How to Choose a PPM Tool

“Choosing the right PPM Tool will help improve success and ensure efficient project, program and portfolio delivery through better decision-making and portfolio level reporting”

Choosing the right PPM Tool is one of the most critical decisions that a PMO Leader will make as it is both expensive and disruptive during the actual Strategy implementation process.  Project Management and reporting emphasizes and enhances the automation of detailed project and work execution activities.  As you look at the different tools available, they all vary significantly in capabilities and sophistication which makes it challenging to select the right one for your organization.  Below are the steps your organization should take when looking at Portfolio Project Management solutions.

Best Approach to Select a PPM Tool

  1. Define your goals and objectives. It is very important to discuss with your Sponsor and senior leadership which business objectives the organization is trying to make through acquiring a PPM tool. Without this agreement, there can be a disconnect between the PMO and the leadership team.  It is important to understand that just implementing a PPM tool is not going to solve all of your problems.  If you do not have a process in place first to support a tool, then you are putting the cart before the horse. Typically, your goals will be around improving the strategic alignment of projects, optimizing project portfolios, or enterprise resource planning and governance.  
  2. Establish Scope of the PPM Tool.  Once you establish your overall goals and objectives, you will want to take a deeper dive into the requirements and scope of the PPM tool implementation.  It is important to put together a list of features that you must have and can not live without.  It is important to put together this list of features and establish a numeric value for its importance.  This will also help you as you establish the Request for Proposal for potential PPM Tool bidders.  As you increase your scope, you will increase your cost and schedule for implementing the solution.  I always recommend that you first establish your processes and framework and then look at a tool that will support them.  Too many times, organizations will just buy a tool and see it as a magic bullet and end up being disappointed because the organization was not ready for the tool. 
  3. Look at Vendor Solutions and not Vendor Tools.  I can not stress this enough.  For me, it is more important to build critical success factors which are based upon solutions rather than a tools feature list.  There are many different tools out there for PPM and many are great but it’s just as important that the service provider understands your business and not just Project Portfolio Management.  It is possible to buy the wrong tool even if it has the most features.  There is not a one-size-fits all so I would never recommend just going with what the research companies recommend by itself.  
  4. Implement a Formal RFP Process.  It is important that as you do your research that you put together a formal RFP and questionnaire which you will send out to potential vendors.  You should make sure that you include key staff in the RFP process and not just the leadership.  You want a cross-representation of team members that will use the tools in different ways.  For example, Project Managers, Finance Managers, Resource Managers, Tool Administrators.  Here are a few items I would recommend in the RFP Process:
    1. Understand the technical and architectural requirements of each solution.  Is it cloud-based, hosted, or just stand-alone?
    2.  Understand the full implementation process and timeframe.  You need to make sure you understand items such as training and post-implementation support.
    3. Check References and do site visits if possible.  You can’t take anything for granted.  Even testimonials on websites can be misleading or no longer valid.  Make sure to do your due diligence and see what other users think about the decision they made to go with that particular PPM tool.
    4. Contract Negotiation and Review. Make sure you understand the contract and have your legal team review it.  You want to understand what type of support is provided and if there are Service Level Agreements.  You also want to understand your commitment and if there are penalties for terminating the contract early.  Contracts might be on a seat basis and you want to know how easy it is to add additional licenses.  Most of the PPM vendors now operate under a Software as a Service (SaaS) model and you basically pay a monthly fee per user.
    5. Score each of the potential vendors upon the questionnaire you sent out in the RFP.  This will objectively gauge the capabilities of each tool.  Besides having a list of capabilities with scores, you should weigh the capabilities themselves based upon the exercise on what you must have and what is nice to have.  
    6. Run a Pilot.  I am a big proponent of pilots as it allows you to work with the tool and try it out before committing to a long-term contract.  Understand that most vendors will agree to run a pilot but they will still charge a fee.  It is unusual to find PPM vendors willing to do a pilot at no cost because the vendor has to support the team during the pilot and has internal costs. One of the main goals of the pilot is to see if the tool will work with your existing processes or if you will need to modify your processes in order to use the PPM tool effectively.   
    7. Understand the Vendor Implementation and Training Approach. I typically prefer that vendors do a train the trainer approach because the vendor should have the subject matter and tool expertise.  Once we have a team of trained internal trainers, we can look at training the different team members.  PPM Tools have a variety of roles so it is important to understand those different roles and how they function.  In addition, license costs can be influenced based upon the type of license with many of the PPM Tools. 
  5. Implement the new PPM Tool.  Once you have successfully went through the pilot project and made a selection on the tool.  You will want to finalize the contract and then plan out the implementation of the PPM Tool.  Make sure there is sufficient time for any changes, testing, and training.  It is important to receive a full implementation plan from the vendor and have weekly status meetings discussing progress.  This PPM Tool implementation should be ran as a project so you will want to make sure that you are tracking everything from tasks, milestones, cost, issues, and changes.  

If you follow these Five Steps above, you should have a better chance of success.  I have seen companies fail in their PPM Tool implementations because they tried to shortcut the process or they were not ready from a capability maturity standpoint.  You can never expect a tool to fix process issues so make sure that you have your framework and documented processes in place before attempting to implement a Project and Portfolio Management Tool.  


James Proctor, Managing Partner

[email protected]

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