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APM Portfolio Management SIG Conference - Portfolio Management in the Digital Age

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The room in the Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury was packed at this year’s APM Portfolio Management SIG conference with over 150 participants. As well as seven top-class speakers, colleagues from sister SIGs joined us to lead the three workshops, and we finished with the panel session and our popular evening networking upstairs at the Marquis Cornwallis across the road.

Lynne Ratcliffe, SIG Co Chair, opened the conference, welcomed our guests and introduced Adam Skinner who was ‘Master of Ceremonies’ for the day. Adam outlined the day’s agenda and introduced our first speaker, John McIntyre, from Ticketmaster.

John described the new approach Ticketmaster now take to agree objectives with their teams using ‘OKR’ - Objectives, Key Results. Originating from the West Coast of America, the idea was piloted at Ticketmaster to challenge traditional ways of setting objectives, i.e. to break the cycle of agreeing achievable goals within a defined time frame. The traditional approach tends to constrain objectives to what’s realistic and discourages significant over-achievement. OKR challenges us to strive to increase, maybe doubling or tripling the output, often in collaboration with other teams, but is balanced by setting management expectations that these are stretch goals and will often not be achieved in full. This must be recognised in, for example, appraisals. ‘Vertical alignment’ from the corporate goals to the team and individual objectives, and ‘horizontal alignment’ across the teams is key, but critical to the success of embedding this approach is the executive behaviours, and John worked hard to set the expectations, and that praise was important for making progress towards these stretch goals.

Portfolio Management - a practical guide that was in the final stages of publishing, and launched at the APM Women in Project Management Conference 2019. It builds on the experiences of the authors and over 60 presentations given at SIG events and our annual conferences from a wide range of public and private sector organisations.

Steve, Co Chair, and Adam, conference lead

Next to present was Simon Harwood talking about Direct Line and their journey in prioritising and balancing the programmes and projects with demand and the available resources. Simon explained how they assessed their capacity, developed the estimating, planned and scheduled the programmes and projects whilst managing the stakeholders. His talk outlined his personal experiences and he offered five key lessons:

  • Understand the individuals
  • Assume nothing
  • Be inquisitive
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate more
  • The principles of balancing your portfolio in the Digital Age are no different to how it’s always been.

Mark Lewis and Ricky Harvey then summarised the outcomes from our successful Directors’ Dinner "The Agile Portfolio – fact or fiction" which was distributed at the conference. They explained how they implemented their portfolios and the relevance of the agile approach. The publication is available from the APM at the link at the bottom of this article.

Following lunch, the delegates took part in their selected workshop:

A: Benefits management

Neil White and Merv Wyeth from the APM Benefits and Value SIG led the interactive session, using Mentimeter to establish the key elements of a benefits framework and to share how the participants’ organisations were implementing benefits management.

B: The Agile PMO – its organisation, people and value

Andy Honey led the session and used two examples of how a PMO used portfolio management techniques.

  1. An English University transitioning all its operational and legacy applications to the Cloud over a 15 month period.
  2. Irish Dairy merging all its companies into a single thinking and reporting entity to improve its routes to market and its reporting.

C: Governance

This session was led by Martin Samphire, APM Governance SIG Chair, and discussed the project controls and management information (MI) required to run portfolios.

NATs have changed their ways of working and Simon Lansdowne outlined the drivers for change and how they responded by implementing portfolio management, with significant success in improving control of the portfolio and establishing a focus on benefits. He explained their goals, approach and how they phased the implementation using an integrated business change framework. NATs won the Project of the Year award for 2018.

The final presentation was from Karina Singh and Annie Wareham who explained how HM Land Registry has transformed their organisation and how they managed the benefits in a multi-faceted portfolio environment. They explained their people and change frameworks and how they successfully embedded the cultural changes whilst adapting to the political demands and environmental pressures.

The day finished with a panel session, addressing questions such as what was the most important factor (the people), how the presenters had managed their stakeholders, and the key lessons to share with the audience.

Finally, Steve Leary, as Co Chair, thanked the speakers, the sponsors, the APM and SIG staff and the conference participants who had made the day such a success. About two thirds of the attendees then went across to the Marquis Cornwallis to continue networking over a pint or two or glass of wine.


The speakers together with the SIG committee

Further resources
The conference presentations and workshop outputs are available to view.

The opinion piece 'Agile Portfolio: Fact or Fiction’.


Steve Leary
APM Portfolio Management SIG Co Chair


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