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A complete guide to ServiceNow Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM)

The pace of modern business can make it difficult to keep track of every programme or project you’ve got going on – let alone whether it’s returning any value. Not to worry, that’s where ServiceNow SPM comes in.

Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM) in ServiceNow is a pivotal toolset for business management, with several unique qualities that set it apart from other tools and processes.

Having started life as a way of maintaining detailed control of IT projects whilst also showing their wider relevance/impact within an organisation, it’s now evolved to be suitable for all types of project management.

Central to its appeal is the holistic viewpoint it provides, making it a powerful enabler for strategic planning and execution of initiatives in line with overarching business goals. In this guide, we go into the details of what SPM is and how it can enhance your business.

What is strategic portfolio management?

ServiceNow SPM is a toolset that helps organisations to manage all pieces of work from the creation of ideas to project execution by providing a clear record of an entire project, all in one place. It also shows how each project feeds into other areas of the business, such as budgets and strategic goals.

For example, a project might begin with crowdsourcing ideas from any person within the organisation, all of which can be recorded with SPM. Those ideas can then be quantified alongside criteria such as demand, risk, their impact on the organisation, the effort involved and the timescales needed to make them happen.

You can use SPM for large projects or to initiate smaller-scale actions in other areas of ServiceNow (like IT changes), but either way, it feeds into an agile, trackable system to give you a detailed understanding of what's happening and why.

Why ITBM is now strategic portfolio management

What we now call SPM used to be referred to as IT Business Management (ITBM). As the original name suggests, it tended to focus on the management of IT projects and activities.

However, in reality, the system can be used to manage any demand or initiative, ranging from software to facilities management or project management (if you're refurbishing your office, for example).

In short, SPM can be used for anything that involves bringing together planning, spending, strategy and resources, or dealing with the demand pipeline in any vertical or business unit within an organisation.

As the toolset moved beyond just IT, a new name was needed to reflect the versatility of the product.

Strategic portfolio management vs. adaptive project management (APM)?

SPM and APM are two approaches in project and portfolio management that differ in their focus, scope, timeline, decision-making criteria and governance structures.

SPM, as the name implies, is concerned with aligning your project portfolio with your strategic objectives. It’s the longer-term view, potentially spanning years of various projects to ensure maximum alignment and value.

In contrast, APM focuses on the day-to-day management of individual projects with a focus on flexibility and adaptability. It’s a more iterative approach that acknowledges that circumstances can, and likely will, change.

APM decisions are short to medium-term considerations and governance is less organisational and more about quick decision making at the project level.

Both approaches complement each other and play a key role in effectively managing your projects and wider portfolio. SPM ensures that your organisation’s overall strategy guides project selection and prioritisation, whilst APM ensures that individual projects can adapt to changing conditions and deliver successful outcomes.

Why is strategic portfolio management important?

SPM is important for helping businesses decide what actions and investments they're going to make by creating a clear, qualified business case for them, and then providing an infrastructure to keep each project on track.

Many businesses come up with lots of great initiatives, and it's easy to put them into place without realising any real value. Organisations mustn't just choose great ideas, but choose the right ones for them - that might be the one they can afford, that aligns with their wider goals, and that doesn't clash with other initiatives or duplicate them.

Strategic portfolio management is important for managing individual projects, but crucially it makes sure that they don't exist in a silo away from the rest of the business. It gives you a picture of how it aligns with departments, business units, strategies, goals and budgets, preventing you from duplicating work or wasting money.

Who is it aimed at?

While SPM is principally the responsibility of the senior management team, helping them to meet business goals and objectives by qualifying and managing individual projects, its flexibility means it's also suitable for other team members, such as analysts. Everyone from the C-suite to individual contributors can benefit from the system.

For example, senior managers might be primarily concerned with the overall budget of a project, but project managers can focus on the details of allocating their expenses against that budget. Those working on the project day-to-day also have transparency over logistical details such as the resources they have available and a full audit trail of tasks.

All these elements are visible within an individual project, but can also roll up into a programme and then into a portfolio of work as needed. As a result, you can report on minute activities at a holistic level.

What are the benefits of strategic portfolio management?

The benefits of SPM are both strategic and practical, summed up in the following three areas:

Accuracy and continuity

The big thing that SPM provides is continuity and, as a result of that, accuracy. By having everything documented in one place there's no need to swivel between tools for record-keeping and reporting, and there's less opportunity for human error.

Strategic alignment

This continuity also creates strategic alignment within the business because senior leadership can set strategies and feed them down to different parts of the organisation. That means that when ideas are being considered and qualified for benefit realisation, they’re aligned with that overarching strategy - everyone in the organisation is on the same page and growing in the same direction.

Keeping track of spending

What many businesses find enormously beneficial on a practical note, is the transparency that SPM provides on spending throughout a project. Enabling teams to keep track of a set budget by using tools such as rate cards for resources and expense lines for CapEx / OpEx costs, means that all all expenses are logged to the project and nothing goes missing.

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What are the steps in the strategic portfolio process?

