PPM 101: How To Create A Successful Work Intake Process

Work Intake – The Front Door

Does your organization have a “single entry” for new project requests? Or rather, does your organization have a front door, a side door, a back door, and many other ways to receive requests? Having multiple ways to submit requests is a common problem for many companies and highlights the need for a standard work intake process. Without a common work intake process, it can be nearly impossible to track all of the work being done because there is no “single source of truth”. Even worse, a lot of shadow work may be going on in the organization which consumes valuable resources time from higher priority projects.

When project organizations (PMOs) are being established, one of the first tasks is to clarify how new project requests will be submitted and reviewed. Work intake refers to the process for creating project proposals and getting a go/no-go decision. This process often works in conjunction with an ideation process and phase-gate process, but can be independent as well. Work intake is a critical component for defining the project portfolio and therefore falls within the “Define the Portfolio” lifecycle stage. The diagram below highlights work intake in the context of the portfolio lifecycle.

Work intake in the context of the portfolio lifecycle

The Benefits of Work Intake

There are several benefits for creating a work intake process, summarized below:

  • Organizational clarity—helping employees understand how project proposals are brought forward will result in higher participation from the organization
  • Greater efficiency—having a clear understanding of the work intake process will result in greater efficiency in creating and approving proposals and shorten the time required to create proposals.
  • Higher quality—clarifying what information is needed in the proposal (and why) will result in higher quality proposals. It will also prevent people from collecting information that will not be used.
  • Greater consistency—common tools and templates will provide more consistent proposals making it easier for decision makers to compare and review proposals.
  • Control work in progress (WIP)—having work intake processes helps the PMO and governance team control the amount of work entering the portfolio.

 

Work intake is a foundational PMO/PPM process that organizations need to complete as soon as possible. Organizations with good work intake processes have visibility of their entire pipeline and higher quality projects with higher submission rates.

 

Steps for Creating A Work Intake Process

Developing a quality intake process takes a little effort but is a critical component for portfolio management. Some of the basic steps for creating a work intake process are outlined below.

  1. Document roles and responsibilities: the roles and responsibilities of each participant in the process needs to be documented and communicated. Some questions that need to be answered include: who will write the proposal (project manager, business analyst, executive sponsor)? What information is needed? What templates need to be filled out? What format must the information be presented? Who will review the proposals? How will decisions be made?
  2. Determine project proposal thresholds: in most cases, organizations need to start by focusing on project requests (as opposed to all IT requests which can commonly be handled by a standard IT ticketing system). This requires some definition of a project (e.g. above a dollar threshold? Above a resource effort threshold? Etc.). Creating these definitions will help ensure that all the requests match the definition of a project.
  3. Document workflow: the work intake process does not need to be complicated, but a standard process does need to be defined. The level of detail can increase over time, but helping the participants understand how to create a proposal, how to submit the proposal, and who reviews the proposal (and when) are all important processes to be documented.
  4. Identify tools for creating proposals: participants need to know whether there are templates available (highly recommended) for creating a proposal. Are there any IT systems that need to be utilized? (e.g. SharePoint, portal, portfolio management system)? Dedicated systems such as Acuity PPM help automate the project work intake process.

 Work Intake Success Factors

There are several success factors that organizations need to keep in mind when introducing a work intake process.

  • Having a single “front door to the organization”. Any ambiguity here will undermine the entire work intake process.
  • Have clear roles and responsibilities of all participants in the work intake process. Although the process does not need to be complicated, participants need to understand their role in the process. Some light training is recommended.
  • Clarify what information needs to be submitted. People are passionate about their new ideas and want to do everything they can to see them approved, even if this means spending a lot of time collecting information that is not relevant to the process. Helping participants understand what information they need to collect and how it will be used will streamline the process and make it consistent.
  • Clear process ownership. A PMO or other team needs to own the process, ensure that it works, provide training, and ensure that it is used properly
  • Clear communication. The team that owns the process needs to over-communicate how the process works as well as the decisions made, otherwise, the process is at risk of failure. Work intake processes (just like all portfolio management processes) need care and feeding.
  • Clear timetables for submitting requests and making presentations. Consistency is important here. Is there a day and time of the week that proposals need to be submitted for review? Is there a standing review meeting where decision makers will review proposals? This information needs to be shared in order to make the process more efficient.

Work Intake Metrics

Organizations should consider capturing a few key metrics for the work intake process:

  • How many project requests originate from a given organization (e.g. Finance, Operations, Marketing, etc.). When the organization understands where its requests are coming from, it can take action to better meet the needs of those internal organizations.
  • How many proposals are incomplete?
  • How many proposals come in per week? Per month? Per quarter? This information can inform how often decision makers need to meet and for how long; it can also support annual planning processes.

