The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has optimised its project management office (PMO) environment, replacing multiple, stand-alone platforms with one easy-to-use, central solution, namely Project Portfolio Office’s cloud-based project portfolio management tool, PPO.
UWC, a national university based in Bellville-South, Cape Town, established its project office some 17 years ago. In those early days, according to UWC’s PMO manager, Andrè Redlinghuis, the PMO environment was very operationally focused, carrying out chiefly infrastructure-related projects.
“At the time, the PMO had just two project manager resources and a business analyst in place and was clearly very immature in terms of the methodologies and project portfolio management practices being followed. Starting out, we had limited guidance around project portfolio management, no real governance, and operated within a very manual, paper- and Excel-based environment.”
The PMO journey continues
“From around 2014, we started to see real transformation within the PMO, with a growing team focusing on more strategically aligned projects,” says Redlinghuis. “From a methodology perspective, there was also greater formality in place as we had adopted a hybrid approach comprising PRINCE2 and Waterfall methodologies, as well as Agile elements.”
It was during this period that UWC’s incumbent PMO manager made the decision to implement a project portfolio management tool, he explains. “We had significant challenges with regards to reporting – it was very manual and labour-intensive. And while we had started introducing some governance controls, they weren’t completely adopted across the institution.”
“At that stage, from a culture perspective, we were challenged from a project adoption and ownership perspective between business and IT. Roles and responsibilities were in need of refinement and a cohesive and shared ownership model was established to ensure the collective delivery of projects. Thus, it was envisioned that a project portfolio management tool would further assist with the sharing of information and create greater transparency to bridge this gap between the two areas of the organisation.”
The ‘big bang’ implementation approach however did not suit the institution’s culture at the time. “We had attempted the implementation of a similar product previously, which was unsuccessful for several reasons, one being the fact that there was no officially documented and approved methodology in place.”
Critical pain points remain
“While our project portfolio management maturity continued to improve over the following few years, the PMO was still experiencing a number of challenges around areas including governance, project portfolio management capabilities, capacity and more, as many of the items and tasks performed remained manual, cumbersome and repetitive, and there was no single, centralised repository,” says Redlinghuis.
“At this time, the PMO had a wide variety of stand-alone tools in place – one for finance, budgeting and reporting, another for the storing of documents and artefacts, and a collaboration tool for business analyst-related documentation, amongst others. This had become difficult to manage, and from a workflow perspective it was inefficient and unproductive.”
“Reporting in particular was a nightmare; prone to human error, and with a lack of access to real-time information. Using Microsoft Excel on a weekly basis, resources were spending around four hours per week capturing and rectifying data.”
“It was for these reasons that we decided to explore the rollout of a project portfolio management platform once again in 2020, but this time against the background of learnings from the previous undertaking,” he clarifies.
Going the PPO route
UWC considered solutions from several project portfolio management players within the industry, including two already used within the PMO previously, but found that competitive options lacked intuitiveness, were inadequate in terms of collaboration (increasing the administrative burden on the PMO), required extensive customisation and lengthy setup time, needed a steep learning curve, and were limited in audit trails and activity logs, security and access control, with no lifecycle view capability and cumbersome reporting and dashboards.
“They also didn’t provide one tool, to meet all our requirements. We’re a PMO and didn’t want to spent time building and maintaining our PPM tool.”
Through motivations, presentations, support from UWC’s executive team, as well as a proof-of-concept project using PPO’s free 30-day trial, the PMO thus received the go ahead to implement PPO in late 2021.
“This project kicked off with the formalisation of the university’s internal approach to the rollout. We ensured that the PMO team was committed and involved from the start, to overcome any hesitancy stemming from the previous project portfolio management tool implementation and ensure that there was a good understanding of what we wanted to achieve, and the benefits of going this route.”
Reporting, stakeholder engagement and visibility gains
As part of our implementation approach, we received a minimum viable product (MVP) every two weeks and started seeing value and adoption from team members quickly. UWC has started to reap the benefits since the completion of the PPO rollout. “This level of standardisation has had a positive impact on our PMO, as anything required within the project management environment can be found in one place.
“Reporting now takes less than half of the time, and we are no longer missing opportunities with regards to stakeholder engagement due to a lack of transparency and the inability to address issues in a timely manner.
“Today, PPO has assisted by improving the monthly communication/report we are sending to the respective stakeholders. In the past, this was done via Excel, which resulted in many quality assurance (QA) issues, layout/format challenges, and so on, that had to be addressed. Extracting the report now from PPO – one, up-to-date source – speeds up the process, and our reports are presented more professionally.
“Greater visibility, in terms of governance requirements throughout a project’s progression, has assisted the PMO from a delivery perspective. This is due to the fact that all project managers and other stakeholders are well informed and aware of the specific governance requirements per phase, which may not have been as clear in the past.”
The UWC PMO has also surpassed its data completeness target of 80 percent. “The fact that we have already reached 90 percent data completeness shows that the team is extremely diligent and committed to using PPO.”
Redlinghuis highlighted gains for new staff members joining the UWC PMO. “Instead of having to undergo training on a number of different platforms, these new team members only required instruction on the PPO system, becoming operational quickly and easily. This has eased the entry of new resources into this space significantly.”
Projecting for the future
Moving forward, the UWC PMO plans to provide each executive line with direct access to PPO to further improve project portfolio management transparency and openness within the university.
“We have also identified some areas within the broader university where we believe PPO could assist UWC further. For example, we’re planning discussions in 2023 on project prioritisation and how this can be incorporated into PPO, as well as resource management.”
Redlinghuis maintains that one of the most important lessons learned with UWC’s implementation of PPO has been to take a slower, more measured approach, and to make sure that implementation plans are aligned to the culture of the university.
“PPO addresses all our project portfolio management needs on one platform and has met our requirement for a simple, industry-proven online platform,” he discloses. “This is a tool built by people who understand the project portfolio management environment, and it is able to support the operational requirements of a PMO on an operational basis.”
Muaath Adams, business analyst team lead at UWC, adds that another important influence on the success of this project was the type of resources allocated by Project Portfolio Office. “Project Portfolio Office provided us with experienced professionals, who listened to and understood what we were trying to achieve and were able to provide us with guidance and keep everything moving forward. This was a key factor in helping our PMO team members to comprehend that there was a clear plan in place with regards to this project.”
Says Guy Jelley, CEO and co-founder of Project Portfolio Office: “UWC’s use of PPO has highlighted the importance of consolidating numerous, disparate tools within a project portfolio management environment into one centralised and consolidated space. This project has proven how a simple, easy-to-use platform can have a profound effect on the productivity of a PMO, collaboration and communication, and its perception within an organisation.”