The project management office (PMO) of Pacific Life Re has fast-tracked its maturity with the help of Project Portfolio Office’s cloud-based project and portfolio management (PPM) tool, PPO. Furthermore, PPO has allowed the organisation’s PMO to get a better handle on demand management, as well as to provide improved support to project teams that are distributed across the organisation – and indeed the globe.
Pacific Life Re is a provider of mortality, morbidity and longevity reinsurance products, as well as funded and capital solutions, operating across the UK, Ireland, Asia, Australia, and North America. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pacific Life.
According to Richard Humphrey, director of project portfolio management at Pacific Life Re, the company’s project and portfolio management (PPM) capability had been identified as one that could be improved when he joined the business in 2020.
“At that point, the project environment at Pacific Life Re was one of being a post start-up. As a firm, we’ve grown very quickly, and while projects were recognised, the organisation had an inherited methodology and some high-level governance, but very little else.
“There was no real PMO infrastructure and, as a distributed organisation, business units were running projects with their own people, in their own way. As a result, we had a requirement for fundamental pillars to be implemented at that stage.
“In previous capacities, I’ve taken the approach of maturing the environment first, and then looking at tooling. However, in this case it was clear that there was not enough time or resources for this. There were multiple elements being used to control projects within a very manual environment and, because of this, we decided to use a tooling solution to propel the PMO’s consistency of approach forward and close some of the capability gaps.
“Pacific Life Re decided to go the PPO route due to the Project Portfolio Office team, their superior knowledge and understanding of the problems a PMO faces, and the support that they could provide to the project team throughout their journey,” he adds. “Pacific Life Re’s PMO also needed a toolset that, at its heart, was simple for project teams to use on a day-to-day basis, with a clear, easy interface that provides one place to manage all elements of their projects. PPO was an excellent fit here.”
Greater project management consistency and clarity
Previously, the organisation had focused exclusively on around 20 core division-wide projects. The PMO now oversees every project type within every business unit, which numbers between 60 to 70 projects. “There is a far greater consistency of approach, and the standard of our management information (MI) and oversight is much higher. Furthermore, we’ve got far better coverage of data and it is presented in a timelier fashion.
“Prior to the PPO rollout, we had one-off data updates at different times of the month, which was causing massive latency in the reporting. What we now have is real time reporting and a much clearer environment,” Humphrey continues. “We’ve created lots of capabilities beyond project reporting, with a massive win being that we now have a far more consistent overview of everything related to a project. We can now see length and breadth of our portfolio all in one place, as can our leaders and decision makers.”
Improved resource demand planning
PPO has been instrumental in assisting Pacific Life Re to improve planning around project resource demand. Says Humphrey: “When it comes to managing capacity, resource constraint was one of the biggest issues across projects. It seemed that many projects were hitting the same small teams in different parts of our business at the same time.
“In starting to manually build a resource pool of all the people doing work across projects within the organisation, however, we realised that this was an unsustainably large piece of work to maintain and one that would easily have taken a full-time resource.”
Pacific Life Re’s PMO was able to map the resource pool directly into PPO, by building a resource demand view in the PPM tool. “We realised that the business was only seeing the demand for projects on people, and not business-as-usual work, therefore we were only showing half of the problem. Because of this awareness, we’ve used the admin project feature within PPO to build what we’re calling business-as-usual projects, with a view from each team on how much resource pull they need to use just to complete their day-to-day work. This has helped us massively to re-sequence the work that we’re doing, so that critical pinch points on individuals can be avoided.
“Each of Pacific Life Re’s business units is capturing their demand items for 2023 as part of the business planning process. We have built in the capacity to align every idea and every project to specific business strategies. Previously we would have tried to capture projects as they were starting, or at the very earliest within the funding cycle. Now, PPO has allowed us a much broader view of the pipeline of work, demand requirements, and a much better understanding of initiatives that come to the table.”
A clearer, more complete portfolio view
The Pacific Life Re PMO has also used PPO to improve demand management within its end-to-end portfolio.
Described by Humphrey as ‘thought to finish’, he explains that the Pacific Life Re PMO realised that the thought, or demand management process, around projects was not being adequately managed, in terms of what was needed to implement its strategy towards having that as a defined and realised outcome.
“We would have a list of projects, they would be implemented, but we wouldn’t necessarily manage our pipeline. To solve this challenge, we have built a demand management capability into PPO that allows us to collect basic information about a demand request. We are then able to help the business to size it at a base level, enabling each of the business siloes to manage their prioritisation. This means that, rather than ending up with a list of a hundred potential ideas, some of which are duplicated across business units, we can complete the selection and prioritisation as we go.
“Now, once a demand proposal has been agreed on as a priority, we can automatically transfer that data into a pipeline project entry, allowing the PMO to work through that funnel of ideas, doing the prioritisation with the business in the background, without polluting our own portfolio.”
“There’s great power in demand management,” clarifies Guy Jelley, CEO and co-founder of Project Portfolio Office, “and it must be taken into account when building your portfolio management strategy. For a business like Pacific Life Re, it will play a significant role in balancing resource availability with demand, while ensuring that the initiatives prioritised and pursued are aligned to strategy and, in fact, will bring the most value to the business.”
Building a solid PPM foundation
Since The Pacific Life Re PPO implementation kicked off in late 2021, the volume of capability updates within PPM tool has been noticeable, with several drops of useful functionality, comments Humphrey. “There are a few major updates coming down the line where Pacific Life Re has been involved in the beta versions. The innovation both within the projects and our own individual configuration for Pacific Life Re and within the root PPO product are very strong.
“There are elements in the pipeline that will afford us a lot more flexibility, particularly around dashboarding and reporting. PPO gives you that solid, simple-to-use repository, where we collect all the data we need, and between PPO and the PMO team, we’re able to convert that into information for our decision makers. We’re very pleased to see that there are more good innovations to come from PPO that will further help that information and the decision-making, and there is a great community of PPO users out there that can help here too.
“Ultimately, we chose PPO due to simplicity of the tool set and the credibility of the partnership model. In my experience, PPO gave us confidence because of the strength of their consulting and support side.
“The implementation gives us a fantastic foundation for moving forward, and we’ve grown in terms of maturity of approach to PPM-related capability, as well as getting a better handle on demand management. We would never have been able to get this far without taking the chance of putting the toolset first; it was a risk, but one that has certainly paid off,” concludes Humphrey.