Making tough decisions in tough times - the case for portfolio management

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As each day brings fresh evidence of the pressing need to prioritise government spending and of the inherent difficulties in doing so, the case for effective portfolio management becomes ever stronger.

APMs recent portfolio management conference heralded the launch of an APM Specific Interest Group (SIG) in the topic which integrates the highly effective government-led working party into the existing APM SIG network, building especially on the momentum and material developed by three APM SIGs with an existing interest in the topic, namely governance, benefits management and programme management SIGs.

Marrying good and emerging practice from both public and private sectors makes perfect sense wisdom and experience are not confined to one sector or the other.

Similarly, the issues are not necessarily sector-specific the challenge was raised at the conference that surely portfolio management in the public sector carries a particular level of media and stakeholder scrutiny from which the private sector is immune, for example when a high-profile project or programme is cancelled whilst in flight. Try telling that to those involved in trialling a new life-saving drug, when it falls to them to tell the patients on the trial, or the charity established specially to support the patients, or the clinicians working on a purpose-built hospital wing, retorted an expert from the pharmaceutical sector.

Whilst good practice clearly exists, there is much more to develop, and to get successfully embedded within organisations DNA at the most senior level. Part of the project management professions coming of age must lie in its increasing ability not just to refine the mechanisms for collecting portfolio information and presenting it to management boards, but then to get senior management to make the appropriate and often difficult decisions on priorities.

Emerging research reported at the conference highlighted a relatively modest level of satisfaction amongst organisations in respect of their effective use of portfolio management. Emerging findings suggested that effective implementation was unnecessarily constrained by an exclusive focus on desirability and reward whether return on investment, strategic or tactical alignment with insufficient attention paid to feasibility factors such as size of investment, risks, resources and project interdependencies.

Portfolio management is another idea in APMs space whose time has come. Thats why a large part of our forthcoming project management conference will focus on how the profession should and can become proactive in participating, defining, shaping, and influencing more key decisions. Continuing to deliver successfully will require getting closer to the business and developing a more holistic perspective.

Making tough decisions is never going to get easier. The important work of this new APM SIG may just make it less difficult.

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