Work Intake Process Flow

The diagram below highlights a basic work intake process flow diagram with three basic steps:

  1. Create the proposal – these are the steps that a Project Initiator takes to research a concept and complete an intake form.
  2. Review the proposal – the Project Initiator may need to review the proposal with their manager (if applicable). Otherwise, a Portfolio Manager/Administrator will review proposals to ensure they fit the project guidelines for the intake process. At this time other cross-functional team members may be asked to review and comment on the proposal before it goes to a governance team.
  3. Decision on the proposal – a governance team will review the proposal and make one of three decisions:
    • Approve the proposal – this moves the proposal into the next phase of the project lifecycle
    • Defer the proposal – the proposal does not move forward at the present time but will remain on a watch list for potential future implementation.
    • Cancel the proposal – the proposal does not move forward and no more work is conducted.
Work Intake Process Flow
Work Intake Process Flow

All decisions made by the governance team should be communicated back to the Project Initiator and recorded in a central log or portfolio management software.

Developing a Project Proposal (Work Intake Form)

Careful consideration should be given to creating a good intake form. The temptation is to require a lot of information to be filled out before the proposal is reviewed. Each organization needs to determine the minimal amount of important information in order to make a decision otherwise unnecessary time can be spent collecting data that is not used. (Remember: information collected but not used is an organizational drain on resources). The examples below represent the types of information that may be collected on a work intake form (we are not advocating using all of them unless necessary). Internal projects often have a digital/IT component or process improvement request. The example information for external facing projects are product-oriented.

Examples of Information Collected for Internal Projects

  • Initiator name
  • Sponsor’s name
  • Opportunity/problem
  • Current State/background
  • Proposal
  • Goals/target
  • Risks
  • Estimated cost and benefit
  • Date needed
  • Impacted Stakeholders

Examples of Information Collected for External Facing Projects

  • Business objective
  • Market definition
  • Market trends/insights
  • Competitive landscape
  • Target customer
  • Customer needs
  • Competing products
  • Product description
  • Product positioning
  • Resources needed
  • Feasibility/risks
  • Financial cost/benefit

Work Intake and Agile

There is a common misconception that Agile practices do not work well with portfolio management. Our opinion is that the Agile methodology can still work with standard portfolio management processes. The fact is, before project work begins, the portfolio governance team should evaluate project requests and approve projects that are in alignment with strategic goals. Whether an organization practices waterfall, agile, or a hybrid, project requests should still be evaluated before work begins. Agile is simply a methodology for iteratively delivering value (during project execution); it does not conflict with standard portfolio management processes.

Summary

Work intake is a foundational PMO/PPM process that organizations need to complete as soon as possible. Organizations with a good intake approval process have better visibility of their entire pipeline and higher quality projects with higher submission rates. All of this translates into a healthy project portfolio, which then requires good prioritization. Once this process is established and working well, a full phase-gate process should be considered. Acuity PPM offers a work intake module for organizations to better manage their work intake process. Get started here.

 

 

What is a work intake process?

Work intake refers to the process for creating project proposals and getting a go/no-go decision from senior management. This process often works in conjunction with an ideation and Stage-Gate processes, but can be independent as well. Work intake is a critical component for defining the project portfolio.

What are the benefits of a work intake process?

There are several benefits for creating a work intake process, including: 1) Organizational clarity—helping employees understand how project proposals are brought forward will result in higher participation from the organization 2) Greater efficiency—having a clear understanding of the work intake process will result in greater efficiency in creating and approving proposals and shorten the time required to create proposals. 3) Higher quality—clarifying what information is needed in the proposal (and why) will result in higher quality proposals. It will also prevent people from collecting information that will not be used. 4) Greater consistency—common tools and templates will provide more consistent proposals making it easier for decision makers to compare and review proposals. 5) Better control of work in progress (WIP)—having work intake processes helps the PMO and governance team control the amount of work entering the portfolio.

What information should be included in a project request?

Some standard information that should be collected for project requests include: Initiator's name, Sponsor's name, the Opportunity or problem being addressed, the current state or the background of the project, the actual proposal - what the project will do, the goals of the project, project risks, estimated project costs and benefits, start and finish date, and impacted stakeholders

What information should be included in a new product project request?

Some specific information that should be collected for new product or marketing requests includes: Business objective, market definition, market trends and insights, competitive landscape, target customer, customer needs, competing products, product description, product positioning, resources needed, feasibility/risks, and financial costs and benefits.