At each stage within SPM, you can report on factors including budgets and status at a project, programme or portfolio level. You can then aggregate information upwards to gain either a granular or holistic understanding of what’s going on at any point. To achieve that structure, the key steps within the strategic portfolio process are as follows:

Idea management

The first step in SPM is idea management, contained in a community-oriented portal where anyone within the organisation can put their suggestion forward.

At this stage, ideas are poorly qualified and in need of categorisation. Everyone can comment, discuss and upvote ideas, before a manager comes in and selects the one they want, updating its status so everyone following it will be notified. At this point, the idea typically turns into a ‘demand’.

Demand qualification and conversion

When an idea becomes a demand, it undergoes greater qualification to understand how much it will cost to implement, which strategies and goals it underpins, how many people will be needed for the job and so forth. This stage is about building a business case for the initiative. A demand is then usually converted into a ‘project’ once it’s qualified.

Project, programme and portfolio management

Once a project has been agreed upon, it’s developed into a fully-fledged piece of deliverable work with a start date, end date and timeline. It includes a breakdown of tasks for people involved, a budget, status reports etc.

A project might also sit within a ‘programme’, which involves two or more projects as part of a wider piece of work. Programmes can then be set within a ‘portfolio’, which might apply to the overarching goals of the organisation, for example.

Functions available at the programme and portfolio level allow the programme and portfolio managers to report holistically on the budget, effort and timelines of all artefacts below them in the stack, allowing up-to-date dashboards to easily be exposed to the C-suite to display organisation-wide management information.

The value of strategic portfolio management software

SPM’s great strength is its powerful contribution to helping businesses reach their strategic goals thanks to a combination of capabilities including automation, data analytics and real-time monitoring. The crux of this is in the connectivity within the software.

Although there are a lot of tools in the market that can help businesses manage work packages, most tend to focus on specific parts of the process rather than the entire workflow.

For example, Microsoft’s Project Management Software can handle individual tasks and projects but won’t automatically roll up strategies and budgets into a wider portfolio of work - it’s very self-contained. Similarly, tools like Sharepoint might allow for crowdsourcing ideas, but won’t integrate them into a workflow like ServiceNow SPM’s idea management will.

You can find examples of software for each element within a project’s workflow, but nothing ties the whole process together better than ServiceNow SPM.

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Key capabilities of ServiceNow for strategic portfolio management

There are lots of capabilities within ServiceNow SPM, helping you to scale your business by aligning and delivering business outcomes from a single platform. However, we can distil these capabilities into four key groups:

A unified tie-in for strategies and goals

With SPM, business strategies and goals are tracked through the demand life cycle, both within an individual project and the wider portfolio.

Capabilities that contribute to this include:

  • Predictive intelligence
  • Demand management
  • Innovation management
  • Scenario planning

Fully featured financials

Financial planning is an integral part of successful project planning as well as wider company goal setting. With SPM financials are set, tracked and monitored right from the demand stage. They’re then handled using the same process from projects to portfolios, with the capacity to aggregate information from the bottom up.

Capabilities that contribute to this include:

  • Resource management
  • Investment funding

A single platform

The ability to handle the whole management process in one place, rather than using multiple tools for resourcing and financial planning makes the process simpler, more effective, accurate and transparent.

Capabilities that contribute to this include:

  • Agile development
  • Project portfolio management
  • Strategic planning
  • Scaled Agile Framework
  • Digital portfolio management
  • Release management
  • Virtual agent

Reporting

Reporting is a fundamental, but often laborious, process within project management. Companies generating branded status reports will often find that manually putting all the information in one place is time-consuming and error-prone. However, with SPM you can generate accurate reports with the click of a button thanks to a single system of record.

Capabilities that contribute to this include:

  • Performance Analytics
  • Process mining

Getting started with SPM

As we have already shown, when we talk about the steps within the SPM process, we usually discuss them chronologically, from ideation upwards. This helps us understand exactly what SPM is and how it works.

However, in reality, companies often have an existing portfolio (or more than one) when it comes to implementing SPM. As a result, it’s more strategically effective to implement SPM from the portfolio down. For example:

  • Identify the strategic pillars of your organisation: For example, consider where you want to action change within your business. This is quite a high-level consideration that might impact the entire portfolio.
  • Consider strategies and goals that contribute to those pillars: For example, you might want to increase customer satisfaction or reduce the amount you spend on software.
  • Link programmes and projects to people within the organisation: Start allocating programmes and projects to the people who can take responsibility for delivering them within the organisation. This is where planning starts to move towards project execution.

How FlyForm can optimise your SPM with ServiceNow

Implementing SPM can be game-changing for organisations focused on growth and improved processes, and Flyform is an experienced team with a proven record implementing it for everyone from SMEs to Government organisations.

Our approach is to work with you as if we were a member of your team rather than an external provider. We set out to understand your portfolio, your business, your goals and how you work, and as a result, we can set SPM up in a way that you and your team will find easy, familiar and effective to use from day one.

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