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March 5, 2010

Portfolio Prioritization: A lot of common sense, but are you doing it?

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I was invited last week to speak on a panel at the California CIO Academy on the topic of portfolio prioritization along with Teri Bennett (CalPERS), Jerry Becker (San Joaquin County), Gregg Wyant (Intel) and moderated by Peter Doolan (Oracle).

If you were in the audience, I hope you were entertained. I was delighted at the audience participation in our session given it was on the second day and in the afternoon. It was a daunting task as that morning, Capt. Larry Brudnicki, Coast Guard Captain from “The Perfect Storm” spoke about leadership in the eye of the storm and the general session prior to ours ended with a juggling performance.

For those of you that didn’t attend, I did want to recap some of the key points I made.

I’ll first come clean and note that I don’t think any of this is rocket science, a lot is common sense. But are you really doing it? Is your agency putting in place the executive sponsorship, processes and milestones to ensure strategically critical initiatives are properly resourced and projects in jeopardy are identified quickly.


Firstly, are you measuring your projects against the right set of outcomes? Common sense, no?

In my last post entitled, “Customer Service in Government: Does it matter? Survey results.” I discussed the results of a survey which found that although customer service was an important agency goal, 31% of respondents noted it was not explicitly identified in project initiatives and only 21% could actually note that it was identified as a critical component of an IT project.

For your agency, the goals may not be customer service (although I would be surprised if this was not a priority whether your customer is a member of the public or another government agency), but whatever it is, are you really measuring your projects based on your strategic goals.

True, many projects are mandate-driven. However, I challenge you to dig deeper and think about the “why” behind the mandates so there continues to be meaning in what we do in government agencies.

Secondly, all too often, I see agencies that have spent millions and years on one component of an IT project without any feedback…such as a database or a the core pieces of a case management system that no one can use because the people interaction pieces are not in place.

Figure out the core components and services that can be used to fulfill multiple agency goals and then define phases of the project so that you can get user input and adoption as you build more features and capabilities into the system. My new mantra is “Build some. If they come, build more.” Note that if they don’t come, ask your end users and alter course so that in the end, you still achieve the goal of the project. This approach allows you the flexibility. You can do this by scoping it out to a segment of your business or to a limited type of users.

By having core measurable outcomes tied to projects and initiatives broken down into usable phases, you’ll have the ability to gain insights into projects and their impact on your agency’s mission well in advance of the final phases of the project.

This approach has several benefits besides reducing risks of failure in projects. It also allows for user feedback well in advance of all of subsequent project prioritization and budget planning. A common mistake is to prioritize once and not revisit these prioritizes often enough.

As far as ideas I learned. I think the key one I was reminded of was that amidst the movement of lines in a planning document, the words in a strategy brief and the bits and bites of the IT systems, success really depends on the people in our organizations. By scoping projects with interim success points, open ways to communicate status of projects and making end user feedback a priority we ensure that in the end, everyone is still on board.