Money alone cannot promise project portfolio success

by Jan Schiller
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Project portfolio success is not determined by money alone. The budget for your new project portfolio designed to deliver your organization’s top strategy has just been approved. Congratulations! If you stop there, you will be experimenting with project portfolio success, because money does not do the work…people do!

Do you work in an organization where the budget is king? Where financial management rules? Was your project portfolio approved after its budget was approved, or after the resource demands of the project portfolio were assessed against your organization’s resource capacity? A big budget does not guarantee project portfolio success.

Perhaps you informally came across your budget request. Have you ever chatted with a person that shares a really great idea, and then asks you how much you think it will cost to implement their idea? Treat this high-level discussion as an opportunity and a starting point! Give an estimate. Chances are, the person with the idea will look astonished and ask you how you came up with that number. Your response could be to simply note that the number is based on all of your experience and knowledge applied in the context of the information shared with you. Or any other similar statement that makes it clear that your number’s accuracy is commensurate with the level of detail provided. (This is especially important if your organization’s culture suggests a number is written in stone when it is first communicated.)

Continue the discussion. Ask the person what they think it will cost, and how they came to their number. In a way, this may feel like playing poker in an agile environment. They will likely reveal some key information about their idea that will help you refine your estimate, and away you go.

Perhaps you came by your budget request by completing your project office’s business case template and included a budget range based on more detailed information. Good for the project office, because this process helps the organization contain the effort necessary to determine if the idea is worth pursuing.

In any case, your next step is to determine who is going to perform the work. That money won’t structure or plan your project portfolio, create your dashboard, define the result, manage the projects that implement the solution, or produce the result. Determine the types of people you will need in order to proceed. What are the logical roles and skillsets required to ensure project portfolio success? Based on the strategy your project portfolio is delivering, do you need junior or senior level people? Based on schedule considerations, does it make sense to have more than one person in a role? Do you need any subject matter experts? Does the strategy require acquisition, or does the organization already have the capabilities, people, processes, and technology it needs?

Now you are ready to transform that shopping list of logical resources into real human beings that will form the teams contributing to the success of your project portfolio. This is where the magic happens. Put one name next to each logical resource. Who has the most passion for your strategy? Who will feel challenged and rewarded by the road ahead? Are they available? Headcounts provide a clue but are removed based on skill sets or ability to contribute to a project portfolio. Availability is not a skill, but your project portfolio will crumble if the resources you need are not available when you need them.

If your organization is on the sophisticated side, a single resource pool accessible to all project portfolio managers exists as maintained by the Human Resources department. If the resource information contains role or skill information in addition to names and organizational titles, you are in bonus territory.

Money is definitely one, but not all, of the resources, you will need to be successful. Avoid the temptation to launch your project portfolio before you know how well your resource capacity aligns with its budget.


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