Project Management

The Money Files

A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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Mergers and acquisitions: The basics

I was contacted recently by a reader who wanted to know how to best prepare for starting work on a merger project. It wasn’t something she had done before, and while she wasn’t 100% responsible for the work, she wanted to feel a bit more confident going into some of the early discussions, especially around how she could shape the project management work to support the integration efforts.

Here are 5 things I thought she would benefit from starting with.

1. Due diligence

The first stage – at least in this case as the deal wasn’t yet done – should include due diligence. It’s important to know what you are letting yourself in for. As project managers, we don’t necessarily get involved in that. In my experience, it’s an exercise led by the Legal team with input from subject matter experts as required. But it should definitely be on the project plan.

2. Stage gates

I manage a lot of projects quite informally, but a merger wouldn’t be one of them. If you are in this situation, see if your PMO has a template for stage gates and work out what the project lifecycle would look like. Think about what criteria are going to be required to move out of one phase and into another. I would define those criteria so everyone is clear about what they look like and there is general understanding about when the project gets to move on.

3. What to merge

What, exactly, gets merged in a merge? There might be brand assets to redo, websites to redirect, but also teams to merge and processes. There might be IT systems or physical equipment.

What about legal contracts that need updating, or intellectual property? There is a lot to consider, so some project management effort should be put into identifying what actually needs to happen and when it should happen. It’s likely that the integration efforts will take some time, so it’s going to be a staged approach. When you know what needs to happen, you can help business leaders organise that into workstreams or phases that best represent the work.

4. Outputs

What does the world look like when the merger has happened? There might be a new vision, different approaches to staffing, new processes. Similar to identifying what needs to change, think about how you will know when you’ve got there. What are the success criteria? How will it feel? How will it work?

That’s a good exercise to identify what the outputs are likely to be, and therefore what work needs to go into making sure those outputs are delivered.

5. Ways of working

Finally, as with all projects, it’s worth thinking about how the project will run. How do you want it to run, and how can you influence how it is run?

Think about stakeholder engagement, what communications are required, how progress and performance will be tracked, what governance is required, what project controls look like… all the normal things. With so many moving parts on a project like this, it’s even more important to make sure everyone knows what is required of them and how they can contribute.

This type of project can be very complex, with a lot of risk attached, especially to do with losing key staff and market reputation. If the project feels big, it might be worth getting in some specialist help from project leaders or consultants who have done similar work before.

What else would you suggest for someone managing a merger or acquisition project? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: November 07, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Signs of a High Priority Project

One of the issues with managing multiple projects is that everyone thinks their project is top priority and they all have to show some progress by the end of the month. I wrote a book about that (inspiringly called Managing Multiple Projects) and there are lots of things I could teach you about keeping all the balls in the air.

However, today I want to focus on one thing: helping you understand what makes a project a priority.

You might think this is an odd subject, because your PMO creates prioritisation lists and everyone knows where they sit in the order. But there are many companies that don’t have that level of structure. Or they do… but everything on the list is a Priority 1.

Here are 5 signs that your project really should be a high priority project.

1. It contributes to a strategic objective

Does your project directly align to strategy? Does it deliver something, or a part of something, that is on the strategic roadmap? Can you link it to a corporate objective? If you can, then it’s probably high priority.

I believe that there is a place for non-strategic projects, as there are peaks and troughs in project work and time enough to get other things done. But if your project gets a mention on the strategy deck that was shown at the last corporate Town Hall, then it’s a high priority for the organisation.

2. It is documented as a priority

There’s an obvious way of checking: if your PMO has a priority list, where does your project fall on it? As I’ve said above, having a list isn’t always a sure-fire sign that prioritisation is actively happening. If you read through the list and see that everything is a High Priority, move on to the next criteria below to assess what your ‘real’ priority is!

3. It is an enabler

Wi-Fi upgrades, telephony, laptop replacement schedules, infrastructure projects… they might not sound top priority, but if they enable something else then they are critical.

