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Milvio DiBartolomeo 18 articles
Residence: AU Brisbane, Australia
OGC Gateway Assurance Expert | Author | Agile, Project, Programme & Portfolio Management and Better Business Cases Specialist

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The Unified Project Management Dictionary

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One P3 lifecycle to rule them all?

Given that the “one size fits all” model is no longer the best approach particularly in regards to portfolio, programme and project management. Why do organisations continue to funnel their investments in programmes and projects through the same arbitrary lifecycle without taking into consideration their unique characteristics? Perhaps it’s time for PMOs to think outside the box and consider tailoring the lifecycle to suit the unique characteristics of each programme and project, particularly organisational aspects of volatility (change), uncertainty (assumptions), ambiguity (risk) and complexity (difficulty). So rather than shove the proverbial square peg into a round hole, the programme and project lifecycle should fit the initiative rather than vice versa. 

The Agile Practice Guide by the Project Management Institute advocates 4 types of lifecycles - predictive (traditional), iterative, incremental and agile. Each lifecycle type supports initiatives with specific attributes from fixed to dynamic business requirements, from single to frequent delivery and with a focus on managing value for money to a focus on early measurable value. At this point, its important to define the concepts of value for money and measurable value. The National Audit Office in the UK states that value for money is not about achieving the lowest initial price but rather the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes. In this context, optimal means the most desirable possible given expressed or implied restrictions or constraints. While value is subjective, with different people applying different criteria to assess whether they are realising value from a product or service. It is this subjectivity that makes it so essential to manage value deliberately, instead of leaving it as a by-product of any other management activity. As such, maximising value does not happen by accident.

While all investments should start and finish in a similar manner to ensure strategic fit, a compelling case for change and a preferred way forward is established so outputs, capabilities, outcomes and/or benefits can be baselined and measured. However the way in which they reduce optimism bias and approach delivery will and should be different to optimise both value for money and measurable value to the customer.

Right size for change

It’s about right sizing the programme and project to the lifecycle based on what is known at the time in terms of the business and service risks, constraints, assumptions and dependencies. If significant unknowns exist, then a feasibility study should be undertaken, prior to starting up a project, to reduce optimism bias of the benefits, timings and costs for the realistic options under consideration to resolve the business problem. If the organisational environment is relatively well known, particularly in terms of risk, costs and benefits then a predictive or iterative lifecycle for that management stage would be appropriate. So careful consideration needs to be given to the characteristics of a programme or project when determining its lifecycle approach. By way of guidance, an initiative is considered non-standard if it is innovative, has mostly unique characteristics; and development of the specialist and technical products involves a high degree of complexity and/or difficulty requiring external supplier involvement.

The dichotomy of any PMO is to determine how it can best support different modes of delivery without being too controlling in the protection of finite organisational budgets. Using tolerances for time, cost, scope, quality (criteria), risks and benefits is the best way to manage any programme or project regardless of lifecycle approach. What’s important is having appropriate decision points in place so the programme or project owner can make an informed decision to continue, discontinue or vary the agreed scope. A lifecycle should never be perceived as static but modular. It should facilitate and optimise the purpose of that programme phase or project stage to ensure the agreed spending objectives are delivered and that optimism bias minimised prior to full funding. 

For a PMO, supporting portfolio delivery through programmes and projects is about how methodologies and product delivery frameworks can be blended to best suit that the programme phase or project stage. It’s about proactively supporting programmes and projects to do things in the right way. This does not mean following a prescribed lifestyle systematically but ensuring the programme and project follows an industry best practice approach that best suits the unique programme or project characteristics. 

After all, starting any initiative should not be about simply achieving a target state but ensuring that a measurable improvement from change is perceived as positive by one or more stakeholders that contributes to organisational including strategic objectives. Portfolio, programme and project lifecycles are as much about implementing change as they are about establishing a clear line of sight between strategic intent and the realisation of benefits. Anything less is just an opportunity to learn and do better.

Published at pmmagazine.net with the consent of Milvio DiBartolomeo