Project Portfolio Management is a strategic approach to optimizing the return on an organization’s project investments.
Given this strategic focus, one could naturally assume that these initiatives are driven from a top-down perspective across an enterprise – after all, strategic planning happens at the executive level and initiatives or programs linked to strategic objectives span the whole organization.
This is true, but trying to introduce consistent PPM practices across a reasonable sized company is a lot like herding cats. There are too many chiefs and too much politicking to work through to be able to demonstrate tangible results.
As with any other organization change initiative, while the greatest benefit might be achieved by improving the content and balance at the enterprise level, a safer approach is to take baby steps by focusing on a sub-portfolio – often this is done by introducing PPM practices at the departmental level (e.g. IT, facilities).
This complies with good change management practices – demonstrate success at the micro-level before tackling the enterprise. It also limits sunk cost into practices to the minimum required to get them up and running within that one department. Finally, it does not force executives to change their behavior across the board – only for those projects that make up that one portfolio.
All is not well however – there are two fundamental issues with departmental PPM initiatives:
1. Strategic or transformational initiatives often span multiple jurisdictions – departmental PPM works well for those projects that are isolated to the resources (financial & human) from within a single department, but once you get into resource arbitration and prioritization discussions from without, things get murkier. Cross-project dependencies across portfolios can also muddy the waters.
2. PPM is about behavior change at all levels of an organization – especially at the executive level. It is difficult to take a grass-roots approach to PPM and merely delays the inevitable struggles, coaching and evolution that the senior management team will have to go through.
The answer to these two issues is good communication & training – even if you focus on a single department, ensure that the executive team is aware that this is the first phase in an enterprise roll out of the practices and ensure that their PPM coaching & training becomes part of the first phase.