project portfolio delivery
Businesses must transform themselves to adapt and survive in the long-term. Today’s ever
quickening pace of change is forcing businesses to remake themselves more frequently to
become stronger competitors.
Projects are the key vehicle for implementing change, • Delivery capacity – enhancing the capacity to
project management is increasingly recognized as an deliver more projects, without increasing cost
essential business skill, and successful delivery of an
• Benefits realization – achieving tangible
organization’s portfolio is critical to achieving its strategic
business results regularly and reliably
objectives and ensuring its ongoing health.
throughout the planning horizon
Projects might be the method that organizations deliver • Delivery reliability – meeting expectations
new products or services, internal business changes and reliably and ensuring you can deliver on
improvement initiatives, technology or IT upgrades and promises every time
new functionality – or everything they do (because their • Delivery quality – ensuring fitness for purpose
business is about delivering assignments for clients). and attaining a better result every time
• Delivery speed – delivering results faster
The primary improvement objectives of organizations we
(and hence more efficiently at lower cost).
have assisted recently may be characterized as one or
more of the following:
• Strategic alignment – focusing effort on more
of the ‘right things’ and aligning better with
strategic business objectives
Do you recognize any of the
o There’s a tendency to start everything,
but you can’t deliver it all
o It’s accepted that projects frequently run late
or deliver short of original intentions
o Accountability for delivery is unclear
o It’s difficult to balance resources between
business as usual and project work
o You are perpetually short of skilled people; so
you employ a large proportion of contract staff
o It’s not clear how many projects are on the go,
or what effort they absorb
o The link between strategy and what the projects
are delivering is unclear
o Accurate estimating is difficult
o You don’t know what capacity or capability exists
o Effort is often duplicated
o You find it difficult to deliver multi-discipline projects
through the functional structure
o Processes suit business as usual activity
but not projects
o Project managers are often regarded as an
If you checked two or more of these boxes you might
want to take our diagnostic.
Figure 1: Maturity correlates well with effectiveness
PA research into portfolio management practices and Research demonstrates a clear
their resulting effectiveness has confirmed that firms
correlation between maturity
which systematically plan for success are more likely
and overall effectiveness –
to achieve it. A comparison of survey respondents’
performance is illustrated in Figure 1. In other words,
with some caveats
Clearly certain organizational characteristics, relating to
the more an organization puts in to managing its portfolio
size, complexity and culture, are also significant factors.
of projects, and the means of delivery, the more its gets
out. While this was to be expected, there were a number
This suggested, to us, the following categorization:
of surprising findings:
• Entrepreneurial – Success characterized by the
• Outliers, very large organizations with apparently
extraordinary efforts of talented individuals applying
mature processes, reported unsatisfactory outcomes
ad-hoc processes and tools – generally in smaller,
• Similarly, outliers (generally smaller organizations) with more ‘agile’ organizations.
ad-hoc processes, reported more favorable outcomes
• Planned – Success was planned for by developing
• In addition, while one might expect that the nature and and inserting the right processes, technologies
scale of an investment program (ie what is at stake) and people.
should drive the need for more mature processes,
• Informal – Ad-hoc approach to portfolio development
the survey indicated that this was not always the
and management has not resulted in effective delivery.
case. Certainly the most developed practitioners
had substantial project portfolios; however, the two • Bureaucratic – Significant investment in standards,
organizations with the largest portfolios had the least tools and processes is not supported by the necessary
effective approaches. behaviors to deliver success.
More successful organizations
demonstrate capability across
all key dimensions
When comparing the performance of the most and
least developed practitioners, the best performers rated
themselves consistently across the range of measures;
in other words, they do all aspects well.
In contrast, the poorer performers rated themselves
poorly in a number of fundamental areas, most obviously
in the quality and consistency of business cases. This
indicates a number of significant discontinuities in what is
essentially an end-to-end process – or perhaps a highly
integrated meta-process - but which is not treated as
such. Hence, overall effectiveness is vulnerable to the
weakest link in the chain. This is illustrated in figure 2.
The ‘most developed’ firms exhibit capability in all
dimensions and are most differentiated by the:
• Strength of linkages between projects and strategies
• Quality of their business cases (the front end of
• Proactive considerations of project constraints
(resource and workforce management).
Figure : End-to-end consistency is key to maturity
Strongly Least mature
agree Most mature
rs ct o
Some features initially thought to be essential The issue of project management standards is
appear less so: interesting in that, while it is not possible to have highly
effective processes without such standards, having
• Use of technology-based support systems (tools)
them is no guarantee of delivery effectiveness. More
to facilitate the process was found to be necessary,
important are the values, attitudes and behaviors of
but not sufficient to improve effectiveness at most
those responsible for delivery.
levels of maturity
• Similarly, the presence of project management
standards does not directly correlate with delivery
• The formality of the process and the prioritization
technique applied were not found to significantly
impact the effectiveness of project delivery.
On the surface, some of these seem to be contradictory
findings. However, at early stages of the maturity curve,
technology may be largely irrelevant – more important
are defining the strategies to guide project identification
and the quality of project definition. At the mid point
of the maturity curve where standardization and
consistency is required, often technology takes the place
of solid governance and often distracts the focus of
work towards checklist completion, rather than excellent
delivery. At the mature end of the curve, technology is a
critical enabler for larger scale, complex environments
(ie with multiple projects, or distributed teams and
geographic dispersion of activities).
Negotiating your way through We have observed that there usually isn’t much
guidance on the prioritization of prescribed practices
the delivery minefield
and usually no direct matching on how those practices
In organizations that deliver many projects, there is
can help deliver an organization’s specific improvement
perpetual pressure to do it better. This might be because
goals. Equally, the focus of the practices is generally
their customers want to focus effort on more of the ‘right
on the ‘harder’ elements (organization, process and
things’, do more with the same (or less) or improve
standards), with insufficient emphasis on the ‘softer’,
speed and reliability of delivery.
people aspects (the really difficult stuff – accountability,
team work, careers, learning and development).
It is clear that there are many drivers that can contribute
to, or impede, overall delivery performance, spanning
We contend that a more succinct definition of best
the fields of governance, portfolio, project, workforce,
practice in this arena (as others) would be a set of
resource and financial management.
practices that are ‘supremely fit for purpose’. There are
a lot of things organizations could do; the real question is
Many emerging maturity models are predicated on
what they should do.
the assumption that “best practice” is an absolute,
and if sufficient of the many prescribed practices are
To answer this question, we have established a new
documented and complied with, an organization’s
diagnostic survey as a quick way to find out where to
outcomes will be better. While this might be true in some
focus your attention. It has been tried and tested in
cases, it is rather undiscriminating and might imply a
organizations in a variety of industries and geographies.
huge and expensive challenge for an organization to
contemplate (particularly a relatively immature one).
Figure : Our diagnostic focuses on key dynamics
‘what you want’ ‘what you get’
‘what you do’
It examines three areas:
• Objectives: What you want to improve
• Practices: How you measure up against key elements
of practice that have been observed to contribute to
• Outcomes: What results you currently experience.
By understanding the dynamics of how these three
aspects interact, we can help you understand how to
chart a course to remove key bottlenecks and build a
sustainable delivery capability.
The survey takes no longer than 20 minutes to complete
and once submitted a draft report can be turned around in
a matter of days and respondents will have a reasonably
robust assessment of their capability and the beginnings
of a plan to focus their improvement efforts. You can
access the survey at www.portfoliodiagnostic.com.