The Complete Guide to Project Portfolio Management
A step-by-step look at project portfolio management processes, reporting, and software
Project portfolio management (PPM) helps organizations to execute projects in support of strategic goals and priorities.
Mature project portfolio management processes ensure organizations deliver more projects on time and within budget. More importantly, PPM requires organizations to rigorously prioritize their project pipeline with an increased focus on delivering business value.
Without project portfolio management, projects are selected in a haphazard way, leading to strains on budgets and resources. Team don’t know how a project will add value to an organization and are often left without the proper tools to manage their work.
In this guide, you’ll learn why your organization needs project portfolio management and how to get started with these processes. You’ll also find out how to evaluate project portfolio management software and why SharePoint is an ideal PPM solution.
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What is Project Portfolio Management?
Before we define project portfolio management, let’s take a look at some key terms.
A project is a temporary endeavour with a defined beginning and end, scope, and resources.
Project management is the “application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.’’
Many organizations run multiple projects simultaneously, which are planned, resourced, and managed through a central project portfolio.
A portfolio is a collection of projects grouped together.
Taking this into account, project portfolio management refers to “the centralized management of one or more project portfolios to achieve strategic objectives”.
A project manager is typically concerned with individual projects. A project portfolio manager is concerned with all projects within the organization.
A project portfolio manager focuses on improving project execution and delivering the expected business value from the portfolio.
An organization can have one overarching portfolio or a portfolio for each area of the business. Unlike a project, a portfolio is not defined by a start or end state. Instead, new projects replace completed projects.
Project Portfolio Management (PPM) ensures all approved and ongoing projects meet agreed objectives and are managed to deliver results.
PPM helps organizations to answer questions such as:
- Are we making good decisions about projects?
- Are we working on the right projects?
- Do we have the resources to take on this project?
- How are projects currently performing?
- Can we run multiple projects at the same time?
- Will our projects meet key strategic goals?
- Do we have a mix of short and long-term projects?
Project portfolio management is often delivered using the Project Management Office, a group or department responsible for defining and maintaining project management standards.
In their 2016 PMO survey, PM Solutions found 85% of respondents had a PMO in place. The remaining companies planned to introduce a PMO within 12 months, whilst many organizations were planning to expand existing PMOs.
PMOs can take several forms, such as:
- A project repository, with a focus on project information and templates.
- The Coach model, which has a supervisory role for all projects.
- The Enterprise PMO (EMPO), which sits above the various PMOs in an organization.
Project Portfolio Management and Strategy
Strategy and project portfolio management are closely tied.
Strategy refers to the long-term growth plans and direction of an organization. Strategy is guided by Vision (where the company wants to be) and Mission (what the company does).
A strategy outlines the goals and actions needed to reach these goals, typically using projects to deliver solutions in an optimized, scalable way.
Once the strategy is defined, PPM acts as a bridge between this vision and operational reality. PPM links project selection and execution to strategy, increasing the value of projects.
Connecting projects to organizational strategy improves projects in several areas including visibility into performance, request management, planning and resource allocation, risk management, budget control, and collaboration.
Why do I need Project Portfolio Management?
You may be thinking that PPM sounds like another layer of process that will slow down your projects!
In fact, the Project Management Institutes reports that organizations using PPM complete 35% more of their projects successfully.
Why is project portfolio management so important to organizational success?
- Project portfolio management aligns proposed projects with business strategy. This means new project requests are reviewed and prioritized against defined goals, and only high-value projects are executed.
- Implementing PPM increases visibility across all projects with standardised processes and templates, often managed with software. This improves reporting, and in turn, decision-making and risk management.
- Communication between project teams and stakeholders is strengthened, leading to better feedback and engagement during execution.
- By taking a complete view of resources, project portfolio managers avoid bottlenecks on key projects.
- Data collection from past projects makes it easier to predict the success of future projects, informing business forecasting and planning.
- Projects are often interconnected in some way, for example, resources. Managing risk at the portfolio level reduces the impact of issues on interdependent projects.
- Project teams are supported with clear, simple processes and templates, and ongoing training.
