I came across an illustrative book published by Ursus Wehrli called the Art of Clean Up. I thought it was great to see how the author rearranged certain situations to create new structures. Now you may ask: “what does that have to do with portfolio management?” Well, I would say a lot. Let us have a look at some of these pictures.
The first picture shows a bowl with fruit. With this in mind, imagine you looking at all your projects in your organization. Are they all fresh or of recent date? Do you know how many pieces or projects you are looking at? Are there comparable pieces or projects?
To find out, you have to take piece by piece from the bowl and group similar pieces together or, in other words, categorize your projects. Which of your projects are there due to regulations, but also, which projects “smell” or, again in other words, which ones are overdue and not contributing to your strategy? Throw those pieces away; kill those projects, they will only draw on your scarce resources.
Assuming we know what projects we have, we can go one step further.
Do you know how many people are working on your projects? Are they moving from one project to another?
If there is a problem in one project, some team members from other projects will be trying to help (fire fighting), but at the same time create new problems in their own. Eventually, none of your projects may turn out to be successful. Who are the key players in your organization needed on several projects? Do we know how many people are needed for all our projects? Are they all available or do we have a few Supermen who could simply be assigned for at least 200% of their time? So, we need to understand how many resources and what skills are needed for all projects and how many of these skilled people we do have available.
Based on this information it becomes clear we have to cut in our project portfolio, as we most likely have too many projects going on or planned. So, we need to know which of these projects we can kill or postpone until a later date. What projects will bring the highest benefits to our organization, what are the risks in these projects and what will those projects cost? Based on this information we can prioritize our projects. Taking our resource constraints (People & Budget) into account, we can draw a solid line to see which of the projects in portfolio are feasible (“above the line”) and by that which projects need to be killed or postponed (“below the line”).
After we have gone through these steps, we should be looking at a portfolio of projects we are able to finish successfully. But will these all turn out to be a success? Do we know where we stand for each and all? Or are we only looking at some big bright stars leaving the rest in a dark black hole? To monitor our projects we need progress information and early warnings of a project becoming a risk for all of our projects. A simple dashboard with this kind of information will be helpful in managing the complete project portfolio.
When looking at the pictures you may conclude that the basics of portfolio management are not that difficult. But in reality it will prove to be much more difficult implementing these basic steps. Use these ingredients, these basic steps, to build your own implementation plan and make sure you communicate this plan to all your stakeholders. Let them know where you stand today, what route you will follow and where you most likely are to be ending.
Looking forward to your reactions. Feel free to share your own project portfolio management pictures.