Portfolio Management: More Business, Less Project

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

When I run portfolio management workshops, one of the questions I usually ask participants early in the session is, “What is a portfolio?” I admit I set them up for failure a little bit by first asking them what a project is and then what a program is, but almost without fail the response is something along the lines of “A consolidation of programs and projects.”

This is a commonly held view, especially when most of us look at portfolio management through the lens of being project-related professionals—but it’s completely inaccurate. A portfolio has very little to do with projects, and by extension portfolio management has very little to do with project management. In this article, I want to explain what I mean.

What is a portfolio?
For most business areas—including the leadership team—the portfolio is the vehicle by which the organization achieves its goals and objectives. Forget about the project portfolio for a minute and think about the use of the word in other areas of our lives. Our investment portfolios are not about individual stocks or shares but about the money we are looking to grow. As a subset of that, the retirement portfolio is about achieving our retirement goals.

Even within organizations, the word is usually seen as a top-down concept—the product portfolio isn’t a roll-up of products, but …

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"If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

- George Bernard Shaw