Project Portfolios in Practice

I attended—with my PM Solutions colleagues—the 2015 PMO Symposium in Phoenix. I’d like to share some of the great knowledge and experience on offer, therefore I’ll have a quick blog series on some key topics. I live tweeted the conference @pm_college and via the conference hashtag #pmosym.

The first session delved into a big topic: project portfolio management. Both speakers brought a mix of practice and research on the keys to project portfolio implementation: strong processes and capabilities, leadership and sponsorship, and an enabling culture. The first speaker made two points I strongly endorse:

  1. Your project portfolio will almost certainly have a mix of winners and losers. Does your culture support that mix? Does it recognize that innovation—if that’s what your organizations wants—almost certainly will involve failure? Is failure a learning experience or a “terminating” experience?
  2. A significant number of projects can be held or topped without a detrimental impact on value. Research shows that 10% of initiatives deliver 80% of value.

The second speaker fleshed out the idea of simplicity: Initial portfolio implementations are usually over-engineered. My experience agrees: I’ve had to de-scope process and practice that looked good on paper, but took forever to implement. Simple, quick, and complete beats complex, slow, and never finished. We often gather data just because we can. Know what information is valuable for decisions, then get that right. Strong portfolio process doesn’t equal heavy process. Management by exception is a good way to manage complexity and focus your capabilities.

Portfolio management isn’t magic or incomprehensible. Done properly, managing project investments collectively brings coherence to implementing strategic and operational initiatives. It also helps the organization create sustainable value in the long run. To that end, we have two courses that address these issues with practical guidance:

  • Strategic Alignment of the Portfolio: This one-day course focuses on strategy and its evolution and strategy alignment through projects. It also provides an overview of portfolio execution processes.
  • How to Design, Build, and Manage a Project Portfolio: Over three days, this course offers tools, techniques, and best practices for managing project portfolios. It presents a “how to” methodology to design, build, and manage a portfolio.
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