Digital transformation is impossible without effective project portfolio management

Is digital transformation just a buzzword?

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

Will this trend last or will it be a fad?

All the talk right now is about sustainability. Everything happening in a business has to be sustainable, from the purchase of paper clips to production methods, waste sorting and employees’ working conditions. Sustainability had become a cliché, a marketing strategy bereft of any meaning, but one which had the merit of being on-trend. Only the serious contenders are now taking sustainability seriously… just look at what our friends at FFI are doing.

So, is digital transformation set to follow the same path? Is it a 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 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. Today, we see a lot of projects starting (but not always ending successfully), sometimes duplicating each other, and managing resources and costs in an opportunistic manner, often producing results that are a mixed bag, if not discouraging and frustrating for the staff. What can be done to fix this?

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.

Do you have too much or too little independence?

In the beginning, digital transformation will attract attention. There are consultants and service providers that will sell you whatever you say you want, to bring some digital action to 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 to be successful will be projects where all business units have skin in the game.

What’s the point of specifications without 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.

Tunnel vision

“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 to manage your 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 coordinated management of project portfolios should improve project success rates and return on investment. Successful completion of the much-desired digital transformation entails propelling the business towards change, improving it and driving its development. Change will not occur without the goodwill of all stakeholders in the organisation. Staff need to be successfully persuaded and galvanised to act.

Senior management must instil a program culture, support change and train their employees who, in turn, will put clear and effective methods in place to manage projects. 

How can we help?

Talk to us about how we can help your organisation ensure your transformation program ties in your portfolio of projects. Making it real is what we do.

How can you connect with us?

We’d love to hear about your journey. Did reflecting on Project Portfolio Management help?

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About the Author

Jason Novobranec is Implementary’s Chief Operating Officer.

With over 20 years of Consulting, Program Management & Senior Leadership experience, Jason has delivered initiatives for large multi-national / multi-regional organisations as well as SME’s and is an expert in shaping solutions to fit a customer’s project needs.