Do's and Don'ts for Portfolio Managers

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Categories: Portfolio Management


Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, is a senior-level project executive, leading high-profile business transformation projects, programs and portfolios. She has more than 18 years of professional experience across industries such as healthcare, biotechnology, entertainment and financial services. She recently established a PMO Center of Excellence that includes both project managers and business analysts, implemented a global US$50 million program across multiple sites and managed a $500 million portfolio. Ms. Skrabak served as the committee chair for The Standard for Portfolio Management - Third Edition. 

Read her thoughts on portfolio management below:

Although PMI's The Standard for Portfolio Management was updated for its Third Edition earlier this year, I still find that there is much confusion over what portfolio managers do and how they differ from program and project managers. Having been a portfolio manager for over 10 years, I'm offering a few key differences that may help you.  

What portfolio managers focus on:

  • Strategic alignment. Portfolio managers are unique in that they are the only role focused solely on the future strategic intent of the organization.
  • Processes to assist the organization in prioritizing and selecting the right work -- including governance, developing the portfolio structure, and optimizing the portfolio.
  • Resource allocation. It's not just human resources that should be accounted for, but also financial, and equipment or materials. With staffing, it's important to take into account not just available capacity but also capability to do the work. For example, if there are new hires needed for a program, the appropriate training and onboarding ramp-up should be taken into consideration.
  • Continuous monitoring of the broader internal and external environments, including strategic changes. Strategic changes usually result from an organization's response to an external change. An example is the Affordable Care Act. It's an external change that may result in changes to the organization's strategy, which will result in portfolio changes and a review of what should be started, stopped, or sustained.
  • The aggregate -- by definition, the portfolio is a collection of projects, programs, and operational work.
  • Performance of the portfolio -- monitoring the planned vs. realized value.
  • Ensuring communications and stakeholder engagement, especially at an executive level. In addition to reporting the overall status of the portfolio, portfolio managers have a responsibility to communicate the overall portfolio vision to project/program leaders.
  • Risks as well as opportunities. A better way to state this might be to monitor for threats and seek opportunities 
  • Organizational change management. Enabling the future state of the portfolio and ensuring that the changes stick through the development of the right business processes is critical.
  • Ongoing operations of the portfolio. Unlike projects or programs, portfolios do not have a beginning and end.  However, they may evolve according to the strategic needs of the organization.
Now that we've level set the strategic responsibilities of portfolio managers, there are some key responsibilities that don't fall under portfolio managers.

What portfolio managers do not focus on:

  • Managing project/program managers. I've heard functional managers that have project/program managers reporting to them refer to themselves as portfolio managers, which causes unnecessary confusion.
  • Managing the execution of programs or projects. They are not focused on the execution of the work, but rather on the oversight of the collection of projects, programs, and operational work.
  • Managing triple constraints. They are not focused on the program or project scope, timelines, or budget, but rather the overall impact on the portfolio.
  • Managing the PMO. Although there may be aspects of portfolio management within the PMO, simply reporting on status, monitoring the budget, and holding governance meetings does not equate to overseeing the end-to-end process.
PMI Announces PfMP certification

Recently, PMI announced its new Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)SM credential, which will be available in Q4 2013. 

Having served on the Steering Committee for the PfMP credential, and providing strategic direction and guidance to the team that was chartered to make the final recommendation, it is very exciting to see this launch.  

I know that many in the PMI community have been asking about this certification. Having also served as chair for the development of the portfolio management standard, I believe that it's an important credential that meets a key need (remember the "P" in PMI encompasses portfolio). It drives advancement of portfolio management as a profession by formally recognizing the importance of a standard set of skills, knowledge and abilities.  

Key requirements include eight years of business experience and at least four years of portfolio management experience. It's expected that The Standard for Portfolio Management - Third Edition will be used as a key reference for the exam.

The PfMP exam outline will be made available in September, with the first opportunity to take the exam in late Q4 2013. If you want to be one of the first to be certified for the PfMP, email portfolio.management@pmi.org.
Posted by Jen Skrabak on: August 27, 2013 10:05 AM | Permalink

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