Engaging senior stakeholders: challenges in portfolio management

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It was an exciting experience to attend the “Shaping your portfolio to realise organisation strategy”- Portfolio Management SIG conference on the 12th of May 2016. As a Master’s student from WMG, University of Warwick my research dissertation focuses on “ Portfolio management – engaging senior stakeholders”, this event was a great opportunity for me to gain some further insights into the portfolio management practices different professionals use in engaging with top level executives and senior stakeholders. The conference was an avenue to socialise with fellow colleagues and other portfolio management practitioners, as well as listening to industry professionals from organisations such as Transport for London (TfL), HS2, Nationwide Building Society and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) discuss the challenges and triumphs of developing a change portfolio designed to help achieve strategic objectives.

There were two points which stood out for me in this conference; the first was the similar challenges the different speakers faced in designing a change portfolio aimed at achieving strategic objectives for their organisations. Some of the key challenges which were discussed included:

  • Trying to ‘sell the benefits’ of the portfolio to senior executives in ways/languages they could relate with and understand
  • Dealing with different personalities and politics amongst the C-suites (having pet projects and different expectations/desired outcomes)
  • Proving that portfolio management would make a difference and using hard evidence/data to prove this.

The second interesting observation was the differences in practices in each of the speaker organisations. It appeared that although there were differences in the portfolio management maturity in each organisation, each organisation adopted similar practices which were tailored to each organisation in various ways to tackle some of the challenges faced. Dan Jones (Head of Enterprise Portfolio Management Office, Nationwide Building Society), offered some excellent insights which included:

  • Understanding the demands and expected outcomes from senior management.
  • Design a benefit realisation plan/benefits management for each project or programme in the portfolio and link it to how they achieve business strategy.
  • Analyse the risks and resources associated with each project or programme or the portfolio.
  • Have a prioritisation and value framework (it would be useful to know if the organisation has discretionary/mandatory projects and non-discretionary projects) to help guide decision making and investment options.
  • Have simple communication tools which visually maps out information senior stakeholders need to know and informs them of: the benefits, risks, resource forecasting and constraints, progress updates, and so on.
  • Review and agree mandates, processes and timelines with stakeholders.
  • Tailor information reports to different senior managers. Use a common language these stakeholders understand and agree. 

Although it was insightful to learn about the common challenges faced, and the practices adopted to tackle challenges, an area for further discussion should involve analysing the causes and reasons why other portfolio practitioners still face these challenges in their organisations

Question for further discussion:

What are the challenges and strategies for successfully engaging senior stakeholders in your organisation?  

Project, programme and portfolio management practitioners interested in contributing to my study and discussing their experiences, can please contact me. Further details of the SiG Conference can be seen here.

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Posted by Imo Ehimiaghe on 16th Jun 2016

About the Author
Imo is a Project and Programme Management (PPM) professional who is currently completing an MSc in PPM at WMG, University of Warwick. His MSc project is on - Engaging senior stakeholders: PfM challenges and opportunities. If you would be interested in discussing your experiences, please contact me via I.Ehimiaghe@warwick.ac.uk

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