Expert Choice: Simplifying Project Portfolio Management

Ernest Forman, Director Expert Choice (EC) has provided solutions for project management and collaborative decision-making for over 30 years. The company capitalized on the unending zeal, not to mention the seven U.S. patents, of its founder, Ernest Forman, Professor of Decision Sciences at The George Washington University, to develop a methodology for collaborative decision making, resource allocation and risk analysis. Expert Choice software solutions focus on delivering improved decisions, reducing costs, enhancing transparency and organizational communication, all while increasing the satisfaction of stakeholders.

Designed for making many types of complex decisions, Expert Choice’s flagship Comparion® product has attracted an especially strong user base among Project Portfolio Managers. Strong user acceptance of Comparion in the Portfolio Management arena is no surprise to Dr. Forman, who recognizes why Portfolio Managers embrace its ability to simplify and streamline the PPM process.

“Today’s organizations are bogged down due to the diverse challenges they encounter. They must select, from a large number of competing projects, a combination that best contributes to the organizations objectives, both strategic and tactical. The objectives, some of which are quantitative and others qualitative, often compete with one another so tradeoffs must be made. On top of that, more and more we're seeing that organizations want PPM decisions to be transparent and accountable, so their teams have confidence and know what to expect. That need to quantify trade-offs with transparency requires a structured approach.”

Expert Choice Comparion® provides the structure that allows hard data as well as judgments from participants throughout the organization to be synthesized. This synthesis requires structuring objectives into a hierarchy that is visible and transparent, and accounts for governance by assigning roles based on responsibilities, knowledge and experience. This process delivers a translation of team inputs into real measures that are ‘proportional’ so that the results are not only mathematically meaningful, but pass the ‘makes sense’ test as well. While all participants may not agree with the resulting portfolio, there is always clarity as to where and why those variances occur. Routinely, there is agreement that the process—even when it takes place in an environment of politics, uncertainty and complexity is fair and complete. The result? A better decision on project portfolio mix and that allows everyone to buy in to the decisions and their outcomes.

Comprehensive PPM: Delivering Optimization versus Simple Prioritization

Much of Comparion’s popularity is based on end users appreciation and extremely strong confidence that the “very best mix of projects” has been selected in accord with organizational objectives. This is not the case with many or most simple or ‘best practices’ being used today, according to Dr. Forman who while teaching in the Project Management program at The George Washington University discovered that most processes being used rely on ad hoc methods, like weights and scores, the use of simple Likert type scales, and the allocation of resources based on rankings. Not only do such inferior methods produce questionable results, they don’t allow participants to gain insights and intelligently argue for or against ‘pet projects’ and ‘must do’ projects that consume a large percentage of resources. While Comparion’s process relies on theoretically sound and powerful measurement and optimization methods, the process does not simply gather input and dictate an optimal portfolio, but rather provides insight and understanding so that management can apply their knowledge and experience in crafting an optimum portfolio.
‘Doing the Right Things Rather than Doing Things Right’

So, while Comparion® makes the complex PPM process simpler, Dr. Forman explains that its biggest benefit is in helping project managers shift their focus from “doing projects right” to “doing the right things” with a portfolio or mix projects that align with corporate objectives.

“[Comparion] goes beyond the simple prioritization heuristics that many PPM managers are forced to rely upon. With Comparion®, a project team can do more than merely prioritize a portfolio of projects—they can be sure to assemble a portfolio of projects that delivers an optimal allocation of resources to projects that best align with an organization’s strategic objectives. How? Because Comparion’s methodology is grounded in the use AHP decision hierarchies and mathematics, it is able to collect information on organizational objectives and alternatives, resulting in priorities that allow a true resource alignment to be performed.

Using Scientifically Driven Methods -Years Ahead of Google Search

From the beginning, over thirty years ago, Expert Choice’s underlying prioritization has been based on the computation of the principle of right hand eigenvector of a matrix of comparisons. This sounds complicated but is very powerful, as Google developers found out years after Expert Choice when they began to employ this same method as the basis for their webpage ranking algorithms. The engine at the core of Comparion is called the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) which is a conceptually sound and mathematically rigorous methodology-scientifically proven to be more accurate than any other type of ranking or rating methodology.

