The only 2 expectations you need to set for project portfolio success

by Jan Schiller

Interested in knowing what expectations are for project portfolio success? My career adventures in project portfolio management (PPM) have taught me that I need to set only two expectations with the teams contributing to the success of my project portfolio. These two expectations also help me select the best people for my teams.

 1. Open, honest, timely communication.

We all know that a successful project manager spends about 90% of their time communicating. The three elements of communication that are most important to me are openness, honesty, and timeliness.

Open means “completely free from concealment” (, 2019). I strive to create a project portfolio environment that values and encourages trust, which I consider to be a prerequisite to fostering open communication. First, I demonstrate trust. I extend trust to everyone immediately; it is then my teams’ responsibility to continue to earn it or to teach me I need to make an adjustment. Second, I expect trust. All the status reports and stand-up meetings in the world will not reveal problems and issues if no one feels comfortable sharing them. Finally, I reward openness and the courage it takes to reveal an issue. My goal is to make those topics a natural part of the conversation.

Merriam-Webster (2019) uses several powerful words to define honesty: genuine, respect, integrity, direct, uncomplicated. My favorite is “free, forthright, sincere expression.” I realized just how important honesty was to me when I was trained as a resource manager. One activity required me to prioritize 34 things I valued. Words like accomplishment, recognition, wealth, happiness, and power were on that list. I thought long and hard about wealth and honesty, then decided honesty would be at the top of my list.

Expectations are for project portfolio success


Timely is defined by Merriam-Webster (2019) as “coming early or at the right time.” David Bohm helped me understand the difference between dialogue and discussion in his book, On Dialogue. He characterized dialogue as the win-win form of communication because, “whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody wins.” (Bohm, 1996, p.7). I credit Joe Shaw, a trainer at my first employer, for opening my eyes to the real value of this concept. According to Joe, the job of testing is to find defects; finding defects was to be celebrated (complete with a celebratory dance) instead of being viewed as mistakes. My goal is to collectively reveal mistakes, discoveries, misinterpretations, bewilderment, disorientation, missing information, and confusion as soon as possible to create the opportunity to adjust with the largest amount of lead time.

When you put that all together, I value unconcealed, uncomplicated, sincere, direct communication at the right time. Combined, I have found it to be the best way to avoid surprises, conflicts, waste, low morale, stifled innovation, reduced collaboration, low productivity, budget and schedule overruns, missed stakeholder expectations, and failed strategies.

2. Work the plan to the best of your ability.

I ask my teams to bring all their skills, talents, insights, best thinking, and experience to bear on the path to producing a high-quality result. I encourage them to bring it by:

  • Getting to know my team so I can begin to understand and appreciate their skills, talents, insights, and experiences. This information helps ensure they are in the right primary roles and helps me understand how they can grow.
  • Inviting them to tell me how they expect to maximize their contribution to the success of the project portfolio. Aligning their role with their interests and expectations increases their engagement level.
  • Involving them in the process of creating that path. Post-its and whiteboards are effective, as are Kanban and Scrum boards. Any tool will do; the critical element is to bring everyone contributing to the success of the project together and to encourage an open, honest, timely dialogue about what needs to be done when and by whom, and how long it will take. A rule of thumb I use suggests approximately 40 percent of the work is not in the initial plan; using this technique significantly increases that percentage.  
  • Expressing gratitude for their specific efforts and their results. I say, “thank you very much,” a lot. I celebrate their successes and profess their contributions.

What expectations do you set to manage your project portfolio successfully?


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