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.
I'm preparing for two "project management in libraries" presentations in May/June at upcoming conferences. In describing project management, there are essential basics, including the "iron triangle" or "triple constraint" of scope, schedule, and budget. These three areas are each represented by chapters and knowledge areas in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
In an excellent ProjectManagement.com presentation, Dr. Blaize Reich of Simon Fraser University provides project managers with some approaches to move beyond the triple constraint approach. As Dr. Reich points out, the triple constraint isn't the current, first measure of success - rather, it's on value delivery. She describes the work that she and three other research colleagues have undertaken in measuring project satisfaction based on triangle/triple constraint targets and on perceived value (by customer) - and emphasizes that these measures are correlated, but only weakly in some cases.
Dr. Reich then focuses on three innovations to improve value:
All of these value-enhancing approaches take time (design thinking, for example, requires a period of times from hours to a small number of days to define the problem space). With schedule pressure, these more methodical approaches can be a difficult sell in the organization.
I viewed a timely projectmanagement.com presentation on the need for project managers to embrace innovation. This is behind the PMI/projectmanagement.com paywall, but I encourage those of you with access to watch this presentation and consider the presenter's (Dennis Stauffer, of Innovator Mindset) arguments.
Stauffer compares the status quo and innovator approaches and mindsets. Across positions and to a great degree as a project manager, I personally have worked in an implementer role, with a focus on the detect and correct loop. While this isn't bad in and of itself, Stauffer compares the innovativeness scores (using an instrument created by IM) of individuals across some industries with value add - and emphasized that most of the value add comes from those working on the higher end (70-100) of innovativeness.
Okay, okay - Stauffer takes a more extreme approach in the session when describing the attributers of the status quo and innovator mindsets. Here's a subset of examples:
Status quo: Argumentative, frustrated, blaming...
To get to the presenter's core argument: The high-level flows of the status quo and innovative approaches are similar (both with Idea, Action, Reality, Feedback phases in a loop). The PMBOK Guide approach is valuable, but taken too far, it can undermine innovation (specific example that came out during the Q&A session, the overcommitment of resources to knowledge management and documenting lessons learned).
Stauffer suggests that the project manager should embody innovation. Ask questions instead of making declarative statements; embrace feedback (including negative feedback - which the presenter depicted as a key indicator of effective innovators).
I hope to take the IM instrument soon to determine my own innovativeness score and to learn more about Stauffer's research. Can I ask more questions and make fewer declarative statements? It's an interesting test for me....
One of the challenges that I have in communicating with colleagues on project management is the amount of valuable and intriguing content that's behind a paywall for full access - particularly, PMI PMI ProjectManagement.com materials.
A happy exception in the risk management area is this Dr. David Hillson 2013 presentation on risk management (YouTube, 45 minutes).
A couple of specific takeaways:
PM & Tech Blog
"Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one's arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.”