PPM and Fractional Elephants

3 minute read

Upland Admin

My hypothesis for this post is a borrowed line from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” rated by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential Business Management books. It goes like this: Cutting an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants. It does produce a mess!

The same is true for organizations. According to Senge, “to understand the most challenging managerial issues requires seeing the whole system that generates the issues.”

However, seeing “whole systems, or “whole elephants” does not mean that every issue spans the “whole organization.” Some things are best understood by looking at how major functions interact, while other things may be best understood by looking at interactions within a function. The key principle at work here is what Senge called the “principle of the system boundary” which states that for any given issue the scope of the system and the interactions that must be examined are those that are most important to the issue at hand – regardless of organizational boundaries.

When it comes to the topic of business-driven PPM (Project and Portfolio Management) many organizations have not been working with the “whole elephant.” In their attempt to simplify challenges, they misjudge the actual “System Boundary,” and inadvertently sabotage the power of PPM.

For example, many companies get locked into managing time tracking or the details of project schedules. When in reality they are faced with too many projects in the portfolio with competing priorities – a problem that can’t be solved at a micro level! The toughest challenges in portfolio management must take a wider view of the system boundary and include the voice of the business.

A better solution that improves results and velocity is insuring that priorities are set with input from the business customers and with PMO participation. This approach goes beyond functional silos and examines the “whole-elephant.”

According to Tom Pisello, in Network World, “Today’s Business PPM leaders must prove that their investments deliver strategic and competitive advantage. The results of project spending should be measurable in key financial metrics and ratios, such as improved revenue growth, increased profitability and lower overhead.”

Too often we get caught up in execution, incident management, and change management and we fail to do the work most needed.  Effective Business-Driven PPM must broaden the system boundary to include the measurable business objectives and strategies. Working with the “whole elephant” requires a robust process to ensure we understand business needs and effectively translate them into priorities.

As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s hard to be aggressive when you don’t know who to hit.”

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