Is PPM dead?

Is PPM “yesterday’s news”? Indeed it is, but in two different senses.

PPM (Project Portfolio Management) is both a discipline and a software category that includes all solutions that focus on analyzing, prioritizing, and managing the elements of a project portfolio, including Planisware Enterprise and Orchestra. But the software category has known a lot of changes since its creation a few decades ago. Today, does it still make sense to call the category PPM? And if not, what will replace it?

“Project Portfolio Management” as a technical term was invented 50 years ago

First, PPM was yesterday’s news in 1999 – when the anthology Project Portfolio Management (Pennypacker et al) came out – and I viewed this as a good thing!

Let me explain. As a Gartner analyst I had been following various tools for project prioritization and planning, resourcing, time, cost, and change management, collaboration, and related disciplines. Most of these were point tools (they managed one discipline only), but some were attempting a more integrated approach by combining several disciplines in the same tool. Vendors of these more integrated applications had coined various labels for what they were trying to do, like “Results Management Suite” from ABT (Applied Business Technologies, later acquired by Niku) and “Knowledge Resource Planning” from Business Engine (aka Micro-Frame, later sold off piecemeal to Planview and Deltek).

After toying with my own analyst coinage, I encountered Pennypacker’s book. I noticed that the coordinated discipline of PPM that it described was largely what these applications were attempting to support. I also noted that some of the essays using the term “project portfolio management” dated back to the ’70s and even the ’60s and realized: This was no fly-by-night vendor label (or analyst coinage). It was a term with “legs”!

So to me, the durability and longevity of the term “Project Portfolio Management” was a good thing; I dropped my own “project and resource management” naming and market chart, and launched Gartner’s PPM Magic Quadrant in 2002.

“Project Portfolio Management” as a marketing term is almost 20 years old

Second, PPM – although a well-established discipline with common practices and defined financial and planning skills – as an application marketing category was new! and exciting! It was welcomed with substantial hype by vendors seeking venture capital, by trade press, consultancies, and even competing analyst firms.  But that was almost 20 years ago – so in a 2nd sense of vendor, consulting etc. marketing hype, yes, it is “yesterday’s news.”

Leading PPM solutions are extending their capabilities beyond classical “Project Portfolio Management”

It’s also true that some PPM solutions have grown in scope and capability over the past 15+ years, so that the term PPM as once understood no longer fully describes them. This is true of Planisware, but few others. We have lately been describing how Planisware’s PPM “core” is augmented by SFP (“Strategic & Financial Planning”) and by BAM (“Business Asset Management”) in our Business Innovation Cloud. Some observers have said that they would consider many of the SFP and BAM features to be in-scope for PPM. Maybe so. But most of the tool vendors purporting to offer PPM lack much of that SFP and BAM functionality – and many of those features are beyond what was “traditionally” understood to be part of a PPM tool as recently as 5 years ago.

Even as analyst firms like Forrester and Gartner switch to terms they may deem more glamorous, like “Strategic Portfolio Management,” practitioners looking at solutions will still evaluate that PPM core of project prioritization and planning, resourcing, collaboration, time, cost, change management, and other features. Have these been commoditized? To some degree, although even narrower PPM vendors still sometimes compete on their tool’s superior support of these features. Other vendors, though, have largely stable products, with little product development beyond minor changes and a UI refresh every five years or so, and compete mainly on price, as is typical in a commodity market. 

As Ezra Pound once said, “Literature is news that stays news.” PPM as a discipline extends back 50 years and more, and has been enabled by software for 20+ years. Applications that extend this discipline are not “yesterday’s newspaper,” but more like literature: “News that stays news.”