At a recent project/portfolio management event, there was a comment made about project managers managing ‘within the chaos’. This got me thinking about how portfolio management fits in with the chaos. Another distinction between project and portfolio management began to emerge; Project managers manage within the chaos, but good portfolio management helps manage the chaos. Let me explain.
Project managers are often given a task to make things happen and use as many project management tools as needed to execute a project. Project managers usually do not own their resources and have no direct influence over the types of projects being conducted, the project governance process, or the project priorities for the organization. Therefore, Project Managers need to learn how to best manage their projects in the midst of an ever-changing work environment (a.k.a. chaos).
Portfolio Management as a discipline can be used to help minimize the chaos within the organization. If leadership is proactive in developing good governance processes, then the organizational infrastructure will be established to accommodate the number and complexity of projects within the organization (I will touch on the need for good organizational infrastructure next month at Project World). Good project selection will help identify good projects as well as to balance the high-risk and low-risk projects being conducted at any one time. This is a big point to help manage the chaos. Too many risky projects translates into a lot of variability for project managers; and when Murphy strikes, it can have a huge negative ripple effect across the portfolio of projects.
Good prioritization will also identify the most important projects and help communicate to resources managers how to allocate their resources. Furthermore, solid resource capacity management will make a world of difference for project execution. Imagine having the right resources at the right time! Portfolio management will reduce organizational chaos to make project execution more successful when solid organizational infrastructure is put in place.
When I think of strategic leadership, particular characteristics stand out that influence the type of leader I would like to be; I will touch briefly on each point.
1) “Walk the talk”—this relates to how real and genuine a leader is, otherwise the ability to lead will diminish due to hypocrisy. A couple examples may help illustrate the point. When a PMO manager or executive states that earned value management is important, yet rarely reviews the data, and worse, never acts on the data, the manager sends a message that is full of “talk” with no “walk”. Or, when senior managers try to maintain a semblance of governance yet make exceptions to the process, the hypocrisy weakens the governance process.
2) Accountability—a leader not only needs to hold himself/herself accountable in order to walk the talk, but also needs to hold other people accountable. There is a lot to say about accountability, but strategic leadership will drive accountability within the organizations. This is not easy, and requires my third point, backbone.
3) Backbone—refers to the leader’s ability to stay true to their values and decisions in the face of opposition or pressure. Portfolio management is a cross roads of many facets of the business. A good strategic leader may get caught in the cross fire between organizations, but will not back down until problems can be reviewed and resolved.
More to come on strategic leadership…
Leadership differs from management, most of us agree with that. In regards to portfolio management, strategic leadership is critical. Peter Drucker has an infamous quote about the difference between leadership and management, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” The distinction between project and portfolio management has also been made with a similar quote, “Project Management is about doing the work right, portfolio management is about doing the right work.” While I wouldn’t minimize the need for project leadership , I would argue that strategic leadership at the portfolio level is critical for making portfolio management sucessful. If we equate the two quotes above, we can see that portfolio management is very much related to effective leadership, because good leaders make sure the right work is getting done.
A lot of articles and books have been written on portfolio management mechanics (“how to”), but very little time has been spent on strategic leadership in relation to portfolio management. In a very general way, we can agree that portfolio management is about doing the right work , but people have to decide what work gets done. Without effective leadership, the right work may not get done (due to pet projects, short-sightedness, etc.).