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Project Portfolio Management 101: Getting Started

Categories: Project Portfolio Management, Management Tips
Harley Levine has defined project portfolio management (PPM) as the management of the project portfolio so as to maximize the contribution of projects to the overall welfare and success of the enterprise. Although some say that PPM doesn’t actually involve running the projects but only choosing the projects, it still seems that many managers have to plan resources for that are selected for completely wrong reasons. Getting started with project portfolio management begins from the ground floor of the organization, and that’s where you should start with the changes for the better.


As said before, often the projects in your project portfolio are chosen for the wrong reasons. Sometimes it’s because a stakeholder is favoring a project, sometimes it’s because a project seems right and manageable, sometimes it just happens, and most often it’s the combination of many variables. However, the projects in your project portfolio should be all like pieces of the same puzzle. They should fit together. Projects you take on should be consistent with your organization’s goals and objectives at the time. If that’s not the case, you are wasting and straining your resources. Like discussed in a book by Michael Bible and Susan Bivins, that’s where proper project portfolio management techniques come in. Of course, to select projects that follow the goals and objectives of the organization, you have to have goals and objectives in the first place. So start from there. Make sure you know where you are going. Where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. Define a mission, and then a vision. Establish goals, and then objectives that are going to help you to get to those goals. Prioritize the objectives. That sort of planning is essential to establishing the ground every time you have accomplished the goals you have set previously. As always, the objectives should be measurable over time.

If that’s done, you can move on to evaluating projects. Yes, just evaluating. Don’t storm off to actually selecting projects. Screen all the proposed projects. Find the projects with most potential, and compare them. Find the ones that provide maximum benefits to your goals. Don’t forget the budget and other resources. Project portfolio management softwares like Ganttic will give you a good overview of the ongoing projects and the utilization of resources across different periods of time. Play through all the alternative what if scenarios. Take your time. Make sure you choose the right projects. As said before, your projects should be like different pieces of the same puzzle. Don’t force a piece of another puzzle into yours just because it kind of looks right. It’ll ruin the picture. If you see someone else pounding the wrong piece in with their fist, remind them of the goals you have set. Since evaluating and taking on projects isn’t something you do once a year but continuously, keep the goals of your organization in your mind at all times, and make sure to prioritize. If you work thoroughly at this phase, it’s much easier to make right decisions going onward. 

Another mistake that you can avoid at this point is taking on too many projects. It can seem weird to even say that but it’s a mistake that’s being made over and over again by many project managers. If the number of active projects doesn’t fit the number of available resources, it won’t matter that you have taken the time to select the right projects. Too many projects always equals to multitasking and delayed projects. When Alcan Aluminium came to the understanding that they had too many active projects, and cut off half of the projects, they actually found at the end of the year that they were able to successfully complete more projects than before. Which makes it clear that after you are done with a project, you shouldn’t be rushing to taking on more projects. You should evaluate the availability of your resources, and then make an informed decision on whether or not you should take on a new project. Meaning that it isn’t about how many projects you have in your portfolio. It’s about having the right number of projects that actually fit your portfolio.

If your organization doesn’t have well formulated and clear goals, you can’t manage your project portfolio in a way that your projects would benefit those goals. If the projects you choose to take on don’t fit the projects you have, you can’t manage your portfolio successfully. If you take on more projects than you have resources for, you will struggle. Don't you agree?