For any size business that undertakes multiple simultaneous projects, the ability to manage the project portfolio is a constant struggle (1). In particular, the portfolio over time tends to move to a higher state of disorder akin to the concept of entropy (2). Think about what happens at most companies, large and small: over time, more projects get started before existing projects are complete. Engineers are expected to work on not just one or two projects, which is ideal, but now must multi-task across multiple projects. On top of that, important customers demand new software features or enhancements to existing products, further diluting the focus on current projects. Statements like “every project seems to be late, never early”, “we always underestimate project cycle time” and “we constantly pull team members from a project to fix high priority customer requests” are common, especially in small to mid-sized firms. There are simply too many projects for too few resources, and the system grinds to halt.
In a previous article (3) I reviewed five tools that management can use to help bring order to a chaotic portfolio. They are particularly well suited for small to mid-sized organizations that are just beginning to realize that the informal processes they have used in the past will not suffice as the company, and the project portfolio, grows.
I want to expand on that discussion in this article, and describe a tool well suited for small to mid-sized companies. This online, cloud-based tool is provided by Nupe (www.nupe.com). The product focus is on providing only those features that you will actually use. Many organizations purchase very complex software but find that once implemented, a fraction of that functionality is used. Nupe utilizes a very simple-to-use interface that encourages use and minimizes training, even for casual users. Much of the software available may be very powerful, but if no one actually uses the product to make decisions, what’s the point of wasting time and money? This elegantly simple interface with the key parameters necessary to manage a portfolio helps “tell a story”, not just present mindless data. Other benefits include easy implementation and scaling across the organization, ease of assigning permissions to those who have access to portfolios and individual projects and of course a lower overall relative investment compared to alternatives.
You can try the tool for free and the full-capability version is available at a very affordable monthly fee. This cost effective tool is an excellent way to visualize a portfolio and aid in decision-making. It fills an important gap between doing nothing or using Excel® to manage a portfolio, and very expensive, overly complex enterprise PPM software products. Let’s illustrate how it can be used.
First, the tool allows you to create an online portfolio that consists of multiple projects. Figure 1 illustrates one of several projects that reside within a demonstration portfolio currently on the Nupe website. The graphics and text can be fully customized for the project. For each project in the portfolio, you can select from one of several pre-configured templates for managing a phase development process. Figure 2 illustrates this for a 4-phase development process that includes multiple deliverables for each phase. In this case, the project has completed Phase 1, and is currently in Phase 2. Only three of the phase deliverables are shown for illustration purposes. As can be seen, notes can also be entered. While the base version includes several standard, preconfigured project templates, customization of templates using a qualified Nupe strategic partner is possible (note that the strategic partner can help with other customization). In addition, a new feature coming soon will allow the project timeline to be input, and compared with other projects.
In addition, for each project in the portfolio, you can choose from a broad range of standard metrics (e.g. investment, revenue, resource requirements, etc.) or scorecards that are plotted as bubble charts For instance, you might choose a set of scorecard metrics that includes “importance to market” (x-axis), “technological advantage” (y-axis) and “market size” (bubble size). You input a relative ranking from 1-5 and the program generates a bubble chart with all the projects plotted. Figure 3 shows this set of metrics chosen for the project in Figure 1.
Now, once all projects and metrics have been input, the report tab provides a consolidation of all the projects. In this example you would have access to bar chart and tabular reports for NPV, total investment, total number of FTE Electronic engineers, and mechanical engineers. You would also have access to two bubble charts based on the scorecard metrics chosen. Figure 4 shows an example of the reports page, with the NPV metric highlighted. As you select each of the metric boxes at the top, the appropriate chart is displayed. Figure 5 shows an example of one of the bubble charts. In this case, the bubble size relates to relative market size.
Another useful feature is the portfolio planning mode. In that mode, while viewing the bubble chart in Figure 5, you can select individual projects, and remove them or add them back into the portfolio and watch what that does to the overall set of metrics. Figure 6 (next page) illustrates this functionality. You see that a project is highlighted and if you select “-“, it will be removed from the portfolio and all the consolidated metrics on the top of Figure 4 will change in real time. You can add back by selecting “+” or choose “i” to see the information on that project.
In summary, Nupe is an effective portfolio planning tool that focuses on tools you will actually use. Its simple graphical interface encourages use and minimizes the cost to roll out, scale and train. It is the perfect solution for small to mid-sized companies who need to improve their process beyond doing nothing and hoping for the best when it comes to portfolio management, or are frustrated with the inability of Excel® to tell a story. Even in large, multi-division organizations, Nupe finds a home as an easy-to-use and roll-out local tool for managing a portfolio that requires little investment and involvement from IT. Regardless of the size of the company, not only can the tool help make decisions about the relative value of a set of projects in a portfolio, but also help highlight the need to find projects that will lead to “bigger, better bubbles” as my colleague Paul O’Connor at the Adept Group contends, rightfully so, is an important aspect of portfolio management. As additional functionality is added to the tool, it will only improve.
Are you interested in using the portfolio tool from Nupe? Join us for a free informational webinar. New Product Visions is happy to help you utilize the tool and set-up an initial portfolio. We can of course also assist in evaluating your overall new product development (NPD) process, offer suggestions, and guide implementation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information on the services provided by New Product Visions, or visit our website at www.newproductvisions.com.
- For additional information on portfolio management, see these articles: Assessing Disorder in a New Product Development (NPD) Process, The Importance of a Balanced Project Portfolio, Critical Aspects of Project Portfolio Management in NPD Success.
- Paul O’Connor of the Adept Group (adept-plm.com) is credited with the concept of entropy as it relates to higher states of disorder in project portfolios. The second law of thermodynamics states that all systems move to a higher state of disorder. To bring more order, energy must be expended.
- See Practical Tools for Project Portfolio Management.
New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. We specialize in small to mid-sized companies that manufacture highly engineered products. We are also an authorized Nupe strategic partner and can assist with your use of the Nupe tool. Contact us today about how we might help you!
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