The Portfolio of Programs and Projects as a Network

This is an incredible time and an incredibly challenging time for project, program, and portfolio managers. If this sounds a little like Charles Dickens’ opening line for A Tale of Two Cities, then you’re spot on. It is the best of times for innovations (big data and data analytics, quantifying risks, and organizational analysis, to name a few) in project, program, and portfolio management and managing a project or a portfolio of programs and projects that can harness these and other innovations, but it’s also the worst of times because project, program, and portfolio managers are expected to deliver successful outcomes for their companies, stakeholders, and constituencies despite managing in an environment of financial and resource austerity. The mantra is not so much “Do more with less” as it is “Do a lot more with what you have because that’s all you’re getting, and we need results.”
So the question for project, program, and portfolio managers becomes: “How do I get the most out of the resources I have?” Let’s provide some insights for our portfolio managers on this question via this blog and use subsequent blog posts and others in our Program and Portfolio Management (PPM) blog collection to map out support for our project and program managers. First, we should define what we mean by portfolio. The Project Management Institute’s “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge 5th Edition” (PMBOK), Section 1.4.2, highlights a portfolio as a group of projects, programs, sub-portfolios, and operations managed to deliver strategic objectives. The portfolio of projects and programs may not be interdependent or even related. Portfolio Management, then, is a huge undertaking. The portfolio manager is expected to deliver results that lead to the achievement of strategic objectives from a group of potentially disparate projects and programs. While there certainly is no single right answer on the best ways or even best practices to manage a portfolio, there is one key component that exists in and across the portfolio that, if harnessed and leveraged appropriately, makes the portfolio manager’s job a little easier. That key component is – Information. Okay, you probably already knew that, but we’re not limiting ourselves to just “information”. We’re talking information and information flows – how the real project and program work gets done. We’re talking about the information and knowledge that are in the portfolio…as a network…of people, of individual projects, of programs, of resources, of stakeholders. (Here a “network” simply means a “a collection of objects in which some pairs of these objects are connected by links.”) (Easley and Kleinberg, p.2) If the aphorism “Knowledge is power” is true, then wouldn’t you as the portfolio manager want to know where the power resides in your portfolio, where the knowledge and information can be found? The idea of visualizing and analyzing the portfolio as a network is a profound innovation (and a potentially disruptive one). This sort of innovation takes work and significant brainpower, but the rewards and return on investment can be well worth the effort in terms of delivering a competitive advantage to your company or agency. Imagine if you could shape your portfolio or projects and programs to leverage the networked people, resources, and stakeholders that exhibit network analysis measures of centrality, for example – degree centrality, closeness centrality, betweenness centrality, and eigenvector centrality – which are analogues for “influence”, “importance”, and “information/knowledge bridges”. This capability to shape your organization as a network is a potentially powerful mechanism for maximizing the individual and collective value of your portfolio’s resources. In Management Challenges for the 21st Century – From Data to Information Literacy, Peter Drucker identifies three critical information requirements for managers: (1) External Information; (2) Internal Information; and (3) Cross-organizational information. The “portfolio as a network view” provides an innovative means for managers to gain invaluable insight into these information requirements and thereby shaping their organizations intelligently to improve the probability of achieving their strategic objectives. ———– Sources: D. Easley and J. Kleinberg. Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Draft version: June 10, 2010. G. Durant-Law. (2012). Network Project Management: Visualising Collective Knowledge to Better Understand and Model a Project-Portfolio. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Canberra: Australia P. Drucker. Management Challenges for the 21st Century. HarperCollins, 1999. Project Management Institute, Inc. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). — Fifth Edition. 2013.