Change from the top

when the portfolio has to rapidly evolve, there's no substitute for C-suite suppport




The global proliferation of Internet access means consumers increasingly use websites and mobile phone apps to shop, bank, read or even hail a taxi. This trend is forcing older companies to rapidly transform the way they do business by adapting to new technologies. That means a rapidly evolving IT project portfolio that brings new systems and processes into the mix—and opportunities for portfolio managers to add real value.

But in my experience with global organizations, portfolio managers need support implementing IT transformation programs. These digital initiatives can be do-or-die strategic imperatives, and therefore the C-suite must ensure they are fully aligned to strategy. While portfolio professionals focus on successfully executing the right projects and programs, they need executives' high-profile support for responding to the changing business environment with agility. That means rapidly bringing new offerings to customers, reducing the costs of legacy systems and sponsoring new projects.

Here are three essential ways the C-suite can support portfolio managers to drive change through the organization. They come out of my experience with IT transformation programs, but can apply to any organization responding to a rapidly changing business environment.

1. Articulate the strategy and goals. The executive sponsor of the transformation program needs to clearly and consistently articulate its goals through the entire organization. All relevant stakeholders must be committed to meeting the challenge at hand, and the entire workforce must be focused on the mission.

Ideally the executive sponsor should involve portfolio managers in the annual strategic planning process, and share insights on industry trends and how they impact the business and its portfolio. He or she needs to support refinements to the portfolio strategy, and review and approve investment areas.

Executives also need to participate in translating strategies into various initiatives and associated goals. This is important because it serves to make portfolio managers accountable for collaboratively achieving desired results.

Finally, to align the entire workforce to the mission at hand, the executive sponsor should clearly articulate goals and progress against them to the entire organization through town hall meetings at least every six months.

2. Provide guidance and visibility. Yes, they're busy. But executives must make the time to share their insights into the changing business environment with the portfolio manager. If they want to see the expected results, they should guide them in the right direction.

What does this look like? The executives need to help portfolio managers build client relationships, engaging them with the client's business and IT stakeholders, as well as key decision makers on strategic topics.

Also, inviting portfolio managers to quarterly joint partnership review meetings (attended by business partners) can help portfolio managers gain a deeper understanding of the changing business environment. That, in turn, can help refine the portfolio.

3. Stand by to remove obstacles. When things go wrong, early and quick intervention from the C-suite helps to mitigate problems and risks. Without this type of support from the top, an entire program could be derailed.

An escalation mechanism can be as simple as the relevant executive attending monthly portfolio health review meetings, where a portfolio manager can identify any obstacles and risks threatening progress. These may involve conflicts between departments or key stakeholders that have negative financial implications.

Having an executive at the table willing to take quick action to resolve an issue can prevent a program from derailing.

While portfolio professionals focus on successfully executing the right projects and programs, they need executives’ high-profile support for responding to the changing business environment with agility.

The stakes are high for organizations executing transformation programs, whether IT or otherwise. Customers increasingly expect goods and services to be available via a variety of digital platforms. Organizations must step up to invest in change, and executives must work hand-in-hand with portfolio managers to transform how business is done. If they don't, customers will voice their displeasure—and they have more tools than ever before for doing so. PM

img Vidyadhar Kusur, PMP, is portfolio director, communication and enterprise services, at CGI, a global IT and business process services provider. He lives in Bengaluru, India.