouds, maintenance and operations clouds, and more. People have been asking for this is functionality for many years, and we are very close to having the technologies to deliver it to them.

Building and Updating Project Schedules Automatically

Building and updating project schedules is perhaps the most difficult and tedious aspect of administrative PPM activities. It is a necessary evil, but very few people like to do it, and very few people have the time to do it. Even the most brilliant Program and Project Managers, Engineers, and Analysts find it tedious and frustrating; it is not their core competency, and they would rather be doing other things that they are well-suited to do. Large companies such as General Motors and Boeing that run large-scale, highly technical projects and programs have armies of schedulers whose only role in the company is to build and update project schedules. Imagine the savings that could be realized if an intelligent PPM system could handle these administrative tasks automatically.

An intelligent PPM scheduling tool would prompt Program and Project Managers, Engineers, and Analysts for their key deliverables, then reference a predefined process library to model the activities and sequencing necessary to produce the deliverables. In cases where the library does not have the necessary process models for unique deliverables, the tool would provide a simple and intuitive graphical interface to create the missing process models. The scheduling tool would reference the process library for the skills necessary for each required activity, then check the Enterprise Resource Pool for resources having the necessary skills and availability to complete the work. Functional Resource Managers would be presented with the proposed resource selections and would be asked for their approval.

Upon Resource Manager approval, the intelligent PPM system would initiate a conversation with the selected project Team Members notifying them of their assignments and other resources available to them, as well as asking them what else they may need to complete their work. The system would then communicate with them on a regular basis to monitor their progress, prompt them for risks or issues, and confirm task and deliverable completions. If there is a standardized mechanism for storing deliverable completion evidence, then the PPM system would monitor that mechanism and track deliverable completions automatically. To facilitate a seamless conversation with Team Members, the PPM system would need to expose the conversation through existing tools that they already use on a regular basis, such as Microsoft Outlook, company-specific software programs, company intranet portals, or the operating system of any device that the person is using.

Self-Analyzing Project Schedules and Automated Issue Resolution

Another tedious task that Program and Project Managers, Engineers, and Analysts should do — but often do not because of time constraints or lack of know-how — is project schedule analysis and issue resolution. Currently as part of a project update cycle, the person responsible for managing a project schedule should not only update the schedule with current progress, but also analyze the schedule for issues such as missed deadlines in the forecast, over allocated resources in the forecast causing schedule risk, and other scheduling conflicts and issues.

Imagine a situation when Victor the Engineer submits a request for two weeks of vacation in June so that he can take his family on a camping trip. When the vacation request is approved by his manager in the vacation tracking system, it communicates this vacation time immediately to the PPM system where Victor’s availability is reduced to zero. The PPM system cross-references this vacation time with any projects to which Victor is assigned during that time frame, and finds that he is assigned to produce an important project deliverable — a set of engineering drawings that must be delivered to the customer — during that same time frame. The engineering drawings are on the critical path for the project, and they cannot be delayed; therefore, the PPM system scans the Enterprise Resource Pool and locates another Engineer resource with the same skills and experience. The PPM system then proposes the resource replacement to the Project Manager and the Engineer’s Resource Manager, and when approved by both, the system automatically makes the replacement and notifies everyone involved.

Intelligent Project Conversations and the Cloud

An intelligent project is severely limited unless it can communicate seamlessly with project participants and stakeholders, other projects, and other Line of Business (LoB) systems where project data is used. Most projects are currently locked away on isolated islands behind corporate firewalls, but project leaders are beginning to realize the power of unlocking those projects and moving them out to the cloud. EPMA has been helping our customers to move in that direction with great success, and we see that trend continuing in 2014 and beyond. As more types LoB systems move to the cloud, this opens up enormous opportunities for PPM clouds, sales and CRM clouds, HR clouds, finance clouds, maintenance and support clouds, and other clouds to easily and securely have conversations with one another.

EPMA has helped several of our customers to enable conversations between their projects and other in-house systems such as financial and ERP, but these bridges tend to be complex, time-consuming, and expensive to build. Moving PPM to the cloud enables standardized communication protocols and sets the stage for an intelligent project ecosystem that facilitates the easy and seamless conversations that we need.

Coming Soon to a Project Ecosystem Near You

These advances in Project Portfolio Management technologies are coming soon, and EPMA is on the forefront of developing innovations such as these and implementing them for our customers. Our experts have decades of combined experience helping people to more effectively manage their projects, programs, and portfolios, and our growing and extremely talented team is developing the building blocks to make these dreams a reality very soon. I am very excited about the innovations that we have planned for 2014, and what they can do for our customers.

Contact EPMA today to start a conversation about joining the intelligent project ecosystem and bringing an unprecedented level of PPM sophistication to your organization.