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Project portfolio management - Part 1

The next generation

It’s never easy to bring two organisations together, but when they’re both huge companies with millions of customers and deeply entrenched cultures, the difficulty level goes up dramatically. Throw in the pressures of Australia’s cutthroat telecommunications industries, and it’s no surprise that Chelsea Love looks back on the consolidation of Vodafone and Three Australia with some relief.

The transition, which supported the establishment of Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), wouldn’t have been possible without embracing a project portfolio management (PPM) approach to drive VHA’s new and unified project management office (PMO). The 80 project managers and 40 business analysts in the PMO were empowered by strong executive support and successfully engaged with key stakeholders throughout both businesses to identify issues early.

This was harder than it sounds; the very nature of both companies’ businesses forced them to manage a massive capital spend, but each had solved the problem in different ways. Vodafone had used a custom Microsoft Access database that was at its end of life and wouldn’t scale, while Three’s teams had been using multiple, heavily customised instances of CA International’s Clarity PPM system.

Because Three’s system still had a future, the project team positioned it at the centre of efforts to spread PPM discipline throughout the merged organisation. Yet problems emerged as PMO staff wrestled to get the extensively customised and fragmented application to support the new organisation they wanted to create. Simply replicating Three, after all, wasn’t enough.

“We knew early on that we needed to be seen as a value-added team within the organisation, and play a really strategic role,” says Love, who is process and systems manager within the PMO. “We recognised that we needed to go back to basics for consistency — but we had a tool that had been heavily customised, and no processes. That’s not really the basis for building up best practice.”

The team wound back the platform’s customisations to produce a more basic implementation that could provide what Love calls “consistent albeit basic information” about the carrier’s projects. Definitions of key PPM terms were standardised across both businesses, data-capture requirements established, and expectations of project managers set down to ensure high visibility and regular reviews of consolidation progress. PPM efforts are organised along process and systems, planning, and governance streams.

Visibility and consistency are critical in an environment that now manages about 400 capex projects annually, representing a total spend of around $500 million. By revisiting both its tools and resetting its expectations, the VHA team was able to build up a unified project management framework with all the metrics it needed to manage its projects in parallel — and keep them all running smoothly. Over time, the team’s use of the tools has become more sophisticated, with new forecasts, project timeframes, scheduling and other information added to the growing database of project management resources.

This year, Love says, the team got proactive with its PPM approach, for the first time collating and analysing its projected work calendar to proactively plan its projects and resources throughout 2012. A new project dashboard brings financial, governance, and procedural events together in a single one-stop shop through which executives and PMs are collaborating more closely than ever. And workflow models have been set up so, for example, design authorities for major architectural changes, which need to be approved by five different people and have previously been handled by manual email, can be progressed online with full visibility to all.

“We haven’t used the system like this before,” says Love. “We’ve primarily used it for data repositories and collecting information.

But this time we’ll be using it to do scenario mapping, and to produce a calendar that gives us a forward view of what projects are coming, and how much we’re about to spend. We’re an enterprise PMO with a centralised function, but we’re supporting a decentralised delivery model. Unless your project is in this system, you can’t spend capex.”

Read part 2 - Data-driven project portfolio management.

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