Not so long ago I was involved in a fairly extensive piece of research (the report eventually ran to over 50,000 words) for the Cabinet Office looking at the case for portfolio management. One theme I noted was that implementation of portfolio management usually seemed to be driven by an external stimulus, for example: the appointment of a new director-general in CJIT; the legal requirement of the Clinger-Cohen Act in the US government; or the bombing of Manchester by the IRA which led to a significant increase in project activity that needed to be managed at a collective level. What was largely missing (with a few notable exceptions) were cases where adoption of portfolio management was driven by a belief that it is the right thing to do. We are now well and truly living in more fiscally constrained times and this provides both a stimulus and the opportunity to apply portfolio management more consistently and robustly. The need for this was highlighted in a report arising from the Capability Review which found that one of the biggest challenges for departments was:
When asked what would make the most difference to enabling change to happen, the most common factor identified by the SCS [Senior Civil Service] was clear objectives real prioritization: deciding what the key changes are and really following them through and clear communicationabout goals and mechanisms for getting there, and being very clear about individual roles. Factors hindering change included too many competing priorities and lack of common objectives and prioritization. There is a widespread perception within departments that leaders are not setting priorities effectively enough, and this links back to the challenge of developing strategies that are both deliverable and delivered.
The money is running out and if that provides a stimulus to a more active and consistent approach to ensuring we do the right projects as well as doing them right, then I am one tax payer who is delighted.
Steve Jenner is Chair of the APM Portfolio Management SIG and co-author of the OGCs Management of Portfolios guidance. He was Portfolio Director for CJS IT where the approach adopted won the 2007 Civil Service Financial Management award. The views expressed are his own.