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What to look for in PPM software for a diverse organization

Diversity comes in a variety of flavors. Traditionally, a diversified organization was one with a portfolio of unrelated products, selling them to many different market segments. Today, classic, product, and market diversification give way to a new kind of diversity – such as with various products, PM methodologies, and people coexisting and interacting in an organization. Such broadly understood diversity is the daily bread of most large organizations today. When deciding on what PPM software to choose for a diverse organization, it is crucial to understand why organizations develop methodologically-diverse environments in the first place, and what challenges this implies. Here is an executive buyer’s guide to selecting the best PPM software for a diverse company (PM methodology-wise).

What drives diversity?

It’s easy to oversee the path that led from product diversification to organizational diversity. However, rewind to the oil and mass production age to realize how the old economy has evolved into the diverse organizations of today. Here are some steps:

  • The phenomenon of the product life cycle was what made product diversification popular. Most products last up to several dozens of years. Even paper, with its 2000-year history, is clearly on the decline. Not to mention pager devices, or classic cellphones, which lasted just about 20 years as mainstream products. Most products will die eventually, and the diversified corporations were a by-product of that fact of life.
  • Technological progress made distributed and dispersed teams feasible and popular. Telecommunication, e-mail, video-communication gradually separated design from manufacturing and business administration.
  • Cheap air travel has been a contributing factor moving people of various origins to destinations such as Silicon Valley, where they could use their skills best.

The three phenomena resulted in the diverse organizations of today.

Challenges of diversity

Let’s name challenges specific to the diverse organizations (and unknown to the homogenous ones):

  • many different management methods across an organization,
  • various software tools used by teams to manage their work,
  • the constant struggle to tear down corporate silos.

These are just a few types of challenges associated with the product, PM methodology, and cultural diversity.

Next, we will talk about the Product/Project Management methodology part, as that’s where most of the implications for the PPM software stem from.

What is PPM software?

PPM or Project Portfolio Management is distinctly different from project management or work management. PPM software covers at least two of the aforementioned areas, namely portfolio and project management. In some cases, PPM software includes work management modules, too.

Furthermore, it’s important to realize the difference between ERP and PPM tools. Both touch the resource planning field, and it’s hard to imagine an enterprise without some ERP suite, for invoicing purposes at least, if not for anything else. PPM software, on the other hand, is useful for initiatives/innovations management.

Example

A confectionery company would use an ERP suite to make sure they have stocked up with cocoa powder, waffles, and oil to produce five tons of chocolate bars and to order more ingredients in advance to keep the production line running once the original five tons are ready. In turn, a PPM tool would be used to plan work on a new chocolate bar recipe and production line design.

It’s the portfolio capabilities in PPM software that are so rare and valued. Especially diversified organizations tend to standardize business information across businesses, products, departments, subsidiaries, and geographical markets. Companies within a capital group often use various ERP systems, but they must collectively be served by a single PPM software package. Some departments or teams within a company could plan agilely, while others could use classic-predictive project/product methodologies. The PPM software is an “umbrella” that binds businesses, departments, teams, or geographical markets and delivers the big picture to those responsible for strategy.

Example

An apparel company designs collections in the U.S., manufactures them in Mexico, and they have several brands in the portfolio. Design teams responsible for youth clothing prefer ‘try and error’, agile way of inventing fashion, while the adult clothing teams favor linear, timeline project management. In addition to that, the corporation sells on both American and European markets. A few work management tools found application throughout teams, countries, and markets of the group. How does the management board know the progress of such a diverse clothing company? A PPM software suite is an answer.

While centralized, PPM software must not ruin the motivation of low-level teams. We all know how imposed tools can ruin harmony at the team level. Centralized PM software may result in a charged atmosphere in the workplace and discrepancies in data featuring work progress and performance.

So, what qualities, modules, and features to look for in PPM software?

1. Bird’s eye view

First, check if it’s a true PPM suite. Project management software is available in bulk, while true Project Portfolio Management packages are a rarity. Not all PPM applications will be advertised as PPM since the term might discourage moderately-sized clients. A quick test goes as follows:

  • can you group projects/products into portfolios?
  • can you aggregate business information (time, task counts, etc.) at the portfolio level, including the pan-organizational portfolio

Have a look at this screenshot of BigPicture. Can you notice how a new portfolio is being added? Also, notice how the existing ‘Product Portfolio’ contains both projects and products. Now, can you see the company-level progress bar in the top row (3% progress for the whole diverse organization)?

true-ppm-application-2.png

Seek views like this, to determine if a software package belongs to the PPM category. The SSoT or Single Source of Truth concept is another keyphrase to be aware of. TrustRadius, Capterra, and Gartner run separate PPM categories.

