The best approach to project portfolio management: Methodology mixology

by Jan Schiller

There is one approach that is the best approach for managing project portfolios: the one that best delivers its strategy. Rarely is one methodology the only one needed for success; rarely is strictly adhering to one project management methodology the best path to the result. A hybrid approach is likely the best approach, requiring you to be fluent in many methodology ‘languages.’

Consider your organization’s project management office (PMO). Does that PMO define, offer or require compliance with best practices? How does your PMO ensure those best practices are understood and applied?

I propose there is a direct relationship between how rigorously your PMO assesses compliance with its best practices and how fluent you are in the many languages of methodologies. Your fluency increases when you successfully align the methodologies applied to each of the projects in your portfolio to a cohesive representation of your project portfolio. Your portfolio’s project managers must also be fluent when they align a supplier’s methodology to those best practices. You are at your most fluent when you align your project portfolio with an executive dashboard that adheres to your PMO’s best practices.

Think of your experience with methodologies and the solution delivery approaches your project teams are applying. Waterfall is both famous and infamous. Alternatively, you could choose an iterative, incremental, joint, rational, or rapid approach. If you are agile, you can select scrum, lean, kanban, Crystal, or extreme programming. Just to name a few.

Everything falls into place when you consider your PMO’s best practices as the reference point and common language that you, your teams, and your suppliers absolutely must know and understand. You must ‘translate’ the solution delivery approach and methodologies that your teams thoughtfully designed to deliver your portfolio’s strategy in the fastest, cheapest, and best way possible. Your project portfolio must be communicated in that context when you interact with your PMO stakeholders and executives.

Does that mean your PMO’s best practices are the only way to go about delivering your project portfolio’s strategy? Certainly not; one path does not deliver all strategies or solutions. I suggest that you apply the methodology concepts where they best fit. A hybrid approach. Methodology mixology!

Consider the project to build a bridge. Do agile concepts apply if the minimum viable product is the entire bridge? The bridge may be built incrementally (the bridge footings first, then the supports, then the platform) or iteratively (experience from the first bridge applies to the second bridge; experience from the first footing is leveraged to the second footing). You might timebox a waterfall approach into two-week checkpoints. Rapid is best applicable to the finished bridge, such as for improvements and enhancements. Solution option comparisons might be indicated if newer bridge technology has become available. Acquisition and fit analysis are needed if you are obtaining bridge materials from third parties.

Next, align your custom, hybrid approach to the language your PMO expects. Are there checkpoints? Understand the entry and exit points from each checkpoint, and align your project portfolio approach accordingly. Are working deliverables expected? In a certain format? Share those checkpoint and deliverable requirements with your project managers to ensure they can integrate their approach accordingly. Require your project managers to share the same with their suppliers. I recommend requiring the suppliers to align with those checkpoints and deliverables while respecting the supplier’s methodology; after all, your organization is paying for their expertise.

Be prepared to do some explaining and some education along the way. For example, I was managing a project portfolio that included delivering a significant process improvement, accomplished by switching the order of two mission-critical, complex systems. When presenting to the PMO, questions were raised about the missing requirement definition activities, where project delays and conceptual project demerit points were imminent lest requirement documents were provided. I explained that the requirements were not changing; the objectives were to deliver the same requirements with a process that completed in half the time. The primary focus was on a current state assessment, future state definition, gap analysis, and design (especially integration). Had I not been fluent in business process reengineering, the project portfolio would have risked suffering significant delays.

One exception: enterprise project management (EPM) software installations. A hybrid approach is not indicated. Instead, consolidate all tools (automated and manual) used by your organization to manage projects, programs, and portfolios to a single EPM platform to ensure consistency and enable an accurate, comprehensive use of the various EPM functions.

Methodologies are like languages. How many methodologies are you fluent in?


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