What Is Project Portfolio Management?

Categories: Project Portfolio Management

There are many of you out there looking to understand what is project portfolio management (PPM). The question can arise when there have been changes in your organization and suddenly you have ended up with a team that’s responsible for the oversight and management of a number of projects. It can arise when you are a project manager and you are looking to upgrade a bit. Or it can arise when you want to improve organizational collaboration and make sure you are taking on the right projects. Or you are just, you know, interested.

While many try to define PPM, I often feel the given definitions are a bit vague. To correct that mistake, and help you out, I aim to make what PPM is as clear as possible with this post. I’m going to go over the definition, project portfolio management job description, and give you a brief insight of the project portfolio management process in a resource management tool.

what is project portfolio management

Project Portfolio Management Definition

Every organization should have goals and strategies on how to reach those goals and means to implement the strategies. The goals can aim at financial objectives, employee satisfaction or something in between. The strategies are a framework which guides the daily decisions of the people working in the organization to stay on the right path. The means can be projects. According to the Project Management Institute, the way to bridge the gap between the strategy and implementation is project portfolio management. So, PPM is a way? A bridge?

If I were to be asked to provide a project portfolio management definition, I would say: "Project portfolio management is a process of creating a manageable overview of all the projects (past, on-going, and future) with an aim to turn intentions to reality."

I wish I had the sass to come up with the whole definition. In reality, half of it is stolen from a report conducted by one of our clients whose name we use most often when we are asked who are clients are - KPMG.

project portfolio management definition

There probably isn’t an overview article of Ganttic where there isn’t a sentence that would go something in the lines of “Ganttic’s unique approach to resource planning is applied in companies like KPMG, Prophet, ABB, Aecom, ICA, Lenovo, and Jacobs.” We like to brag about them because 16 different teams and departments in KPMG use Ganttic for resource management in different locations. Let us be.

So, it’s a process? A process with an aim?

Now, the report itself said: "High-performing organizations recognize that portfolio management is about more than just prioritization; it is the end point of a competitive strategy where executives identify and coordinate the programmes and projects that will turn their intentions into reality."

strategic project portfolio management definition

So, project portfolio management is more than prioritization? An endpoint of a strategy?

Project Portfolio Management VS Project Management

Maybe it’s easier if we think about project management. We have all have had some sort of contact with project management, even if we are not project managers by training or trade. Project management is managing individual projects - prioritizing, budgeting, scheduling.

If we peek into a dictionary, we find that a portfolio is a flat case, esp of leather, used for carrying maps, drawings, etc. Therefore, a project portfolio would be a flat case with projects in it. And thus PPM would be scheduling, prioritizing, and budgeting all the projects in the flat case?

We might be onto something here! We have discovered that PPM is a bridge that was built with an aim to turn intentions into reality. PPM is the process of scheduling, prioritizing, and budgeting, not one project but many projects. That being said, we still have to remember that PPM is more than mere prioritizing. It’s a competitive strategy where executives identify and coordinate the programmes and projects.

I think there’s still a bit too much fluff. What if we look what the people that work as project portfolio managers say they do?

For example, Deborah Ruths Brown, who was an Enterprise PMO Portfolio analyst for Western Union Business Solutions, wrote that she:
“Facilitated portfolio management and reporting governance for IT budget exceeding $10 million annually; Managed resource time-tracking data integrity, processes and reporting for multiple delivery teams located in five different countries; Coordinated meeting coverage and production of on-time deliverables for a team of 9 to 15 project managers (both SDLC and infrastructure projects); Performed chief of staff duties for PMO director; Oversaw portfolio contingent labor vendor contracts and people administration; Served as Enterprise PMO Tools SME; provided one-on-one assistance, coached and mentored portfolio projects management team and delivery teams; Produced and published capacity/utilization forecasts and software release planning calendars for multiple software platforms and development teams.”

