Better projects faster
You, your group, your company, and many other companies likely share a similar problem. It is a problem that is slowing both your success and organizational success. Our guest phrases it as not maximizing the goal impact of your project portfolio. I phrase it as merely doing too many projects for the resources available and not focusing on the projects that will make the most difference to the organization.
My guest has a four-part framework for improving this and he shares it in this discussion. His name is Mike Hannan and he has helped many organizations more quickly create value for customers and themselves by applying this framework.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[4:31] In portfolio project management, what does it mean to maximize the performance of the portfolio–the goal impact?
Maximizing goal impact means decreasing cost and increasing value, getting the most juice for the squeeze. Depending on your company, you might measure value as profit or mission impact. We often limit ourselves by merely trying to stay on schedule or on budget, and we forget that there is no upper limit to maximizing value. Focusing on maximizing goal impact is very freeing because you can keep trying different changes until you’ve reached a value and cost you’re satisfied with.
In your model for maximizing project portfolio performance, there are four categories of actions. Let’s talk through each one…
[8:36] Get more projects done.
To get more projects done, you need to optimize the workflow of your system. Just because the system can handle more work doesn’t mean that more work will promote the best flow of work. When we see available resources, we feel like we must utilize them. We think that the more projects we start the more we’ll get done. In reality, the opposite is true. We need to promote maximum flow as opposed to maximum utilization. Focusing on a few high-value projects that you can get done quickly is more productive than completing many projects over a long period of time.
[14:31] Execute projects more reliably.
The value proposition of a product or project initiative may be sensitive to a specific due date. There’s a lot of uncertainty in how fast tasks will take, but estimating the time needed to reliably hit the due date drives goal impact. Even if your project is not super sensitive to a particular date, saving time always saves value. Tomorrow is not as good as today. Putting a schedule buffer or scope buffer in place can help you deliver reliably and protect the value of your project. Being reliable will build your credibility and help you achieve greater responsibility and impact.
[21:35] Select higher-impact projects.
When you have identified a number of new initiatives, how do you know which ones to focus on that are of the highest value to your organization? Instead of allowing just one leader to decide, maximize creativity by involving the entire leadership team. The leaders will have different, conflicting ideas, so a tool like the analytic hierarchy process, a method of scoring the impact of projects, can help the team have a conversation about the criteria for high-impact projects.
[27:05] Engineer higher-impact project/portfolio results.
We can engineer greater value into our projects and products as we go. We have to consider whether we can make a less expensive minimum viable product that we can deliver even faster without producing an incomplete, defective product. This decision is often based on our gut feeling and watching those in the marketplace who are getting it right. Maximizing goal impact means optimizing the cost, schedule, and scope of a product and re-optimizing them throughout execution.
Bonus Question: How do you convince leaders to prioritize and do fewer projects better?
You have to be a leader with enough political will, political capital, and bravery to point out that the system is overloaded and that you need to put a large number of the ongoing projects on hold. A good rule of thumb is to pause about half of the projects. It’s painful to renegotiate commitments you’ve already made, but you’ll get the highest priority projects done much faster. You’ll also get the lowest priority projects done faster because you’ll increase flow.
There’s a natural bottleneck in the system, and if you try to go faster than the bottleneck allows, you’ll end up slower. Just pausing half of your projects is better than staying frozen, but even better is to identify the bottleneck, which is usually creative, high-level thinkers like designers and architects. Determine which phases those people are needed in, and ask them how much time they need for each initiative. If they need three weeks, build a spreadsheet that staggers your projects three weeks apart, but continue to adjust the timing as needed.
- Mike’s group, Fortezza Consulting
- Connect with Mike via his LinkedIn profile
“Doubting everything and believing everything are two equally convenient solutions that guard us from having to think” – legendary philosopher, theoretical physicist, mathematician, and “celestial mechanist” Henri Poincaré
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