The Problem: Metrics That Drive Success at the Project Level are Hard to Apply at the Program or Portfolio LevelNote: This is my third tip in my series on creating effective dashboards to ensure program success
In my last post, I outlined six Dashboard metrics that encourage continuous focus on—
- The critical path required for success
- Looking ahead to see what could create problems in the future
I also outlined measurable, objective criteria that defined when these metrics should be considered Red vs. Amber vs. Green.
One comment I raised was that these metrics appeared to break down for large (i.e., 1,000-person) programs and portfolios. As I promised, this post describes how I address this challenge.
Breakdown Your Program or Portfolio into Manageable Projects
It is next-to-impossible to measure how a 1,000-person or USD $50+ million program or portfolio is doing with a top-down metric. (It is like guessing how many gumballs of each color are in a gumball machine.) It is equally hard to manage the critical path of this from an aggregate level.
The way to address this is to decompose any program or portfolio into a set of nested, manageable projects.
- Start at the top and break down the program into the component modules, work stream or missions that you need to achieve for success.
- Look at each to see how many resources are required for success. If the amount is large, then repeat this recursively until you have a nested portfolio of small projects.
Your program has now moved from one huge, amorphous entity to a set of small projects that are each easy to manage:
Manage and Track Each Discrete Project Using Your Dashboard
Assign a Project Manager to manage and track each distinct project using the metrics define in the last post. Now you can review your entire portfolio from a high-level Dashboard and see exactly where (as Program Manager) you need to jump in and address problems to keep everything on track.
This is not complicated; it is repetition of a simple function many times. The first time you do this, it will take a fair amount of work. However, keeping it up-to-date is fast and simple.
Aggregate Your Projects Metrics for a True View of Portfolio Health
Now you can roll up your metrics for each project into each level of your program. This works as follows:
- Define a numeric score for each metric level (e.g., 0 for Red, 50 for Amber, 100 for Green). Score each metric for each project in the portfolio.
- Combined these scores into a weighted average to measure the true health and status for each level of the program. (I usually weight by project budget).
- Repeat this until you get to the top of the program. Now you have a true, objective view of how the program is really doing
This approach lets you share different levels of your dashboard to different stakeholders. It also enables these stakeholders to drill down into the program to see where the problems are. Here is a sanitized, real-world example from a 20-country, multimillion-dollar business transformation program I managed a few years ago:
Here is the top-level status of the program I presented to the C-level staff:
Of course, this triggered a dive into the Mission B and Change Management work streams:
The organization leader who was most affected by Mission B (who was present) committed to add staff to serve as leads for his initiatives (this took about three months; each update reflected the progressive improvement of this).
Change Management had larger problems as it required matrix staff from many groups. This took longer to resolve. However, the dashboard drove leaders to act in time to keep this from impacting the remainder of the program.
What is most interesting here is a simple top-level Cost and Milestone Dashboard would have shown this program as Green (especially in terms of budget) until hidden internal dependencies caused major milestone slips in the future. Breaking down the program into initiatives and tracking each with forward-looking indicators prevented this from occurring.
This Approach Is Not New
This approach is not new. It is advocated by IBM in their Zachman Framework and the Object Management Group in its Business Motivational Model. I learned it from Joseph Shea, the original Program Manager of NASA’s Apollo Program (he repeated his break-downs by hand every Sunday night without the benefit of software). It is also how agile companies like Google and Amazon build products (like Gmail and A9).
It Is Not Expensive Either
It doesn’t take millions of dollars to implement this. On four separate occasions I combined use of COTS spreadsheet software with a shared file server and a simple web page service to set this up to manage over USD $800 million of projects and programs.