With all that has been written on and about project management over the past decade, you might be forgiven for thinking that surely there cannot be anything new to say. Indeed, some eminent practitioners have even stated categorically that little has advanced in these ten years. But in the past five, the management of projects has risen to a new prominence. Projects are seen as critical to success in all three sectors: public, private, and nonprofit.
The impact of projects on contemporary society is immense, but the evident wastage through improper selection of projects or their improper formulation (or both) is equally immense. Collectively this represents a serious diminution of our collective capital assets and consequent drag on our economy. To deal with this challenge, there is something new, though it is still evolving. The solution is to be found in project portfolio management (PPM), and it is not just a trendy label or fad.
Some may view PPM as just another technique of project management, but it is not that. PPM is literally above and beyond project management because it spans all the way from the vision of those in the executive suite, through project management, to the realization of benefits to the enterprise and its successful competitive positioning. Key to this new project portfolio life span is selection of the right projects in the first place.
It should come as no surprise that Harvey Levine, author of several books and literally hundreds of articles on almost every aspect of project management, has thrown himself into the fray on this one. As Harvey explains in the Introduction, "The emergence of PPM as a recognized set of practices may be considered the biggest leap in project management technology since the development of PERT and CPM in the late 1950s."
Harvey is no slouch. He does not go along with new trends and fads—those that are short on substance and practical use, but no doubt designed to enhance a consultant's repertoire. Rather, Harvey has spent the past five years studying this topic, gaining insight from knowledgeable people, and finding out what companies actually do. He has surveyed the best of the best and collected their knowledge and wisdom. This book is the result of that effort.
Books on this subject, certainly ones that provide profound, up-to-date, and practical information, are rare, making this one an essential addition to the list.
Perhaps the first thing to understand is why all the fuss. It is interesting to follow the genesis of project management itself. Although not recognized as such, project management was clearly practiced in the great building endeavors of the ancient world. In the twentieth century, it emerged as a management discipline in its own right, essentially from the traditional heartlands of construction and engineering, where it has a well-established process and track record. But the sizes of such projects are such that they generally tend to be not only truly unique but also relatively unconnected.
With the advent of business automation through the use of information systems, computer technology, and software development, all that has changed. In recent years, there has been a tremendous upsurge in project-based work. This is typically associated with new challenges and opportunities brought about by other technological developments, shifting boundaries of knowledge, dynamic market conditions, environmental regulations, and changes in organizational thinking and strategic directions. The challenges that these bring have been compounded by the drive toward shorter product life cycles, customer involvement, and increased scope and complexity of interorganizational relationships.
Today organizations have embraced project management, in principle at least, as the way to address these challenges. So all these areas have entered the project management domain; indeed they have swamped it. Consequently, it is not unusual for companies to be faced with hundreds of projects annually and even more to choose from. It can be shown mathematically that supposing you have, say, fifteen projects from which you have to choose some, but not all, then you have around thirty thousand choices.1 Obviously the optimum selection within the constraints of the enterprise's resources is a serious challenge. This book explains how to tackle this problem and what information you need to do so.
The second thing to recognize is that we are dealing here with a different group of people who don't speak the same language. They even have a different mind-set compared to project management types. These are the people who run the enterprise within which projects take place, and they are the ones responsible for keeping the organization afloat. That is, Harvey is addressing business executives such as chief executive officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, chief information officers, senior functional managers, or even strategic planners. Certainly, to them, "on time" and "within budget" is important, but their real interest lies in the answer to the question, "What benefits will this project bring to the organization, when, and how risky is it?"
The important point here is that the answers to these questions are typically beyond the purview of the average project manager. Certainly, timely delivery of the right product at the right level of quality is essential, but the correct deployment of that resulting product is what will determine whether the project is really successful. So Harvey introduces readers to a new idea, the project portfolio life span (PPLS). This is the feature that makes the whole thing make sense. PPLS links project benefits back to the original selection decision and provides the basis for continuous organizational learning.
The third lesson to be gained from this book is that it makes a cogent case for consistency in project management methodology, without which it is not possible to collect the requisite project selection decision-making data. It makes an even stronger case for establishing a central project or program office to facilitate the collection and transfer of those data and provide unification of project direction, priority assignment of limited resources, and so on. Such an office must also facilitate the transfer of requisite information back to the various project managers so that they have the information available for making rational corporate-beneficial decisions rather than just project-beneficial decisions.
As Harvey says in Chapter 1.1, "What is so obviously needed is a basis for addressing project selection issues, deciding on project termination, facilitating reallocation of resources, changing of priorities, and evaluation of alternatives. And, without this capability, there is no project portfolio management." Furthermore, he says, "Periodically, we need to review [each] project to test assumptions, update givens, and monitor progress. We need to periodically examine alternatives and consider remodeling the portfolio." And he continues in Chapter 2.4, "The core mistake is to think that PPM is fundamentally the management of multiple projects. This definitely is not so. PPM is the management of the project portfolio so as to maximize the contribution of projects to the overall welfare and success of the enterprise."
Finally, as Harvey writes in his Foreword to my most recent book: "The recognition and structuring of PPM during the last five years or so has raised the value of projects and project management to a new level. We are now in a position to bridge the gap between the projects and the operations sides of our business. PPM enables us to not only do projects right, but to select and do the right projects in the first place."
Throughout this book, Harvey tackles the many problems associated with PPM, such as ranking value and benefits, the size of the portfolio pipeline, the impact of uncertainty on projects and portfolios, the benefit-risk relationship, and how to implement PPM.
He has divided the book into two major parts, the first containing the results of his own findings and the second with chapters contributed by major players in the field. A significant portion of the book is devoted to a practical look at precise details for effective PPM implementation.
The whole is a valuable and instructive read and should be on the bookshelf of every executive and senior manager involved in or contemplating the elusive but finer art of project portfolio management.
Vancouver, B.C., Canada Max Wideman
Max Wideman is a Project Management Institute Fellow and past PMI chair. Among his publications are A Management Framework for Project, Program and Portfolio Integration (2004) and Cost Control of Capital Projects and the Project Cost Management System Requirements (2nd edition, 1995).
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.