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How many organisations truly know what constitutes their portfolio?

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A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a Friday and Saturday APM forum in York. All the Specific Interest Group and Branch chairpersons got together to exchange ideas and receive an update.

Lots of great debate ensued including an excellent presentation by APM chief executive, Andrew Bragg. Andrew described the associations sustained commitment to gaining chartered status for the profession and outlined APMs emerging vision for 2020 of a world where all projects succeed.

Thanks to engineering works delays and lively debate on the train with 3 fellow APM travellers, I started to think about the APMs strategic aims. (A dangerous activity for me, thinking.)   

Logically there are two bits to consider in this aim - the word project and the word succeed. 

For now I will leave the definition of project success to my fellow Benefits Management SIG traveller. So that leaves the word Project. No problem there I hear you muse - or perhaps not?

How many of our clients and employees do not know what constitutes a project or a programme (and the differences between the two)? How many do not understand the difference between something as basic as an operation (task) or a project? For example, APM described the refresh of the Body of Knowledge, version 6 as a Project, surely producing version 1 was a project and versions 2-6 are operational ongoing activities?

Therefore how many organisations truly know what constitutes their portfolio?

So perhaps portfolio management is the incubator, where the conception of all programmes and projects takes place and evolves to fit the strategy of the organisation? The reality is more that they are spawned elsewhere and retro-fitted to the portfolio at a later stage in their development? 

Where are the origins of the P3M species?

Stay tuned to find out if our forthcoming portfolio management survey will bring us close to revealing one of lifes great mysteries...                


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  1. David Shannon
    David Shannon 09 January 2012, 01:06 PM

    A thoroughly worthwhile discussion.  I add two points:1/  Let us be clear about the distinction between Direction and Management.  Directors duties differ from executive management.  Ulimately it is the responsibility of Directors to ensure that the organisation's complete portfolio is a) recognised, b) alligned with the intended strategy, c) under management control and d) appropriately communicated to stakeholders.  Executive management of course play an essential part in this process, not least by explaining to Directors their directing responsibility in this regard and enabling them to fulfil this responsibility. 2/  We in the Governance SIG have wrestled with this issue over some years.  Do read and critique our publications on this.  We have for example in the recent update of Directing Change added a thirteenth principle , No 2, which states "The organisation differentiates between projects and non project-based activities", this being a necessary precuror to porfolio direction.  We welcome any feedback to further improve our guides.I will watch this blog to pick up tips.

  2. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 21 December 2011, 11:27 AM

    I agree that the concept of a portfolio is confusing. A portfolio seems to be something like the complete set of project, programmes and business as usual changes (planned and executed) within an organisation to deliver the strategic objectives of the organisation. Many of my clients call this the business plan for the organisation. It is very closely linked to the strategic assessments and choices the organisations takes. Take the example of MTV, and wind the clock back a few years. What would the portfolio look like:1) Re-brand key stores as tech shops to reduce reliance on CD and DVD sales.2) Launch an on-line business model for sell on-line movies?????3) Grow a live music business steam?Much like turning the super tankerAll of these are projects and programmes, but what is the contribution of project and programme managers to the development of this portfolio? Maybe we advice on the feasibility but what input should we have to the decision taking by the board? I struggle with the boundary between strategic management and portfolio management? Any advice?