According to the Digital Project Manager, the goal of project portfolio management is to avoid working on projects of little value that drain resources.
Instead, PPM helps companies to pick the right projects and maximize the impact of each project.
PPM relies on skilled project portfolio managers, who have several key responsibilities including:
- Creating and implementing standardized project processes.
- Assessing new project requests according to business goals.
- Improving communication between senior management and project teams.
- Tracking and reporting on portfolio performance.
- Coaching project managers and teams.
- Balancing resource allocation across the portfolio.
- Managing risk.
Now that we know why project portfolio management is critical, let’s take a look at some consequences of not implementing project portfolio management.
- Poor project selection: If business goals are not defined, senior management don’t have a framework for approving the right projects. This leads to low-value projects, wasted resources, and duplicated efforts.
- Project overload: Without the means to prioritize the pipeline, organizations attempt to complete too many projects. Capacity, not strategy, often drives project execution – if people are available, the next project is launched.
- Under-resourced projects: When projects are planned at a departmental-level, there’s no central view of budget or resource allocation. Starting projects without sufficient resources places enormous pressure on already-on stretched project teams.
- Sunk-cost fallacy: Underperforming projects are not cancelled due to existing investment. In some cases, there is no process for identifying and ending such projects.
- Reduced competiveness: Project delays and failure mean slower time-to-market. If completed projects are not aligned with business goals, you may find yourself with a product or service that no-one actually wants.
- No project maturity: Without standardized processes, project managers have to re-invent the wheel with every new project. This means success is harder to replicate across teams and little effort is made to improve project management.
Before we go further, let’s take a closer look at a common theme within PPM: project request management.
As mentioned above, selecting the right project to execute at the right time with the right resources is key to PPM.
Project request management is a process for reviewing and approving new requests objectively.
Without a scalable approach to new projects:
- Project teams end up working on low-value initiatives or too many projects at the same time.
- Projects are planned in isolation, leadings to stretched resources.
- Failing projects are not ended, wasting more resources.
Taking a structured approach to project prioritization not only helps to align projects with strategic goal – projects are planned with a holistic view of the pipeline.
This improves resource management, project sequencing, and engagement levels within teams.
To define your request management system, consider:
- Where do the project ideas come from?
- How are requests logged?
- What is the selection criteria for a new project?
- What is the timeframe for approving projects?
- How do you select and approve the right projects?
With PPM software, it’s easy to standardize new requests using an intake form. This helps to review each request objectively and comparatively.
Common questions for the request form include:
- Project owner
- Project name, description, and objectives
- Proposed timelines. This should include a final deadline to indicate the urgency of the deliverables
- Known risk and constraints
- Required resources
- Project Sponsor
- Metrics and KPIs
- Supporting documentation.
For teams using SharePoint for project management, the Project Request Manager Template from BrightWork includes email notifications for requesters and approvers, and drag-and-drop functionality to help with project ranking.
So far, we’ve covered the advantages of project portfolio management and the consequences of managing projects without this overarching framework.
In the next chapter, we’ll review how to track project portfolio performance in your organization.
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Reporting on Project Portfolio Performance
Tracking and reporting on project portfolio performance is important for two reasons.
Firstly, like any initiative, you need to show the value of your efforts and a clear ROI.
Secondly, the goal of PPM is deliver better projects by analysing the potential of proposed and current projects against strategic objectives.
With regular reporting, you can identify problems with individual projects and quickly take action before the portfolio is disrupted.
Building a solid data-set from past projects also improves forecasting and resource planning.
Let’s take a look at key performance indicators (KPIs) to consider tracking.
A key performance indicator (KPI) is used to measure a specific metric related to business goals. A metric is a measurement of something, for example, project duration, and is used to track KPIs.
If you are using project portfolio management software, check on what is included in the out-of-the-box reports.
- Operational efficiency including resource allocation.
- Total time spent on a project.
- Estimated v actual time.
- The number of adjustments made to the schedule.
- Project churn, which refers to the number of paused or cancelled projects.
- Budget variance, or the difference between estimated and actual budget.
