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3/4/2003
02:07 PM
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Tracking The Best-Laid Plans

Companies are managing multiple projects as diligently as their investments and finding it pays

Project-portfolio management software is helping Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, a $6 billion-plus health-insurance provider, make its move from a not-for-profit to a for-profit health insurer. As part of the effort, several hundred million dollars were allocated to IT over a five-year period to tackle tasks such as consolidating five enterprise software platforms into two, better managing compliance with regulatory offices, and simplifying new-product development.

These IT initiatives involve hundreds of skilled people working on hundreds of concurrently developing projects, and it requires executive-level visibility into each project, any subset of projects, or all existing and planned projects, collectively. A rigorous and formalized project-portfolio management strategy was considered fundamental to success.

Pamela Miller

Miller planned IT's role in Horizon's transition.
The job of planning IT's role in the transition fell to Pamela Miller, VP of enterprise strategy, quality, and program management for Horizon. When the transition began, like most companies, Horizon was doing project management mostly with Microsoft Project and using electronic spreadsheets to track ad hoc project assignments. But Miller realized that the goal of reviewing all the projects at an executive level and in real time was impossible using those tools. "We used to do things with some wild guess and a budget," she says.

Horizon discovered what many companies are just finding out: It's no longer feasible to simply throw money and resources at projects, particularly complex IT efforts, and hope for the best. That's especially true in less-than-flush economic times. That approach still is too common, though. The Standish Group says more than half of company technology projects will fail or are "challenged." That's bad news in an age when

IT is behind almost every business effort, whether it's a legacy upgrade or a merger-driven integration that's designed to enhance a company's ability to innovate. As Miller says, "We're so information-based, even potential new product offerings become software projects."

Miller began her efforts by having her team review project-management processes and talk extensively with peers and partners (including Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank) on how and what to implement as a project-management methodology. "I don't see how you can do a credible product solution without a project-management discipline," Miller says. Ideas also were vetted with internal project managers.

Then Miller's group reviewed tools and templates from 22 vendors on 50 criteria to see which, if any, could support the level of project management to be implemented.

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