Implementing Project Portfolio Management Processes

It’s one thing to know that you need to make a change in how you manage your project portfolio. It’s quite another thing to know the right way to introduce a new approach to project portfolio management to your organization. A few missteps or miscommunication can result in your efforts not living up to potential.

To effectively take advantage of project portfolio management within your organization, it helps to have a template or framework in place to guide you through the implementation process. Of course, with all things project management and agile – there are no hard-and-fast rules. You need to remember to do what is right for your organization and its overall goals.

Use the following however you’d like – as a cut-and-dried process template, as a way to spread the word about project portfolio management, or to create your own personal process implementation framework. Above all else, do what works for your team, your goals, yourself, and your organization.


Define Project Portfolio Management

This might seem obvious but so many project managers attempt to get their colleagues interested project portfolio management without actually explaining the concept. So, to make sure everyone is on the same page, refer to this definition and come back to it as often as you need when following through with the transition process or when trying to adjust how project portfolio management fits into your organization.

As defined by the Standard for Portfolio Management (Fourth Edition), project portfolio management is: “the centralized management of the processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices to analyze and collectively manage current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics. The objectives are to determine the optimal resource mix for delivery and to schedule activities to best achieve an organization’s operational and financial goals, while honoring constraints imposed by customers, strategic objectives, or external real-world factors.”

In other words, project portfolio management is a management process that enables you to ensure that all projects and the portfolio as a whole are on-track and aligned with strategic objectives and organization goals. Knowing when to work on a specific project and why you’re working on it.

Know Your Organization’s Strategy

Your organization’s strategy or goal is central to defining how you use project portfolio management to achieve outcomes. The goals and overall strategic objectives of your organization are intimately tied to the goals of each project in your portfolio.

Sit down with your team and discuss the goals of each project and how these align with the goals of your organization. Once everyone understands how the projects fit together to contribute to the bigger picture, the easier it is to keep people motivated and challenged.

Introducing Change

Change is so hard – for individuals and particularly for organizations. Some people in your organization likely bristle at the very thought of changing the way they do things. To make the transition to project portfolio management and agile successful, you need to have support from upper management.

Be prepared to answer the hard questions about why this change is necessary, how it will benefit the organization, the impacts to the bottom-line, and why what you’re doing needs to change. Return to the definition of project portfolio management and remember the overall focus of an alignment with organizational goals.

Know the Projects

It is pretty hard to implement project portfolio management processes without having a clear understanding of every single project in your organization. Meet with the other project managers and make sure they understand the benefits of this move to project portfolio management.

Discuss the details of their projects and ask them to identify any barriers to success, setbacks, and anticipated delays. Look at timelines, resource demands, budgetary constraints (overruns), and the expected return on investment.

This information allows you and the other project managers to set forth an aligned and cohesive organization-wide roll-out plan. Each of you knows what their respective teams are working on and why. It is also easier to share key resources and expertise when you understand how and why every team fits into the big picture goals.

Create Portfolios

This is the area where most project managers end-up falling short. You’ve done all the heavy lifting – you’ve got management support, the other project managers agree this is the right way to go, and you’ve had serious discussions about all current and future projects.

Somehow the process of creating portfolios of these projects always falls to the wayside. This step is critical in enabling you to successfully implement effective project portfolio management. One of the most common ways to define portfolios is to group like-with-like. This of course is tied to the definition of project portfolio management.

When organizing the project portfolios, it helps to use software that is specifically designed to support project portfolio management. The days of spreadsheets and email are long-gone, take advantage of real project portfolio management software to make it easier for you to see progress, resource demands, budget details, potentials for delays, and success markers.

Put Project Portfolio Management into Action

There is no better way than learning than by doing. Start small with one project portfolio – this gives you the opportunity to adjust and adapt all aspects of the management process. You might find you need to bring in a trainer or coach to help support your teams as they transition to this new way of collaborating and communicating. You might discover that some projects demand more resources than expected or are further behind schedule than you initially realized.

Whatever it is – it’s okay. The best way to achieve a successful and lasting move to project portfolio management is by getting the kinks and problems out of the way early. Be patient with yourself, your team, and with the learning curve. Remember, change is not easy – most things worth doing aren’t easy.

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