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Where have all the portfolio managers gone?

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.

4 comments

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  1. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 09 October 2011, 10:17 AM

    StephenI think you have hit the nail on the head, portfolio management is integral to the strategic and business planing processes in many organisations, not a separate function.  Decisions as to what products to develop, which (real) markets to invest, where to develop new manufacturing assets or relocate then to areas of lower cost are all core the strategic decision process in any organisation. These decision processes vary in degrees of formality, scenario planning in capital intensive industries such as the oil and gas and transport industry is famously rigorous, other organisations such as FMGC have a much more emergent approach (which is no worse). The outputs of these strategic decisions are the project and programmes which project managers deliver.  Much of the body of knowledge of strategic analysis and strategic choice is well defined in terms of strategic analysis, strategic choice and implementation (I reach for my old copy of Johnson and Scholes).  I am really looking forward to seeing what the new APM BoK will add the this existing body of knowledge. 

  2. Tim Reeks
    Tim Reeks 19 August 2011, 09:42 AM

    Presume there is also the opportunity for Programme Portfolio Management (PPM). Perhaps there is a hierarchy, that is Portfolio, Programme, Project. Thus there could be [Change] Portfolio Management, [Change] Programme Management and [Change] Project Management.

  3. Martin Samphire
    Martin Samphire 17 August 2011, 11:36 AM

    It is worth noting that the APM Governance SIG identified the active leadership and management of the project portfolio some years ago as one of the key strategic / organisational governance issues (for the Board / Exec) in the APM publication "Directing Change".  The current revision to the publication is underway and retains this focus.I agree there is an explicit Portfolio Manager role to be played - however is it a "job title" or a role?  I support your view that it is firmly a role and that an individual with a variety of job titles can undertake the role depending on the organisation and its maturity but in many cases it needs to be made more explicit. I, and your APM Portfolio Management SIG colleagues, fully support your view that the APM has a key role to play in influencing business leaders to adopt a more professional approach to scoping and implementing project / change portfolios an interesting challenge in that the target audience is, in many cases, outside the normal APM membership. Martin 

  4. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 12 August 2011, 08:59 AM

    A search for the correct term which is Project Portfolio Management (PPM) finds what you are looking for.  You can have a portfolio of anything, shares, investments, software programs, etc. Projects are just one option for a portfolio.Both APM and OGC have been a bit slow off the mark with recognising PPM and its critical role in organisational governance as applied to programs and projects.  PMI in particular are into their 2nd Edition for their standard on PPM.  For more on the process see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1017_Portfolios.pdf