Guest Post: Why CMOs Need to Shift from “Project” to “Portfolio” Management

_H5D0155fAs a marketing leader, do you have the necessary know-how to strategically manage a technology portfolio?

As businesses continue the rapid move towards digital, more technology purchases will find a home in the marketing organization.  In fact, The Gartner Group estimates that 40% of technology investments are already happening outside of the IT organization.

You likely have a mix of technology-related projects, ranging from applications or systems that your team is building. These include mobile apps, content management systems, back-end data systems, hosting solutions, CRM, and analysis.  Often referred to as the “marketing stack,” many of these systems or efforts were likely started as a discrete project. They often develop into ongoing capability that needs to be maintained, upgraded, and supported.

Problems surface when you reach the crossover point. That’s when you  move from a handful of technology projects or software licenses supporting “the stack” that were managed by specific marketing managers to a complex web of systems that, in many cases, interrelate and eat up a substantial amount of your budget. You may consider them essential to company growth. But the complexity eventually overwhelms.

Applications can mushroom, and you lose visibility into what is actually meaningfully moving the needle towards high value.  Often, the skills required for portfolio management do not reside in the marketing organization.

In my experience, the reason that the skills are missing is that the discipline of marketing does not think in terms of portfolios.  Most marketers traditionally manage a series of campaigns or product-driven, one-off functions. That’s how many of us are accustomed to working with stakeholders. Need a product launched?  No problem.  How about a promotion or campaign to drive channel sales?  Sure.

In order to break this old, inefficient pattern, marketing leaders need to know how to drive technology planning as a process and discipline.  We can apply lessons learned from IT’s planning approaches that they have embraced in the last 15 years.

In the 1990s, your IT group made the leap from “project” thinking to “portfolio” thinking.  They had to implement governance over the technology portfolio to drive planning, and even created a specific organization — the “Portfolio Management Office” or PMO. This group owns and guides the portfolio of technology investments to ensure they are aligned with business strategy, and can be justified to the finance organization.

You can make that leap too. To help your marketing organization get started, ask these 5 key questions:

  1. Do you have visibility into the value and the inefficiencies across all of your technology investments (viewed as a portfolio)?
  1. How, specifically, does your technology portfolio contribute towards the strategic imperatives of the marketing organization and of the business? Are you able to cross-walk your technology investments back to strategic priorities to explain why you made specific resourcing tradeoffs?
  1. Can you hold your team accountable for the efficiency and contributions of the technology investments, or is the team able to play a shell game because each technology investment was made as a standalone effort, and nobody has the necessary visibility and transparency across the entire portfolio?
  1. Can your team articulate how and why the investments that they are recommending for the future will deliver value to the organization? In addition, can they explain why those are better investments than others you choose not to pursue?
  1. Are you allocating technology funds and headcount towards both “running of the business” and “transformation” in the right relative amounts in order to stay ahead of the competitive curve?

A technology governance process can provide answers to these questions.

Here at Decision Lens, we use our own software to develop our marketing strategic objectives, prioritize them, and to evaluate which marketing programs should be invested in and at what relevant amounts including the technology spend.  It is also used to prioritize our product road map (features),  evaluate what new markets to enter, account renewals, and for new hires.

This benefits everyone in the organization, as well as our customers. The portfolio management approach enables us to create a common framework for internal team meetings, and to approach customer issues and opportunities with greater agility.

About the contributor:

John Saaty is the CMO and Co-Founder of Decision Lens, a software solution and process applied to technology portfolios for strategic selection and resourcing. He is also a charter member of the Marketing Leaders of DC™, an exclusive CMO peer community based in Washington, DC.

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