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UBIT project portfolio prioritization process

By Dan Heuskin

Published November 15, 2016

When providing technical support for a university as vast and multifaceted as UB, it is crucial for an IT department to use some form of project portfolio prioritization—a system meant to ensure that the right projects are being worked on at the right time for optimal fulfillment of university goals.

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Daniel Heuskin (UB Student, Class of 2017) is originally from Long Island, NY. He is studying English at UB with aspirations to become a teacher or writer. In his free time, he enjoys playing bass guitar, doing nature photography, writing songs and reading.

UBIT receives a large number of requests for IT projects, some of which bear more immediate importance to UB’s goals than others. Without prioritization, an IT department can end up juggling a multitude of tasks with little sense of which tasks are essential to broader institutional goals.

Although UBIT has always prioritized its projects, prioritizing in a consistent and transparent way can sometimes be a challenge—especially when everyone requesting a project considers their own project to be of the utmost importance.

“We always handle it,” says Steve Heist, Systems Software Manager and Enterprise Infrastructure Services Consultant at UB. “But at any given time, the VPCIO’s area might have anywhere from 300 to 400 projects on the books, and only some of them might be of key interest to the university given what is being accomplished on a broader scale.”

With so many projects, it helps to have a deliberate and transparent prioritization structure in place—and that’s just what UBIT is preparing to implement. The new system is called the project portfolio prioritization and reporting initiative. Despite a complex-sounding name, the initiative’s goals are simple:

1)    To identify and prioritize key projects, map these projects to technology strategies, and align them with university goals

2)    To enable input and awareness by establishing a governance model for shared decision-making and a transparent VPCIO project portfolio and prioritization report process

"With every project, we have to ask ourselves: is what we’re working on truly important to the campus?” Heist explains. "There are certain institutional objectives—for instance, UB2020, or Finish in Four, or the need to increase research funding—that are essential to the university. And projects that contribute to these goals are key projects, meaning they should be worked on first."

Ultimately, someone has to decide which projects are key, and that’s where a governance structure comes into play. Representing leadership from across UB’s departments, the governance structure will receive a list of projects scored according to a rubric. The rubric, in turn, will be written with major UB goals in mind. Based on the scoring of each project, members of the governance structure will have focused discussions about how to align projects with UB goals and make crucial prioritization decisions. The idea is to provide a forum for shared decision-making and a mechanism for input from senior leadership.

Of course, it’s important that all concerned parties are equally informed about the projects that UBIT is working on. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, VPs and other leaders will be able to view a Top Project List via some form of regular reporting. The list will include the status of those top projects being worked on by UBIT, so that leaders will understand how projects in their own areas fit into the scheme of what IT is doing for the rest of the campus. This reporting aspect of the prioritization initiative aims to promote transparency, enhance collaboration, and minimize confusion among VPs who might otherwise wonder why their project requests are not receiving UBIT’s immediate resources.

"We want UBIT to be working on the projects that will have the greatest impact for the campus at any given time,” says Heist. “And that means providing for transparency, clear communication, and effective prioritization. Ultimately, all of our work should map back to what’s best for UB."