“All of our products are based on ideal' ratio scale measurements, made in a collaborative environment, and producing mathematically meaningful results—something that is lacking in many existing ad-hoc measurement tools.” - Dr. ErnestForman.

Our PPM solution provides organizations with a “bird’s eye” view of upcoming, current and past projects

Because Comparion’s prioritization procedure is based on rigorously validated scientific methods, and can derive ratio scale numbers (i.e. measures that reflect proportion, not just rank) for objectives and projects, it is able to produce optimal project prioritization results that ordinal measures or ranks cannot. Dr. Forman illustrates — "Some aspects of a decision are quantitative - like NPV for instance. Others aspects are intuitive, and are often difficult for people to directly quantify- -even people intimately involved in those aspects of the decision. Comparion provides the means to quantify all aspects in a way that's simple and accurate." Comparion's ability to retain ideal balance between the simple and sophisticated makes the solution ideal for PPM.

Collaborative Tools for an Efficient, Transparent PPM Process

Expert Choice complements their decision prioritization engine with an impressive array of collaborative processes. Comparion® allows teams to perform real-time or offline project brainstorming sessions, offers various synthesis modes for both scenario and sensitivity analysis, provides collaboration metrics that point to bias or the need for further dialogue as well as analytics and visualizations, and most importantly-optimizes and aligns the project portfolios to both strategic and tactical objectives.

Comparion® enables PPM professionals to transparently clarify which mix of projects is likely to best deliver on corporate objectives. This results in streamlined decisions, better ROI and performance.
Project Portfolio Management – A Realistic Process

After working with many corporate, government, and non-profit PPM engagements around the world, Dr. Forman noticed that those project managers who had the best portfolio management skills shared certain perspectives. These project managers:

• Recognized that developing a Project Portfolio is both an art and a science
• Accepted the fact that organizational politics always plays some part in the process, and that process can be successful by recognizing political views as a form of subjective knowledge and experience that can be included more transparently in the decision making process.
• Attempted to align their portfolio with the organization's strategic and tactical objectives

Easier Said than Done?

Doing this, however, is easier said than done. As part of EC’s structured, collaborative, and easy to use platform, the following is in fact, being done on a daily basis:

> Recognizing governance and roles in a collaborative environment so that everyone is satisfied with the process even if their project is not funded in the resulting optimized portfolio
> Fostering a culture where creativity is relished
> Measuring anticipated contributions of proposed projects in ways that are theoretically sound
> Generating one or more 'optimized' portfolios based on a range of scenarios
> Incorporating risk as well as benefits and costs – (3 types of risk: Business risk, project risk, and portfolio risk)

Portfolio Optimization Views: Global, Detailed, and Across Time

"We've been very fortunate that Comparion has had strong adoption within the PPM community over the years, and we’ve been lucky to have such ongoing community support and suggestions for new features. Our clients have told us they need a comprehensive PPM methodology that not only provides global and detailed insights, but projects into the future with multi-year portfolios and product roadmaps.

“We heard their requests, and we’ve expanded Comparion to provide not only multi-year views, but portfolios comprised of projects that can be scheduled to start at any of a range dates and extend over multi years after they start.

“Our PPM solution provides organizations with a “bird’s eye” view of the tradeoffs amongst alternative portfolios comprised of both ongoing as well as proposed projects,” states Forman. “Our customers have always relied on the insight that Comparion® is able to provide them in various scenarios at both the high-level portfolio and detailed project level views.”

One client team, (of an internationally renowned Space agency) used Comparion® to collaborate in the prioritization of IT initiatives and investments and gained transparency over prioritized alignment of resources.

“The deployment of Comparion helped the management team to make critical decisions with ease, paving the way for the achievement of objectives across all scenarios,” expresses Forman.

Expert Choice practices what it preaches–using Comparion® to review its own internal project portfolio and determine priorities for other decisions such as which product to build next. So besides revolutionizing the way organizations frames project decisions what’s next on the horizon for Expert Choice? Dr. Forman says market needs point to Riskion™-a product for enterprise risk management, and Performion™, a performance measurement tool not only for projects, but portfolio performance measurement as well. Whatever EC ends up pursuing, you can bet it will align with its goal of helping the world make better decisions.

Expert Choice

Arlington, VA

Ernest Forman, Director and Mary Ann Selly, CEO

A company that provides enterprise-class solutions for Collaborative Decision-making and Project Management.