You can’t launch a new sales portal on a creaking infrastructure. You can’t build a new office if the foundations aren’t in place. This kind of project might plod along in the background but it’s an important one.

4. It gets a lot of attention

Do you have execs dropping by your desk asking for updates? Does your project sponsor return your calls quickly?

Projects that get a lot of attention are high on management’s radar. If the senior leadership team thinks it is a priority, it probably is.

However, they might also think it’s important as it is their pet project. Check to see how many people are giving the project attention. If it’s just the one, it might be a vanity project, and not something that is important to the organisation overall.

5. It is adequately resourced

OK… this one isn’t a perfect sign. I know a few high priority, strategic projects right now that are struggling for resource.

But generally, priority projects have the budget and support to secure the resources they need. I’ve worked on projects where resources have been pulled off to go and do something else – that’s a sure sign that my project was not as important as someone else’s.

If you have the people, time, budget and other resources that you need, you can bet that someone is enabling that to happen and there are routing for the project to be a success.

Would you agree with this list? What other signs have you seen that point to your project being an important one? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted on: September 13, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

6 Features of Portfolio Management

What does it mean to manage a portfolio? And what does portfolio management look like? For most of my career I have been involved with IT portfolios that were a blend of business-led projects and operational work. However, portfolios can be department-based, geography-based, customer-based or whole-company, or even another split. Basically, a portfolio is just a way to group work to make it easier to manage, monitor and control.

I think there are 6 main responsibilities for a portfolio management team. I’m sure there are more, but these are the main things that I feel form the priority To Do list for people in that role. The 6 features that make up portfolio management are below.

1. Assessing ideas for projects

Ideas for projects can come from anywhere, but often they come from people already working within the organisation, who are involved in projects somehow. For example, project or product teams could be working on one initiative, receive a change request, and realise that would make a great addition to scope, even if it cannot be incorporated into the project right now.

The portfolio team should be on the look out for relevant project suggestions, making it easy for people to put forward new ideas. Then they should review and assess suggestions. That list then feeds into the next key feature of portfolio management: deciding which projects to do.

2. Prioritising projects

Next, we have prioritisation. Part of the role of the portfolio team should be prioritising the order of projects and deciding when projects should start. Some lower priority projects might need to be started work if, in fact, they provide the infrastructure or enabling architecture for more important projects. The team should consider the whole portfolio and make choices based on that, as well as the relative priority of individual projects.

3. Strategic integration

Projects don’t exist in isolation, so although the portfolio team may have quite a lot of say over what gets done and when, based on the results of their assessment, there’s also a job required to align what project work is proposed with the rest of the business strategy. This draws on the ‘run the business/change the business’ approach, where some teams focus on delivering new stuff and others focus on keeping the business going. Either way, both ‘sides’ of the organisation should talk to each other.

The purpose of the alignment is to make sure the overall strategy can be delivered, but also to make sure risk management is carried out in a ‘whole company’ way. It’s no good having a risk-heavy portfolio if the operational side of the business is also falling on the side of taking chances. Overall, the organisation’s work should balance a risk profile that is acceptable to the leadership team. Perhaps they are OK with taking risky measures – I wouldn’t be though.

4. Governance

The whole point of using portfolio management techniques is to improve oversight and decision making – in other words, to put decent governance in place. That includes project steering groups or project boards (and the programme equivalent) as well as monitoring the delivery of the work inside the portfolio.

Monitoring and oversight might be a light touch or involve multiple layers of approvals, depending on the investment and method, and the consequences of decisions taken. It will help to have some documentation here to spell out exactly what is required.

5. Tracking results

Yes, benefits tracking! Someone has to be responsible for tracking benefits, and the portfolio management team is in a good place to be able to do that at a portfolio level. You may have individual programme managers or department heads tracking benefits for their areas, but if you want to see the results at an organisational level, this data needs to be consolidated at the top. And de-duplicated, because you don’t want benefits to be counted twice (I’ve been there – it doesn’t look good).