- Delivered business value, for example, proposed v actual cost savings.
- Percentage of projects aligned with strategic goals.
- Number of recorded errors and rework on tasks.
- The number of milestones delivered on time.
- Customer feedback gathered using surveys or focus groups.
Depending on your PPM software, you can use real-time reports, dashboards, metric tiles, and scorecards to monitor portfolio performance. Ideally, these reporting tools should include a drill-down option so you can review problem areas quickly.
It’s also important to carry out a period review of portfolio health to identify any problems or opportunities. Portfolios are dynamic and should be prioritized along with changing business requirements.
The timing of the review depends on your organization, for example, you can make the review part of quarterly business planning.
Review the portfolio from two perspectives:
- Strategic (overall portfolio results)
- Tactical (health and performance of individual projects).
In addition to analysing available data, here are some questions to think about:
- Do current projects support organizational business strategy?
- Does the portfolio balance short, medium, and long-term business needs and opportunities?
- How many projects are at risk? What actions are needed?
- Do approved projects match current/future customer needs and new strategic objectives?
- What is the estimated v actual ROI of the portfolio?
- Do we have the right resources to meet future project requirements?
Using Project Portfolio Management Software
As you’ve probably guessed, project portfolio management requires a shift in how projects are valued, planned, and delivered at every level in the organization.
Choosing the right project portfolio management software can facilitate this new way of working.
Here are five benefits you can expect when using project portfolio management software:
- A standardized approach to project management in your organization.
- An efficient project pipeline efficiently with full visibility of new project requests, current projects, and resource tracking.
- Improved reporting, decision-making, and collaboration within teams.
- Higher project success rates with more effective project planning, and budget management.
- Greater insight into the business value of the solution delivered by the project.
With so many project portfolio management software solutions on the market today, how do you know which one is the right one for you?
When building your business case for project portfolio management software, review potential tools in the following four areas.
1. Portfolio Capabilities
Start with portfolio capabilities, with a focus on increasing control and visibility for senior executive.
Key features include:
- A scalable, consistent project request management system.
- High-level, real-time portfolio dashboards.
- Resource Management.
Use these questions to evaluate portfolio requirements:
- Can project requests be easily captured, reviewed and monitored?
- Is it possible to get immediate visibility and track a project of portfolios at any time using a live dashboard?
- Does the product show what work is assigned to whom and at what amount?
- Can costs and other limited resources be tracked?
2. Project Capabilities
Next, you’ll need to review project management capabilities.
- A collaborative toolset to reduce administration work.
- Project reporting, including status reports, emailed reports, and project dashboards.
- Standardized templates.
These questions will help you to assess project management capabilities in the tool:
- Can a new project site be easily created from a template or copied from an existing project?
- Can a project be planned using out-of-the box templates?
- Can issues, risks, scope change requests etc. be found and managed easily in the software?
- Are there dashboards that allow project sponsors and other stakeholders to drill down into project detail?
3. Work Capabilities
Work management and collaboration capabilities are particularly useful for project team members, who want to contribute meaningfully to the success of a project.
They need a tool to view team-member focused reports, efficiently manage their work, and connect with others working on the project.
The three key feature sets you should be looking under work management are:
- Centralized project sites with all project information in one place.
- Simple task management to find, do, and update work.
- Collaborative functions like discusses and forums.
Use these questions to evaluate work management features:
- Can the work of various project team members be viewed easily in a dashboard?
- Can the progress of work be easily reported on?
- Can other non-project related work be managed from the project site?
4. Organizational Capabilities
Finally, the solution should support your current project management maturity levels with the option to grow in time.
Organizational project management capabilities are particularly important for project management champions, who are tasked with implementing and continuously improving project management practices in an organization.
Three key capabilities you should look for under organizational project management are:
- Practical deployment with low IT burden.
- Best-practice project management templates.
- Highly flexible and configurable solution.
These questions will help you to assess organizational project management capabilities:
- Can the product be quickly deployed on premise with minimal IT burden?
- Does the product allow you to start with out of the box templates with the right amount of project management already built-in?
