Where have all the portfolio managers gone?

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A search on Google for portfolio manager provided me with 9.2 million results (1.3 million when limited to UK only). From a brief analysis of the 1st 100, more than 90% related to financial portfolios (e.g. investment, insurance, pensions).

Those connected explicitly with the world of projects were very hard to find.

Maybe that is not surprising, given that the discipline of portfolio management is relatively new to organisations. It may also highlight that portfolio management is performed in many organisations in a wide variety of forms, often by those with other dominant roles for whom it is an add-on.

An additional search for roles being advertised in the past few weeks showed that portfolio management activities are frequently embedded in roles that focus on other business change areas, such as: delivery assurance; quality assurance; benefits realisation; business analysis; financial reporting.

Does this matter?

From a previous blog (Posted by Jane Royden on 19 July) there is obviously still some confusion about the role of a project manager in the eyes of many, especially non-project people.

It is very likely that those who consider themselves part of the portfolio management community have an even more challenging time being understood or explaining what they do.

Could this be why the role of a portfolio manager is almost invisible?

I believe that portfolio management should have a relatively non-partisan place in a corporate strategy or change unit where holistic perspectives of the organisation and its current/future change plans can be compiled, analysed, monitored and reported. From my experience, where the work of a portfolio management unit sits in an organisation often depends on the main reasons for why there is a perceived need for it in the first place.

Therefore, where portfolio management is relatively immature in an organisation (many implementing portfolio management - light) it is understandable that the lead role should have a job title that reflects better known business functions such as: strategy, finance, change, assurance.

However, in my opinion this does matter.

The impact of getting the right portfolio management approach in place in an organisation and having it led by competent people will become an increasingly important component of an organisations competitive/survival strategy. By explicitly recognising the role of Portfolio Manager an organisation will be able to attract the right people with the right skills to do the right job.

Hopefully, the APM will be able to play its part in promoting the benefits of portfolio management as both a necessary personal professional skill and an organisational capability, with the need for recognition of the portfolio manager as a key role in making it work effectively.

Equally, everyone engaged in change management has an important part to play in seeking improvements to the way in which portfolio management is operating in their organisation and helping to recognise the value of a portfolio manager.

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Posted by Stephen Parrett on 9th Aug 2011

About the Author

I have been involved in change management for more than 20 years, mainly in financial services and central government, including Lloyds bank and the Ministry of Justice. My experience has been gained in a wide range of project, programme, portfolio, and planning roles – largely in process design and implementation within central/strategic organisational functions. A significant part of that work centred on setting up portfolio offices (central/local), portfolio construction & analysis and executive-level reporting. I have also developed a number of operating models to support portfolio management, particularly relating to the application of benefits management and strategic change prioritisation scenarios. Since 2005, I have been an independent consultant specialising in designing, documenting and delivering benefits-focused programme & portfolio change management processes, and associated products (e.g. business cases, benefits reviews, and portfolio reports).

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