If you are considering implementing a new project portfolio management system, it's worth being aware of the common management mistakes that can obstruct the process, as well as some important steps that can lead to a successful result. Michael McMullen provides an overview for assisting companies with the implementation of a project portfolio management solution.

It's up to senior management to ensure that resistance to change is considered, planned for and dealt with in order to maximise the chances of success for a new project portfolio management system implementation.

Eight common management mistakes

There are a number of common management mistakes that can lead to users resisting adoption of a new system:

  1. Abdication
    Senior management appoint a manager to oversee the implementation of a new project portfolio management system and then turn their attention to other matters assuming that all will be well, without any further involvement from them.
  2. Poor communication
    Senior management believe that everyone will conform to a new set of procedures for planning and managing projects without having communicated the reasons behind the implementation to the users of the system.
  3. Failure to tackle non-conformists
    Often senior management is aware of one or two dissenters in the organisation but they rely upon the introduction of the new system to improve these individuals' productivity and performance, within the new project management processes, rather than tackling them head-on through direct communication.
  4. Weak management
    Senior management often have a mistaken belief that the new project portfolio management system alone will introduce and enforce new processes.
  5. Not communicating objectives
    Senior management has recognised the potential return on investment that can be achieved from the new project portfolio management system, but has not explained this to the implementation manager to engage their support and promote adoption of the system throughout the organisation.
  6. Poorly specified solution
    Senior management believes that it is the responsibility of the software supplier to design and implement a complete solution in isolation and fail to appreciate that the organisation and its key personnel are a vital part of that solution.
  7. Failure to anticipate resistance
    Senior management does not recognise there will be a natural resistance to accepting and adopting the new system by many users and fail to devise a plan to overcome this.
  8. Fear of the 'expert'
    A special mention must be given to one of the greatest threats to a successful implementation of a new system, fear of the 'expert'. In a typical scenario, senior management is dependant upon a highly respected and influential project manager. Failure to engage with these knowledgeable individuals to harness their experience and help them to embrace the changes can result in them being allowed to continue to plan their projects in their own way, using the old system. This is the worst of all outcomes for the business that now has two systems running in parallel with some people embracing the new technology and those, loyal to the powerful 'expert', using the old system.

The chances of completing a successful implementation can be seriously hampered by any one of these mistakes. Making multiple mistakes without taking corrective action is almost consigning the implementation to failure.

Ten steps to success

Drawing on the experience of companies that have successfully implemented a new project portfolio management system, there are a number of important steps that have been identified for facilitating a smooth transition and implementation.

  1. Problem recognition
    Senior management must recognise that resistance to change is a potential problem. There needs to be an acceptance that some time, budget and internal resources should to be allocated to deal with this.
  2. Clear objectives
    Senior management must have a clearly defined statement of objectives for the system, detailing the expected benefits. Without this it will be impossible to determine whether the implementation is a success from a business perspective.
  3. Implementation manager
    An internal manager should be appointed to co-ordinate the implementation. This person should be given the necessary skills and authority to guide users through the new procedures and promote their adoption of the project portfolio management system.
  4. Review procedures
    Existing procedures must be understood by all system users and clearly documented. Any proposed changes to these procedures should be highlighted and the benefits detailed and communicated to all system users.
  5. Involve 'experts'
    Highly respected and influential individuals must be involved in the planning process and should be consulted early on in the process so that any valid points they may have can be factored into the final solution.
  6. Communication
    All staff and contractors whose work is affected by the new system should be briefed about the objectives of the system, the expected outcomes and the timeline for implementation. It should be made clear at this stage that old systems WILL be removed at a specific time in the future, thereby encouraging everyone to be involved.
  7. Training
    All staff and contractors involved in using the new project portfolio management system should be provided with appropriate training within the context of their roles. This training should also include any new procedures that are to be adopted. Training should not be a one-off event. Staff turnover and new project contractors often results in new users attempting to figure out how a system works and learn on the job. Inevitably some expertise is lost with a change of staff and over time this can degrade the performance of the team. In the long-run it is simpler and more cost-effective to have new starters and contractors properly trained, possibly combining this with a refresher course for existing staff.
  8. Implementation review team
    An internal Implementation Review Team should be established comprising key personnel who will be involved with the new system e.g. project managers and resource/line managers. Weekly meetings, chaired by the Implementation Manager, should be held during the implementation process to highlight any perceived problems and discuss resolutions.
  9. Old system shutdown
    At a pre-designed date, that has been communicated to all staff and contractors, the old system should be shut down and removed from company hardware, after giving reminders in the run-up to the date.
  10. Vendor clinics
    Building on the work done by the Implementation Review Team, a good system vendor will offer clinics to review and resolve teething issues and provide additional training if necessary.

Periodic system review

As the organisation becomes more familiar with the system, the focus should switch away from vendor clinics and on to system review meetings that are broader in scope and involve senior stakeholders as well as the system vendor. System review meetings provide an opportunity for the organisation to explore new ways of extracting additional returns from the initial investment, as well as learning about new technical developments that could further enhance their business.

Help is at hand

Vendors and outside consultants can help with simple and complex change management issues like those mentioned briefly in this article. The soft issues they address can sometimes not be dealt with as easily or quickly by people who are closer to the problem and an outsider can often be a good facilitator of change. The costs are often insignificant when compared with the costs of the failure of the implementation or a protracted and fragmented implementation.

Michael McCullen is co-founder and managing director of Asta Development, and chief executive of Eleco Construction Software, the software division of Asta's parent company, Eleco plc.