And Todd Miller, the Corporate Project Portfolio Manager for Compliance Systems, Inc. wrote that his assignments are:
“Oversight of all corporate project management practices, ensuring all projects and initiatives align with CSi’s strategic objectives and meet targeted results. Designing and implementing a company-wide project accountability framework, that supports management visibility and decision making for all planned and ongoing projects. Accountable for various areas of partner/client integrations, and project management practices for product development and internal systems development. Building and managing a team of high performing project management professionals, empowering them to drive individual or multiple projects with a high degree of success.”

Managing a team of project management professionals, and coordinating the meeting coverage and production of on-time deliverables for them. Resource time-tracking data integrity, processes and reporting for multiple delivery teams located in five different countries, empowering the teams to drive individual or multiple projects with a high degree of success. Corporate project management practices, reporting, project accountability frameworks that support transparency, budgets that exceed $10 million. No fluff there.

What about project managers? Weren’t they planning and budgeting, too? What’s the difference between project portfolio management and project management? For example, Maksimas D. a project manager for Afl Construction wrote that he is:
“Responsible for running multiple construction projects at any one time. Managing client expectations and solely responsible to deliver project meeting quality, timescale, and budgets.”
Multiple projects? Weren’t portfolio managers the ones that were managing multiple ongoing projects?

Yes and no. As we gathered from the project portfolio manager job descriptions, project portfolio managers are often managing projects on a higher level. They aren’t planning detailed tasks for Tim and Donna. They are doing high-level planning, forecasting, and reporting to make sure that the project managers would have enough resources to plan tasks for.

When a project manager is managing multiple projects, it isn't automatically projected portfolio management since the project often have different objectives and are managed in silos. The project manager isn’t thinking about the success of the projects as a whole but the success of each individual project.

In addition to that, project managers aren’t responsible for the strategic side of it all. Project managers’ goal is to complete projects on time and within budget. Project portfolio managers’ goal is to select the right projects for the goals of the organization.

We can conclude is that a project portfolio manager is a person that is making sure that the project managers could do their job, and that the job that they are doing would be in line with the strategic objectives of the organization. And it takes a lot of overseeing, reporting, implementing the right practices, time-tracking, forecasting, and planning.

Project Portfolio Management Tools

To help managers to do all that overseeing, reporting, implementing, time-tracking, forecasting, and planning, there are project portfolio management tools that are handy for three things. That's organizing, managing, and analyzing.

Like I said before, for me, a huge part of PPM is creating a manageable overview. For me, that means organizing or planning resources for projects using different views. Mapping out your planning needs and creating custom views that match those needs. Views for different locations, different departments, and projects. Why is that?

Project portfolio managers often need to manage huge amounts of information that can be worth millions. And managing one team at one location can be a struggle. Now imagine leading 15 project managers that are managing project teams in 5 different countries. Not departments or cities, countries.

Tools that allow dividing the general resource or project plan into manageable bits, make high-level project planning possible. 

Now, let's get to managing. An example would be staffing a project in a single project view and then pivoting the tool to see how it comes together in the general resources view. The latter is needed since there a many occasions where single project success doesn’t equal project portfolio level success. And if that happens, it’s on the project portfolio manager.

managing a single project in ganttic

Single project view in Ganttic

managing project portfolio in ganttic

Project portfolio view in Ganttic

You can also group the resources by projects to have an overview of the whole portfolio. And you can turn on the project capacity graphs to see when are the busiest times for your portfolio for forecasting.
project portfolio utilization tracking

The last part, analyzing, can be done using different PPM report templates that you can build yourself. You can use reports and graphs to make sure the portfolio is moving towards the goals that the organization has set.

report in ganttic
Project portfolio management report in Ganttic

project portfolio management utilization tracking report
Resource utilization chart in Ganttic

I think that's every last drop of PPM I can fit in one blog post. Is there anything else you'd like to know? Let me know in the comments section!

Looking for a project portfolio management tool? Try Ganttic!