Portfolio management is an information- and work intensive process – an ideal area of application for information and communication technology (see also chapter D3 with suitable products from IBM). Data collection, processing, evaluation, visualization, and simulation are multiple possibilities of supporting management present themselves.
The reality is different: a field of untapped potential becomes apparent. Potentials are however already utilized by the best performers in this study. Even at this point, there is a distinct difference between best and low performers. Best performers offer more functionality, deeper integration, reduce media breaks and avoid manual labor. Low performers tend to choose one-off solutions without integration and with many manual, redundant tasks.
Best practice software applications used rarely
Function offers and integration mainly take place amongst the few best performers. The other companies describe a scenario of isolated solutions, one-off applications, in-house developments and Excel spreadsheets, with a few comprehensive, yet for the most part misused applications. Analyses are conducted case by case as single evaluations and documented in the form of presentations. We received no systematic answer to the question “Which software do you use?. In summary, most of the time the answer was “Excel”. Only a small group of best performers, who are also to be found at the very top in terms of total maturity, use deeply integrated, mostly specialized PPM-Systems with a wider range of functions.
Underlying causes of this behavior
Upon asking participants with very low software support why precisely this decision was made in this very important area of corporate activity, the following statements are given.
Statements about motivation for PowerPoint and Excel
• Flexibility of Excel and Office offers sufficient functionality
• No training necessary for standard Office products
• Quick implementation and simple data maintenance
• Worldwide availability and compatibility with Office formats
• Office is already the company standard, so no additional costs
• Independent solutions grew historically, which makes discarding them difficult
• Sufficient solution for a manageable amount of projects
Statements about general software requirements
• Short lead time, adequate and slim, cost-performance ratio has to add up
• No known tool that would not require extensive personalization
• A tool that creates consistency, yet reduces the desired flexibility
• Software is of no importance to PPM; if at all, it is only useful for controlling afterwards
• A tool does not lead to increased effectiveness when the management stance is missing
• No tool has so far met the requirements
• Even MS Project is too complex to maintain
These statements are in stark contrast to the corporate importance and the requirements towards management, governance and process, yet they are in complete harmony with the “communicative rather than analytical” approach shown in the process, under application of methods. There is also a fundamental difference to the best performers, who see comprehensive support from a deeply integrated tool and a complete utilization of its functions as the best solution.
Contradictions between data quality and the existence of systems
Participants value the quality of input data very differently, and in our opinion significantly inconsistent to other statements. Only 6 percent state that they conduct manual data administration. 21 percent have a common template in use, 31 percent have a centralized project repository, and further 15 percent integrate data from external systems. An additional 27 percent report that they guarantee real-time access to all data concerning the project environment. This is a clear contradiction to previous statements concerning availability of deeply integrated system support. The participants reflect on data quality in systems they do not even possess in this form. Mainly users of unrefined isolated solutions claim to have access to data which consolidates these systems and delivers high availability. The phenomenon of an existing but unrecognized problem could seriously impede many companies on their path towards a real and professional system support of the area product-portfolio management, due to many responsible people believing a high-performance system is already in place.
Aspects for improvement of used PPM software
When asked which aspects of the utilized software could be improved, the top three nominations are missing integration, unsatisfactory degree of automation, and insufficient synchronicity of project data. This coincides with most of the participants, who operate either none, or in the best-case only isolated solutions. The manual effort required by the planning process should bind considerable resources inefficiently, and have a high potential for mistakes in companies of this size. The answers concerning possible improvements are not surprising considering the barely existing best practice software solutions. However, they also suggest that most of those responsible still lack a basic comprehension of the magnitude of the task at hand. In this aspect, the group can be described as clearly divided into two parts. On the one hand there are the best performers, who work with comprehensive systems and have recognized the difficulties of integration and data quality, and on the other hand, there is the larger part of companies, who still have to understand the actual problems.