Why Project and Portfolio Management Matter More at Recession Time

IT departments scaling back on project work as the economy lurches toward a recession may be tempted to skimp on project management and portfolio management . But think twice: doing so could cost you far more--in projects gone awry and wasted resources.

IT departments are scrapping projects in response to tightening budgets and the ever-deteriorating economy. But this is no time to cut back on project management or portfolio management, experts say.

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"High project failure means you're wasting money, and there's even less tolerance for that in a down economy," says Margo Visitacion, a vice president with Forrester Research who covers project portfolio management and quality assurance.

Portfolio management can help you zero in on the projects that are most worth their effort and scant budget dollars, while project management can help you execute those projects most efficiently, IT managers and project management experts say.

David Muntz, CIO of Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System (which warned patients last week of a potential breach of their personal data), agrees that an economic downturn increases the need for project management software. "Good project management tools enhance the three Cs: communication, coordination and collaboration," he says. "With fewer people [on staff], you can't afford missteps."

Baylor Health's IT group uses project portfolio management software from Planview to prioritize projects, track the progress of projects and manage demand from the business for IT resources, Muntz says. Making informed decisions about which projects to work on is critical at a time when Baylor Health is being especially fiscally prudent, he says.

One example: Recently, says Muntz, the IT department was asked to move a printer from one side of a hallway to the other. Muntz says the IT department used Planview to estimate that moving the printer, which he says cost $300 or $400 when the company purchased it, would cost $1700 based on the labor involved and the cost of adding circuitry. IT quickly determined that moving the printer wasn't worth the effort and was able to explain why to the business.

Muntz says more accurately predicting costs makes managing demand from the business easier. "If you didn't have any idea what it cost to do something, you'd do anything," he says.

As well as helping the IT department identify projects to avoid, Planview highlights which projects should be sped up—based on their anticipated business benefits. For example, Baylor Health decided that its electronic health record system should remain a high priority during the downturn because of the efficiency improvements it will bring, Muntz says.

At the Washington State Employees Credit Union, hosted project portfolio management software from AtTask is helping the organization determine which of the company's IT projects are absolutely critical to serving the banking needs of the credit union's roughly 150,000 members.

Keenan Wagner, a business systems analyst and project manager with the credit union, says the AtTask software gives his employer one central location for information on all IT and facilities projects. The software tracks the 40 or so IT projects Wagner is working on, along with the progress of each project and each project's risks, cost and business benefits.

As a result of the bad economy and the visibility the AtTask software provides, Wagner says the credit union has postponed a few IT initiatives, including an effort to bring in Agile and Scrum development methodologies, a data warehouse and business intelligence implementation and a deployment of a CRM system.

When the credit union recently decided to create a money market product for its customers, Wagner says he used AtTask to determine how this new initiative would impact work on other projects in the credit union's portfolio. The end result: Another project set to go live on November 1 had to be adjusted to make room for the money market initiative.

"This tool is a godsend," says Wagner. "It allows us to look at everything side by side and prepare reports that we can hand off to senior management so they can tell us where they want us to go."

Even though project and portfolio management software are helping The Washington State Employees Credit Union and Baylor Health weather the downturn, CIO Muntz emphasizes that software alone isn't enough. It needs to be used in concert with a sound governance process and tested project management methodologies.

"It's not the technology I care about," says Muntz. "It's the methodology you develop as a result of having a tool. You need good discipline to deliver what your customers need."

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