What is Project Portfolio Management?

We’re all familiar with the concept of investing our money. It’s all about getting the biggest bang for the buck (literally) with our limited resources. The funds we have to invest are finite in nature. There’s only so much money that we have to go around. That’s why it’s so important that we pick the right entities to invest in.

We can get too aggressive and put our money in risky investments. While this has the potential of great gain, it also carries with it the very real possibility of losing everything we invested. On the other hand, we could become too conservative and put our money in investments that don’t even keep up with the rate of inflation. This isn’t a good scenario either because inflation will gradually eat away at your investments. This will result in you losing money as well.

You need to balance the amount of risk you are willing to take with the potential Return on Investment (ROI) on your funds. Some are knowledgeable and brave enough to do this balancing act themselves. Others will hire financial advisers to guide them through this complicated web of financial information and put their investment portfolio together.

Of course, it goes without saying that ‘if you had an unlimited and never ending the supply of cash, you wouldn’t be nearly as concerned about your ROI.’ This is unfortunately not the case for most of us.

Now, let’s shift gears toward the limited resources we have to work with at our jobs as project managers. You can move from one company to the next and pick up the exact conversation you were having at your previous company – without missing a beat.

What is that conversation?

“We don’t have enough resources to get it all done!” This is a common refrain in any company you go to… and you will hear it time and again.

“There’s so much to do and not enough time to get it done!” is another sentiment you will hear regardless of the company.

Why do we hear these conversations all the time? Because time and resources are limited. There’s either not enough time or there are not enough people to complete the project at hand. This is where project portfolio management (PPM) comes into play.

What is Project Portfolio Management?

Project portfolio management is the ability to look at each project individually for their particular ROI to the company. Once chosen, project portfolio management will monitor this group of project’s ROI and the contribution toward the company’s bottom line.

What is Project Portfolio Management?

What is Project Portfolio Management?

What is Project Portfolio Management’s Purpose?

The purpose of project portfolio management is to not succumb to the unrealistic expectation that every initiative that is presented to the company can be undertaken. There are a lot of reasons why projects that may not be in the overall best interest of the company are under consideration.

For example, it may be that one of these projects is a pet project of one of the executives. Or, it could be a commitment that a salesperson made to a client in the hopes of garnering additional business. These projects may support an individual’s personal agenda, but not necessarily tie into the overall strategy of the company.

Regardless, both projects take time and resources to complete. We all know that time and resources are limited. In answering the question about what is project portfolio management, there are 3 main purposes that project portfolio management serves:

Ensure Projects are Aligned with the Strategy of the Company

There’s nothing more wasteful than working on a project that has nothing to do with the short-term or long-term strategy of the company. How can this happen within a company? What likely occurred is that at some point a particular project was aligned with corporate strategy. The corporate strategy then shifted and somebody forgot to tell the poor souls who were working on this project that the project is longer needed or relevant. It’s hard to believe that this happens, but it does – and it typically occurs during times of restructuring the company, or mergers with another company.

Project portfolio management prevents this type of disconnect from occurring. PPM remains in sync with corporate strategy and ensures that each project supports the company’s direction. It looks at each project from a few different angles and answers the questions of whether this project supports the current strategy of the company, is tied to long-term growth, or if it’s just a bad egg.

Tough decisions need to be made for those projects that are not supporting corporate direction. They need to be cut from the roster in order to free up time and resources for those project that does support the overall direction of the company.

Ensures Limited Resources are Assigned to the Proper Projects

Another aspect in answering the question about what is project portfolio management has to do with resource assignment and prioritization. Now that the list of projects has been culled through, you are left with a list of projects that still can’t all be done at the same time.

It’s part of the responsibility of project portfolio management to determine which projects are the most important and then assign resources accordingly. Keep this in mind if it is your responsibility to assign resources across different projects.

Shared resources seldom work very well. This is when one resource is split across multiple projects, multiple project managers, and/or even multiple departments in a company. This is usually a recipe for disaster as one group is going to have needs that get in the way of another group. This will cause frustration and stress for the shared resource and contention between project managers.

As much as possible keep each resource assigned to one project, one project manager, or at least staying within their own department.

Ensures Resources are Optimally Deployed Across Projects

The final purpose when answering the question of ‘what is project portfolio management’, is to manage the resources that have been deployed across the various projects. This is where common sense project management comes into play.

It’s now that this common sense project management rolls up information from multiple sources. There’s more of a big picture perspective as the individual projects are aggregated into an overall view of how these projects are performing within the company. This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the ROI of the projects that have been selected.

The company’s upper management is going to want to have a regular snapshot of how their portfolio of projects is performing. This could be compared to the quarterly statement you receive that lets you know how your investments performed over the past quarter. You’ll have to work with your management team and determine the frequency of these updates. A good rule of thumb is to provide this type of information at least monthly and more frequently if needed.

What is project portfolio management? It’s the ability to choose, prioritize, execute, and report out on those projects that directly support the corporate strategy. It ensures that the ladder that everyone is working so diligently to climb, is not leaning against the wrong wall. Think about the project portfolio in a similar manner as your personal investment portfolio. You are looking for the right balance of risk/return that will help you meet your long-term goals. Adopting project portfolio management in your organization will help reach that proper balance!

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