- Can information from the product and other organization systems be integrated?
In addition to evaluating the above areas, it’s also important to consider non-technical elements, such as deployment and support, training resources, ease-of-use, and the vendor’s track record.
As you begin to evaluate project portfolio management software, senior management may ask about the cost of buying versus the cost of building a solution internally.
This is a common objection to purchasing new software and is a logical question if you have an in-house development team.
After all, it is reasonable to expect these individuals to have the skills, knowledge, and time to build the solution according to your specific needs.
However, organizations who build their own software solutions frequently find it is cheaper and quicker to buy a solution tailored to their needs.
Moreover, these solutions typically ship with maintenance, training, support, and continuous upgrades – areas that an internal team with multiple commitments are unlikely to service.
If you are asked to compare the cost of building or buying software, start with these questions:
- What other projects are the development team working on?
- How configurable is the software you wish to purchase?
- What is the build v buy cost analysis?
- How long will deployment take?
- Is the software easy to use?
In the next chapter, we’ll look at using SharePoint as your project portfolio solution.
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A collaborative web-based tool, SharePoint is an ideal solution for project portfolio management.
SharePoint is used by over 400,000 customers in 250,000 organizations worldwide, increasing the likelihood of existing infrastructure in your organization. Leveraging this existing infrastructure will reduce the impact on IT resources.
Building project sites in SharePoint creates a single source of data for better reporting and increased visibility. Everything from project plans to tasks, documents, and reports can be stored in a standardized way in one place.
When extended with software like BrightWork, organizations can use SharePoint to:
- Report across multiple projects and portfolios.
- Manage new project requests.
- Create reporting portfolios with sites and sub sites.
- Leverage metric tiles to track progress quickly.
- Automate reporting updates via email.
- Predict project outcomes with scorecards.
- Track progress in real-time with dashboards.
- Manage risks at the portfolio level.
- Enable employee timesheets.
- Support project teams with out-of-the-box configurable templates.
With SharePoint, you can create a project hierarchy, with sites and subsites, to mirror organizational structure. In the below screenshot, the top-level site (BrightWork Projects) has two subsites: BrightWork Project Office (BPO) and New Project Requests (PRM).
Underneath the BPO are a series of mini-project offices (IT, Marketing).
Finally, underneath that, there are project sites to manage the individual initiatives in each department.
In addition to project management templates, BrightWork includes three templates for portfolio management on SharePoint:
- The Project Office Template, which provides high-level visibility into project performance.
- Portfolio Reporting allows senior executives to create personalized reports by selecting the projects they want to track from any project office.
- The Project Request Manager template provides a means to request, review and approve or deny new projects.
Let’s take a quick look at managing a project portfolio in SharePoint with BrightWork.
- Start with the Project Office Template to get visibility into multiple projects.
- Use the dashboards to quickly find issues, and drill-down for more information.
- Share reports via email as needed.
The configurability of SharePoint is key to project portfolio management. It’s tempting to turn on every feature in a new solution, but this often overwhelms teams who just keep using their existing tools.
With BrightWork, organizations start with the pre-configured templates that are applicable to their current project maturity levels.
In time, and as teams evolve, it’s easy to add more complexity and processes.
Implementing Project Portfolio Management
Introducing PPM is a long-term project that requires a cultural change.
This 9-step process is a good place to start your journey.
Before going any further, you need to get to grips with your organization’s business strategy.
What does your business want to achieve and when? What solutions or internal transformations are needed to reach these goals? What do senior stakeholders and executives expect from current projects?
Having a firm grasp of the big picture will inform portfolio evaluation and creation later on.
Like any project, support from senior management is key to success.
Meet with senior management early on to address any concerns or issues.
Ideally, you should identify one or two champions to spread the word throughout the organization.
Next, build a small team to help with data collection and analysis, software evaluation, and so on.
Now for the fun part – assessing the status of ongoing projects and the project pipeline!
Using project portfolio management software or manual data collection, find out:
- The number of projects in flight.
- The number of upcoming projects.
