In a previous article we talked about the differences between projects, programs, and portfolios. These are relatively easy concepts to grasp on the surface level (if you are still not sure you can check out our explanation on our What We Do page) a little more information is needed to make use of the differentiation. Namely, how does an effective Project Portfolio Manager (PPM) act? What actions are needed by the PPM to create real improvements to the strategic outcomes of their organisation?
Even if you are familiar with project management this can still seem daunting. And fair enough, a PPM will often need to make decisions that affect the overall direction of an organisation’s future that focus on very different goals to a project manager.
Simply put, the project manager should be focused on doing their project right while a PPM is instead concerned with identifying, prioritising, and selecting the right projects. Luckily, there are a few principles that all PPMs should be following to improve change management within their organisation.
What is a Project Portfolio Manager?
As already stated, a PPMs job is to select the right projects to be completed and supported by the project and program management teams. But they do not directly engage in the development or delivery. Instead, a PPM has control over a available resources and must identify how best to utilise them within existing and potential projects to achieve the overall strategic aims of the organisation.
APM recognises several indicators for a high performing project portfolio. This article will explain in detail how to implement the most important drivers of high performance:
How to be an effective PPM
Prioritising the right portfolio
To prioritise the optimal portfolio the first challenge is creating cross-organisational visibility – any organisation above a certain size is going to be fogged at least slightly by politics, culture, and preferred practices. To improve visibility across the project portfolio (especially for the executive board sponsoring projects) A highly iterative and adaptable system of documentation and communication needs to be coordinated by the PPM.
A strong start from any PPM in developing project visibility will be instituting documentation such as assurance reviews and sign-off on approvals. However these are rarely sufficient and visibility can still be limited when dealing with high uncertainties and volatility. An effective PPM will need to be a skilled diplomat, utilising communication and relationship-building to generate information fluidity. This will help them gather more information across the organisation and maintain optimal identification and prioritisation of projects.
Supporting critical decision making
Unlike project management it is an expectation that a PPM will need to interact regularly with the executive team to ensure overall strategic goals are being supported by the project portfolio. Because of this a PPM needs to be able to engage with executives and other high-level critical decision makers and recognise how they can add value.
The quality of critical decisions will be dependent on the quality of available information (as previously discussed) and the effectiveness of the executive governance within the organisation. A PPM can support this decision making by enhancing it with:
1. Structuring information for executives in consumable and intuitive formats: e.g. prioritisation matrices, decision trees, summary risk analysis (etc.)
2. Recognising influence or bias caused by available market intelligence or personal professional opinions
3. Identify the difference between valid and disruptive challenges to decision making by the executive team.
Providing the right balance of confidence, clarity and respect between a PPM and critical decision makers is a nuanced skill requiring trust built over time and great diplomacy.
Recognising and controlling excessive demand on the portfolio
As organisations face an increasing pressure to adapt to a volatile economic landscape, there is a growing desire to review business strategy. This places additional stress on both portfolios and businesses as a whole. As organisations feel the growing pressure to create more change and consequently complete more projects PPMs will have to deal with a tendency for previously rejected projects to be reintroduced to consideration under new titles or justifications, or even covertly broken into several smaller projects with the same ultimate goal.
PPMs need to be able to proactively manage the change portfolio by anticipating these behaviours before sponsors and/or executives become entrenched in their decisions. Compromise is key for settling such conflicts. By staying well-informed about the organisation’s available resources and core attitudes to risk the PPM can manage excessive demand on the portfolio through thorough justification in decision making and managing stakeholder expectations.
Working in collaboration with the executive-level mediator
Making high-level decisions within an organisation is stressful at the best of times; when it is concerning the organisation’s change portfolio it can be near impossible. Effectively dealing with disagreements in these decisions can be a good measure of success for the executive team as an indicator of the speed and dynamism the overall organisation can operate with.
Since success of the project portfolio is dependent on the effectiveness of executive governance and decision-making it is important for the PPM to have good rapport with the executive level mediator. This is a critical role and is often taken on by the CEO or equivalent – hence a strong need for the PPM to have regular meetings with the executive team. In this context, the critical factor as a successful PPM is how effectively they can prepare the organisation by working with decision makers to challenge prioritisation conflict between executives.
Since all organisations are unique there is no one way for a PPM to manage a change portfolio. However, an effective PPM will anticipate the risks, needs and necessary decision-making required to execute change efficiently. To be successful, a PPM must be able to pull this off gracefully without disrupting business-as-usual activities or disgruntled executives.
Overall, success of the portfolio will be its ability to prioritise the right projects with sufficient resources and negotiating minimal compromise. This success will come from working with an executive team effectively, accelerating organisational response to external challenges, and generally possessing high emotional intelligence, to steer the organisation towards its strategic goals.
If you are looking to improve your organisation’s project management or change management structures, talk to our team at www.i2a.co.uk/contact for advice and support.