From Project Management to Project Portfolio Management

Perhaps you’ve been promoted. Perhaps you’ve just been given so many different projects to manage.  Perhaps you’re a small business or startup, and you have to manage everything on your own. Whatever the cause, there are project managers and project management offices who aren’t just managing a project or two, but an entire portfolio of projects. Project portfolio management comes with its own pratfalls and challenges! In some ways, it’s entirely different from traditional project management.

Let’s explore the idea of project portfolio management a little more in depth.

What Is Project Portfolio Management?

Bob Buttrick, PMP, provides an intuitive explanation of the difference between project management and project portfolio management in his book The Project Workout: “Directing the individual project correctly will ensure it is done right. Directing ‘all the projects’ successfully will ensure we are doing the right projects.”

Directing an individual project is project management – your goal as a project manager is to bring a project from plan to reality. Directing all the projects, as Bob puts it, is project portfolio management – your goal as a project portfolio manager is to ensure a group of projects are being managed correctly.

Project portfolio management is often carried out by Project Management Offices (PMOs) within a large organization. Project portfolio management starts with the high level decisions on projects, such as budgeting, staffing, and deciding project priority. It is also about following up and managing the projects within the portfolio, afterwards.

project portfolio management priorities

Why Would I Need A Manager to Manage Managers?

“Okay,” you’re asking yourself. “Project portfolio management is basically assigning a manager to oversee groups of project managers. What’s the point?”

Good question! The simple answer is that resource management across multiple projects requires a top down view of the company’s activities as a whole. Individual project managers do not necessarily know all the initiatives going on in a company, or the dependencies between projects. Who knows which projects are more important for the short term, or have other projects dependent on them? Who knows the exact limits of the company’s resources, and can prioritize where to deploy them for maximum results? It isn’t hard to imagine a company where one team in R&D is working on a problem, while another has no idea, and discovers the same problem – and so begins to work on that same issue. Those teams will be competing for the same resources, and the same collaborators, all while utilizing double capacity on one problem! All those individual projects need some kind of oversight, and management, for an organization to meet its objectives effectively and optimally.

i need help

There’s something else. Project managers need help, too! Project portfolio managers aren’t just managers, they’re resources in and of themselves for the projects they are managing. Whether it’s for procuring resources, streamlining processes, or even just as a source of feedback, PPMs helps PMs be effective.