IT Best PracticesProject Portfolio Management

Projects, Programs and Portfolios: 3 Common Traps

It’s easy to only go half way when working on a project – and that’s something that can reduce the chance of success. Vaughan Merlyn uses the example of buying and improving a house to demonstrate the portfolio model of project management: allocating money to the projects of recurring operational costs, improvements, and finally maintenance. All three of these areas represent one project in the project portfolio of “house.” Working from this example, Merlyn explains what traps can occur, starting with ignoring the power of project management: The first trap I see many companies fall into is that they focus on Project Management and Portfolio Management, and forgo Program Management because they don’t really understand it! Then they wonder why Portfolio Management never really gains traction or helps to elevate the business value of IT investments. The Portfolio they end up with a simply a laundry list of projects. In my simple analogy, I’ve recognized that the 5 Handicap Access Projects are connected  – I can’t gain the full benefit of the Program until all 5 Projects are completed. Also, by recognizing they are interdependent, I ensure that they projects work together to reach my program goal. You can’t easily connect Projects to a Portfolio without the intermediate abstraction of Programs. The next trap is having portfolio management as a “bottom-up” exercise: instead of determining what percentage of effort they want to spend in a particular area (operations, innovation, and maintenance), IT managers and leaders determine the amount of work to be done and use that number to establish the percentage. As Merlyn points out, this is not strategic, as the number is simply a reflection of all the work that can be done, not a measurement of what the organization wants to focus on. The final trap is a lack of business leader engagement while determining the portfolio. If you can show executive management exactly where your portfolio time is being spent and why, they may be more interested in cutting down non-profit building projects or, at the very least, be more aware of how each piece fits into the larger effort.

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