Reframing Portfolio Management

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

How we think about portfolio management is challenged. How we often implement portfolio management in organizations is even more challenged. I would argue that this is in part a product of history, and the experience organizations have had in attempting to adopt and implement portfolio management approaches. Another significant part, however, requires acknowledging where portfolio management came from, and how we might be trying to repurpose it in ways that aren’t wholly helpful.

Portfolio management as a concept is not an old one. It is, in fact, a relatively recent adoption. It has largely emerged over the last two decades as a tool to help ensure the strategic alignment of projects and appropriately manage scarce resources.

Those two principles are important to recognize and acknowledge. Virtually every definition of portfolio management lands on strategy alignment and resource management as central, overarching objectives. In my mind, they highlight where many of the practical challenges in adopting portfolio management come from. Because for the most part, portfolio management doesn’t start at the top of the organization.

There are very few executive teams that look each at each other around the table and say, “We think some portfolio management would be really appropriate around here.” It’s not even close to the language they would …

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