You don't have to be a large company to have an organized approach to managing a list of proposed IT projects. If your IT projects are selected based on the loudest VP in your company or because your lead developer has a friendship with a certain director, then you really need to read this article and you should think about creating processes around Demand Management.
In today's business climate, you need to justify every dollar you spend. When it comes to IT projects, this can be a very complex and expensive process. If you are part of a small IT shop and your company lacks formal processes around deciding which IT projects get funded, you can benefit from digging into the concept of Demand Management. In fact, you might find that simply measuring your pipeline of proposed IT projects could help you hold on to your staff or more important, justify additional staff.
Microsoft's Enterprise Project Management best practices lay out a simple approach to Demand Management which is what I use at my company. As you mature into a project management driven organization, Demand Management may evolve from allowing users to request IT projects to participating in your organization's strategic planning to achieve alignment between IT and the business. This is where you want to be.
The term Demand Management has many definitions in the world of project management. Pradeep GanapathyRaj, a Senior Program Manager Lead for Microsoft, put it in really simple terms that I like.
- "Demand" refers to a project request that needs some type of funding. Funding can be money or resources.
- "Demand Management" is about having a unified view of all demand for projects in your organization so you can align and prioritize the requests with the needs of your organization. It also provides a way to control the life cycle of the demand process.
Microsoft's Enterprise Project Management best practices suggests that Demand Management for an organization must accomplish three things:
- Provide a governance mechanism which includes a best practice framework.
- Provide a standardized method for collecting requests from the business.
- Accumulate all requests in a central repository to keep everything organized and provide visibility.
Properly implemented governance provides best practices to create, control and deliver work. Essentially, governance provides a framework for choosing the right projects for your organization. One of the benefits of creating a governance structure around managing IT project requests is that it moves the decision from IT to the business. It's critical that any governance team you put into place mush represent the entire business that IT is supporting. Here are a some benefits of governance:
- Governance puts into practice controls to deal with project risks, issues, activities and change requests.
- Governance establishes check-in points to drive accountability.
- Governance breaks down silos between departments by standardizing on enterprise procedures.
- Governance should be evaluated regularly to improve processes.
2. Standardize Collection of Project Requests
You can't talk about demand management without considering the actual "requests" for projects or work. Because requests can happen in all sorts of situations, it can be difficult for the Project Management Office (PMO) to get a handle on all of the requests.It is critical that you standardize on metadata as you consider your collection process. Metadata for an IT project request might be project title, description, benefits, customer impact, ROI and other data. The key is to design a standard template that can be used across the business to collect information. If you are running Microsoft SharePoint, you can design a form as a SharePoint list or in InfoPath. Another option would be a Microsoft Word template. The most important part is that users all fill out the same form or document template.
Having a formal approach for initializing project or work is critical to the entire process. This kind of standardization results in a number of important benefits:
- Simplifying data collection saves time. It provides a repeatable framework making it easy for users to submit simple and complex projects.
- Standardizing the metadata makes it easy to slice and dice the list of projects. Having consistent metadata enables the process of comparing and contrasting projects that are competing for resources.
- Achieves consistency in data collection across the business while leaving some room for variations across lines of business.
- Makes integration possible with systems such as CRM or service automation systems.
3. Central Repository
Microsoft's Enterprise Project Management theory states that it is critical to capture requests in a central repository. This repository should be something that can be shared within your organization. In a Microsoft SharePoint world, the repository can be a simple list. You can also use a SharePoint document library if you are collecting Word documents from a template. You need to add a few required fields to the properties of the document in the document library if using this option.
If you are not using SharePoint, you need to be creative in how you collect data. Early in my career when I was just starting to implement a simple form of Demand Management, I used a web form with a SQL database to collect the requests. I created a simple web based list which could be viewed by anyone in the company.
There are a number of benefits in providing a central repository for project requests:
- It provides visibility to all requests which can eliminate duplicates.
- Working with a central repository makes it easy to spot requests that have already been considered.
- You can use the data and calculate metrics from the list. For example, the % of IT projects approved can be used to show the demand being placed on your IT team. Tracking this data year over year can provide a useful measurement.
Microsoft Project Server 2010
Microsoft Project Server 2010 provides a comprehensive solution for the entire project management life-cycle. Prior releases of Project Server only dealt with managing and executing projects. Project Server 2010 introduced features to work through the Demand Management process.
One of the coolest features of Project Server 2010 is that it provides a single place where you can capture all of the project requests which is really the beginning of the project life-cycle. It also makes it easy to create custom forms that users can fill out to capture each project request. Collecting project requests (or proposals) is one of the most important functions in Demand Management.
If it's not practical for you to have users enter information directly in Project Server but you use it for your project management, there is an import tool that can bridge the gap. Microsoft provides Solution Starters which are designed to illustrate the flexibility of the Project Server 2010 platform. One of the Solutions Starters is called "Bulk Import Tool". This tool allows you to import a list of projects from a SharePoint list. I have used a SharePoint list in the past as the main repository for all project requests. It worked really great for us. In the case that you use something else as your collection mechanism, you can still leverage this tool. Convert the requests into Excel, and you can import the Excel list into SharePoint. Once you have your request list in SharePoint, you can use the Bulk Import Tool to import into Project Server.
As you grow into more diciplined project management practices, Project Server 2010 makes it easy to break down the Demand Management process into a handful of stages that can be tracked in Project Server 2010. While this is completely customizable depending on your needs, Project Server ships with the a sample set of workflow processes to get you thinking about your own Demand Management phases. In addition to the creation of forms to collect request data, Project Server 2010 makes it easy to add workflows to create check points or approvals throughout the process. As a project progresses through the stages, additional data may be required like an ROI analysis. At the end of the day, you end up with a completed IT project requests ready to compete for limited resources.
Demand Management is a great place to start if you are trying to implement project management in your organization. Start small and grow over time. I guarantee you will see the benefits in your organization.