6. Portfolio management processes

Finally, the portfolio management team is responsible for the management of the portfolio. I know, it sounds obvious to write that but someone has to be the gatekeeper and guardian of the processes, life cycles, review process, approvals, funding requests, paperwork and people. The day-to-day operation of the portfolio is also a key responsibility.

In your experience, what else do portfolio teams take responsibility for? What are the other key features of working in portfolio management? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted on: February 24, 2022 06:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

How to Reduce Complexity on Projects

Categories: complex projects

reduce complexityThere are loads of things that make a project complex, and in the past I’ve written about criteria for complexity and what ‘true’ complexity means.

However, I’m now leaning towards the opinion that if you think it’s complex, it’s complex. The benchmark from which to approach managing complexity is whether you are worried about it being complex. Because if you are struggling with all the moving parts, then other people in your business probably are as well, and you all need strategies to get things feeling more comfortable.

OK, your project might not tick all the boxes for ‘pure’ complexity as defined by academics, but who cares about that, right? We want YOUR project to be successful, and that means meeting you where you are, and dealing with the stakeholders and the situation you find yourself in.

So when you’re feeling like things are getting out of control and the complexity level on your project is spiralling, what can you do about it? The infographic below sets out – in a high level way – three ways you can start to approach complex situations. Ultimately, the aim is for you to feel like things are under control.

Take whatever steps you need to that help you identify where the complexity is coming from and then break it down to deal with each part.

There’s more information about how to reduce complexity on projects in this article.

Pin for later reading:

Posted on: December 16, 2019 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

3 Ways To Reduce Complexity

Categories: complex projects

Experienced project managers will agree that complex projects are a headache for lots of reasons. Complexity adds all kinds of challenges and cost. But if you can reduce that complexity then you can take some of the stress out of your project.

“If you can understand it, you can move on to reduction.”

Harvey Maylor

Here are 3 ways to reduce complexity, once you know what is making your projects complex.

1. Resolve It

Just fix it. Make it go away. Use a different technology that is tried and tested. Add more time to the schedule. Throw money at the problem. Whatever it takes.

Unfortunately, many project complexities can’t be resolved like this, but it is definitely worth a try in the first instance.

2. Reduce It

Make the complexity less severe, with less of an impact on your project. This really does rely on you fully understanding what’s behind the complexity so that you can unpick it and come up with some strategies to chip away at it.

Harvey Maylor gave a presentation at a PMI Global Congress where he shared the results of some work he had done in this area. He talked about running 43 workshops with 1100 managers and in those sessions they were asked what percentage of the identified complexities in their projects they would be able to resolve or reduce.

I was surprised that they reported that they could reduce 82% of project complexities. Even if they were wrong by a factor of 2 that’s still 40% of complex issues that could be managed down.

What’s left when you reduce complexity is residual complexity (like residual risk). That might need a different approach or strategy to address, but it’s likely to be less of a headache to put in place than having to deal with the complexity in its entirety.

Having said that, the third complexity reduction technique isn’t really a reduction technique at all…

3. Live With It

You’ve identified it. You can choose to manage it and run with it, working out a practical response to dealing with rather than passively doing nothing.

One strategy that Maylor talked about is actively choosing the right person to sponsor and lead the project when complexity is involved. Different types of complexity issues require different skills at the top.

For example, a project that is complex for socio-political reasons needs a charismatic leader who can work with stakeholder groups to share the vision and sell the benefits. A project that is structurally complex needs a sponsor with great technical skills, someone who can juggle multiple parts and bring them back together as a whole. A project that struggles with emergent complexity requires a strategic thinker, someone who can see the bigger picture and make connections.

Getting the right team in place and framing their involvement in the project in the right way can help mitigate the impact of complexities if you can’t manage them out in any other way.

Posted on: November 05, 2016 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

It's the old gag: people that pay for things never complain. It's the guy you give something to that you can't please.

- Will Rogers