For any size business that undertakes multiple simultaneous projects, the ability to manage the project portfolio is a constant struggle (1). Think about what happens at most companies, large and small: over time, more projects get started before existing projects are complete, and new ideas become higher priority. 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 or services, 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. This article will describe a simple-to-use, cost effective online portfolio management tool.
Portfolio management is about allocating scarce company resources to prevent overloading the capacity of the organization to develop new products. Companies typically use very simple tools like spreadsheets. On the other end of the spectrum, they purchase very expensive enterprise software. Spreadsheets tend to be simple, but hinder communication across the organization. They are not effective at “telling a story” which is important in portfolio management. Enterprise level software solutions tend to be complex and packed full of functionality….that no one uses, wasting company resources and not solving the problem for which they were purchased.
Nupe (www.nupe.com) provides an online portfolio management tool well suited for small to mid-sized companies or divisions within larger companies looking for a simple, easy-to-deploy solution. The product focus is on providing only those features that you will actually use. It utilizes a very simple-to-use interface that encourages use and minimizes training, even for casual users. The 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 (no IT support necessary), ease of assigning permissions to those who have access to portfolios and individual projects (supporting collaboration) and a much lower overall investment compared to enterprise level software 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 by considering the following case study (2):
Figure 1 below will be the basis of this case study. Most companies today use some form of a phased development process illustrated by the colored arrows representing the process flow from one stage to the next. All the common stages are illustrated, including one called “ideation” as a first stage. In this example, the “ideation” stage is in essence where all new ideas are managed, prior to a decision to move forward with a formal project. You can think of it as an idea management process. In this example, it is a single stage and there is an associated “template” that includes multiple deliverables. The deliverables would include the key factors that have to be considered before a company decides to develop the idea further, kill the idea, or archive the idea for future consideration. The deliverables might include, for instance, the results of a market analysis, evaluating whether the idea fits the current business model, or requires a new business model, a scorecard analysis, etc.
All of the ideas being considered are collected together in a separate portfolio that we will call the “Ideas Portfolio”. If an idea is deemed worthy to move forward, then it would be re-assigned to a new portfolio, called the “Concepts Portfolio”. Projects that are in this portfolio now will be managed using the next two stages in the process, called “Scouting” followed by “Concept”. These two phases would each have their own unique set of deliverables. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume we are company that develops some type of widget, so the “Scouting” phase might include investigating the basic technology while the business case continues to be refined, and then the “Concept” phase might include building a proof-of-concept prototype to validate that the product/market is viable. Again, as with the “Ideas” portfolio, there are three outcomes: the idea/product moves forward in the process, is killed, or archived for future consideration.
If a project moves forward from the “Concepts” portfolio, it then gets reassigned to the final portfolio, called “Development”. Now, the company has committed to developing and moving towards launch. There are four additional stages, each with unique deliverables including “Engineering”, “Process Development” (or a manufacturing phase), “Launch”, and “Post Launch” (if necessary). If the company is effective at managing the “fuzzy front end”, then when projects get to this portfolio most will progress through and be successfully launched.
One additional portfolio, not illustrated in Figure 1, includes a roll-up of all three portfolios called the “Consolidated” portfolio. From a portfolio management standpoint, looking at the consolidated portfolio will be valuable during portfolio discussions.
So how does this actually look in Nupe? Let’s view a few screen shots, then I will provide an opportunity to learn more at the end of this article.
Figure 2 is how the interface appears when you first logon to the site. You will note that there are tiles for each of the portfolios that were previously described. Figure 3 illustrates what you see when we look at the “projects”, or in other words the ideas we are evaluating that exist in this first portfolio. You will note that one project is “unapproved”. In this example, that is a new idea that has just been entered but there is preliminary information needed to move it into the portfolio. You will also note just above the tiles for each project, selections for “current”, “declined” and “archived”. If an idea does not make it through this single-phase process, it can be moved to “declined” if it is to be killed, or “archived” if you want to put the project on-hold for future consideration.
You will also notice above the project tiles in Figure 3, tabs for “report” and “team”. The report tab is where you can access portfolio metrics (customized by the user). When you select the “team” tab, you can invite others to participate in that portfolio. The portfolio manager can establish permissions for each person invited. For instance, some may only need to view the portfolio, while others might be authorized to make changes. This feature extends to each portfolio and each project individually, such that only those who need to participate can. This very useful feature allows for effective collaboration and sharing of information across the organization.
In Figure 3, if you select “report”, Figure 4 illustrates what you would then see. This view presents a consolidated view of the portfolio metrics the user has chosen. There is a large selection of metrics built into the standard product, and metrics can be customized if necessary. When the portfolio manager creates the portfolio, the metrics are chosen at that time, and are entered at the project level. Here we have chosen a simple set of four metrics. Highlighted is a Scorecard metric, and indicated below the metric tiles are the projects ordered from low to high on this 60 point maximum scorecard scale. Scorecards are a common metric used to compare ideas, and of course the scorecard value can change over the life of the project. In this case, we are using it to help prioritize and make decisions on which ideas will move forward.
Now let’s drill down into an individual “project” within the “Ideas” portfolio. Figure 5 below highlights the “progress”. When you select “progress”, you are presented with whatever process template has been chosen. The process template, which includes one or more phases (in this case, it is just one phase), and multiple deliverables within each phase, can be fully customized. As we described previously, this portfolio is in essence being used to manage a group of ideas and helps a company put in place a decision-making process for considering all ideas. The deliverables illustrated are, therefore, being used to answer questions such as: Should we move this idea forward? How does it compare to other projects we currently are working on? How valuable is this idea relative to other ideas or other current projects? You will note that there are fields that can be customized, and documents can be attached to each deliverable. During a portfolio review meeting, the ability to access other pertinent information is invaluable and aids in the decision making process.
Each of the three portfolios follow the same basic format. If a project progresses out of the “Ideas” portfolio, it is simply then re-assigned to the second portfolio, called in this example the “Concepts” portfolio. Projects in this portfolio have a new 2-phase process template added to the first phase as illustrated in Figure 6. Likewise, if projects move forward out of the “Concepts” portfolio into the “Development” portfolio, a third 4-phase process template is added to the first three phases as shown in Figure 7.
One other portfolio metric of interest is the schedule metric. This is one of the standard metrics available for each portfolio. At the project level, it allows you to enter the start and stop dates for each phase. Then, when you choose the “report” tab for the portfolio, it is one of the metrics displayed. Figure 8 illustrates this for the “Development” portfolio. In this case, you can see the multiple phases. The colored phase bars are active phases (you can see the phase # by hovering over each bar), and the next milestone date is delineated by the bar arrrowhead. Phases that have not been started are greyed out.
The final portfolio, called the “Consolidated Portfolio” is simply a roll-up of all three individual portfolios and all the same functionality described for each individual portfolio exists in this portfolio. The Consolidated portfolio will be useful to illustrate all the projects and ideas that are currently being investigated or in progress.
Want to learn more? Contact Jeff Groh at New Product Visions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 367-3160 for a free online demonstration.
- 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.
- See this whitepaper for a basic description of the Nupe functionality, or watch this video.
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. Contact us today about how we might help you!
Specialties: NPD consultants, new product development consulting, developing new products, new product development seminars, small business consulting, new product development expert, product development process, new product development strategies, integrating NPD for mergers & acquisitions, organizing for innovation, management role in NPD, project risk analysis, innovation management