I've been thinking through the challenges of portfolio management. Having worked in a planning effort in my organization for one year, I want to learn more about optimal approaches. I consulted ProjectManagement.com and found this presentation from back, back, back in 2011. Mark Mullaly presented on creating and adjustment a portfolio management process, with a key concept included in the title: "owning other peoples' choices."
I'm convinced that tolerance for ambiguity is of critical importance here. As Mullaly notes, project prioritization is an inherently political activity and it should be accepted as such. He focuses on the development of prioritization criteria, a separate process from applying them. A key takeaway for me is the need for trust between participants in the prioritization process, in that Mullaly recommends that the planners discuss "what are those things that we should be doing?" at the start of criteria development. In an environment with differering strategics and approaches, this is a key challenge - being methodical and patient in criteria development. The presenter references a case several times during the presentation in which a company prioritized (through its portfolio criteria) its customer facing projects to the exclusion of those that supported the staff doing the work, with negative results and the need to eventually create a second project evaluation flow.
Looking to criteria application: Mullaly also noted the importance of defining capacity as accurately as possible up front. What happens when too many projects are stated as priorities? He points out that the prioritization decision is then shifted to others, particularly front-line staff who can realistically perform only a subset of the work that they've been assigned. This again goes back to the trust issue - is it possible for the participants in portfolio management to objectively consider "those things that we should be doing" above all, and then make realistic decisions in terms of capacity? It certainly isn't easy. Mullaly also notes the need for participants to consider alternatives such as outsourcing and deferring work.
Finally, the presenter notes that portfolio prioritization work is a dynamic process and the criteria decided upon should be carefully reviewed and updated each year.
There's much more here in Mark Mullaly's presentation and slidedeck, but this session underscores the difficulty of portfolio management and provides some sound suggestions on approaches.
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