- The number of projects aligned to a strategic goal.
- The overall cost of all projects.
- Projected return on investment (ROI) of all projects.
- How resources are allocated across projects.
- Estimated v actual schedules.
You can also investigate how projects are currently managed, for example:
- Are all projects named in a similar way?
- How many project management tools are currently in use?
- Does every project have a business case and a sponsor?
- Does every project have the required documentation?
- Are lessons learned available for completed projects?
Using this information, review the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio.
Look for any obvious issues, such as duplicate projects, interdependencies between projects, high-risk projects, and over-allocated resources.
Identify projects aligned with strategic goals and assess the likelihood of completing these projects.
It’s also important to consider if the project pipeline is realistic with available resources.
It’s time to build a balanced portfolio with a healthy ‘risk-reward’ mix.
Prioritization is key during this stage. Remember the strategy review from Step 1? Using this information, ask:
- Which projects are aligned to strategic goals?
- Can you divert more resources to these projects?
- Which projects should be paused or ended?
- Should any high-value, on-hold projects be started?
- How will new projects impact on existing projects and resources?
At this stage, start defining and documenting key processes, particularly for project request management. Successful PPM begins with the right projects so spend some time on developing an objective ranking system.
Finally, outline how project portfolio performance will be measured and reported on. We’ll take a look at tracking portfolio performance in more detail in Chapter 4.
Before introducing the new portfolio and processes to the whole organization, share your results with key stakeholders. Refine and updated as needed using their feedback.
With the support of senior management, develop a roll-out program. It’s a good idea to start with one department and include more teams later on.
Remember to provide training, templates, and general advice to teams to increase user adoption. PPM is a significant change to project execution so don’t leave end-users in the dark!
Using the performance measurement plan from Step 5, review your portfolio from strategic (overall portfolio results) and tactical (health and performance of individual projects) perspectives every few months.
Look for short, medium, long-term opportunities to refine your PPM strategy.
- What is Project Portfolio Management?
- Project Portfolio Management: 5 Benefits and 5 Common Mistakes
- 9 Steps for Implementing Successful Project Portfolio Management
- How to Analyze Business Strategy to Improve Your Projects
- One-Page Plan for Successful Portfolio Management
- A Brief Introduction to Project Portfolio Governance
- Beginner’s Guide To Project Portfolio Management—Critical Steps, Tools, Benefits (The Digital Project Manager)
- 9 Problems and Solutions of Project Portfolio Management (Accelerating IT Success)
- 5 Major Benefits of Adopting an Effective Project Portfolio Management and PMO Initiative (Keyedin)
- Managing Innovation Portfolios – Strategic Portfolio Management (Innovation Management)
- How to Prioritize Your Company’s Projects (Harvard Business Review)
- Connecting organization strategy to projects–the missing link (PMI)
- A Quick Guide to the Project Management Office (PMO)
- 25 Must-Know Metrics for Your Project Management Office
- The State of the Project Management Office (PMO) 2016 (PM Solutions Research)
- What Is a PMO and Why Do I Need It? (Meisterplan)
- How to Use Project Portfolio Metrics to Deliver Business Value
- Using Project Portfolio Management to Improve Business Value (IBM)
- 7 Key KPIs for Effective Project Portfolio Management (Thinking Portfolio)
- 6 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Project Portfolio Management Solution
- How to Write a Persuasive Business Case for PPM Software
- The Business Case for Project Portfolio Management Software
- Project Management on SharePoint: Build vs. Buy
- The Start-Evolve Approach to Successful Project and Portfolio Management on SharePoint
- 5 Steps to Increase Organizational Efficiency with SharePoint
- 5 Ways BrightWork Transforms SharePoint Into a Project and Portfolio Management Solution
- Using a Project Office for Cross-Project Visibility
- 4 Benefits of Managing Your Project Office on SharePoint
- How to Track Resources in SharePoint with Configurable Reports
- 4 Best Practices For Project Request Management Using SharePoint
- 4 Steps for Managing New Project Requests with SharePoint [webinar]
Project & Portfolio Management Software Evaluation Guide
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