2. Modules to look for

Besides the bird’s eye view, you need a standard PM toolset in your PPM software package. What modules to seek in the 2020s?

  • Scope (WBS, work breakdown structure)
  • Gantt chart (a.k.a. Schedule or Roadmap)
  • Roadmap (timebox-agile and timeline variants)
  • Agile Board/Program Board
  • Resources
  • Calendar
  • Teams
  • Risks
  • Reports
  • Budgets (unless you already have a comprehensive budgeting system in place)

Are you able to launch a separate Gantt chart for each project/product, SAFe ART, LeSS Requirement Area throughout a portfolio? Does the PPM application you are evaluating have most or only some of the above modules? Can you relabel modules on the per-team, or per-project basis, for instance, label the Gantt chart ‘Schedule’ or ‘Roadmap’, to be consistent with the PM methodology a concerned team prefers? Ask these questions before you purchase a PPM package.

gantt-chart-ppm.png

Diverse organizations tend to be hybrid in terms of PM methodologies they use. They blend diverse approaches in their portfolios of initiatives. 

3. Work management part

How does PPM software go about the operational, work management part of the portfolio management job? Should a PPM tool, one for a highly diverse organization, have its own task manager, or perhaps should it integrate with established tools, such as Trello? If the latter, then one-way or bi-directionally? There are a few answers to this question, and some of them prove more efficient than others. Let’s look closer at their pros and cons.

PPM software with an integrated task manager

Initially, we wished BigPicture had an integrated task manager but later postponed the idea. We realized it was more future-proof and efficient for our clients to let teams keep the tools they love rather than force a new task manager on the teams. What task managers do teams love? Jira, Azure DevOps, Trello are well-established work management tools, certainly loved throughout various industries. It takes years and dozens of programmers to design a user-friendly Kanban work manager, such as Trello. We know the list is way longer and so the list of available integrations of BigPicture is growing with each passing quarter.

PPM software as an add-on, or plugin for a popular task management software

This option sounds reasonable. BigPicture began this way. We simply built a PPM plugin for Jira. This worked. 

PPM “umbrella” that you can connect with many well-known task managers

BigPicture Trello, Azure DevOps Server, Jira integration

Establishing a connection between Trello and a BigPicture Box.

This is a way to go in the 2020s, we believe. Building a good task manager is hard, but about as hard is to predict which popular work management packages will survive the next decade. Rather than developing a task manager at home, we let users connect Trello, Jira, and – soon – other tools to BigPicture Boxes (projects, products, SAFe ARTs, LeSS Requirement Areas, etc.).

Example

“Product A” Team in a diverse organization has committed to Trello. With BigPicture PPM software, they can keep using their preferred tool instead of getting used to a new one. PMO connects their Trello instance to “Product A” Box in BigPicture. Now, “Product A” Box contributes to the big picture of the entire organization. Senior managers can keep an eye on the Box being displayed as a single line (progress bar, task-by-status count) in the pan-organizational portfolio Overview in BigPicture. They can also manage Trello tasks in BigPicture’s Gantt, WBS, Roadmap, Risks, and other modules. The Trello tasks can be edited from within BigPicture – this is a two-way integration.

Data reliability is another winner of the “umbrella” setup. Data inconsistencies are hard to notice in diverse organizations. Since managers and team leaders do not input data manually to transfer it from one tool to another, the risk of data manipulation effectively mitigated.

Conclusion

What to look for in PPM software for a diverse organization? Seek the big picture at the portfolio level, seek the standard PM toolset such as Gantt chart, Roadmaps, Risks, and Reports. Look for integrations with proven tasks managers, so that the work teams can keep their beloved tools.

How about the time and costs? Large, diverse organizations got used to million-dollar worth software packages that take years to implement. It is quite different from BigPicture that resides on Jira that many organizations already have. Once you’ve purchased the BigPicture license, only managers need to learn the new app. All others continue using Jira or third-party tools. Thus, plenty of time and money can be saved on software implementation and training./Marcin Gębicz

 

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