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Project Portfolio Planning: Create Storms, Not Forms
By Sondre Bjørnebekk

Strategic portfolio management goes beyond what is typically achieved in a project management office. My best attempt at formulating this is: Create storms, rather than forms.

A better value from a project portfolio can come from creating storms – honest discussions between people that typically own the day-to-day business operations that the projects are about to change – than using very detailed sign off procedures and authorizations. Rather than requiring many people to sign off projects of a certain size, have them take part in the regular meeting that is the only place such projects can be authorized for initiation.

An important outcome of such meetings is knowing which projects should not “run” and also to create visibility of the most important projects for senior management. Ask top management: “What are your current major running projects and which are the top priority ones?” Getting any kind of stuttering as a response is a big red warning light.

If you just take the form-based “PMO coordination” approach, there is a danger that all projects will just be administered – not prioritized. One useful way of visualizing projects can be a radar, with distance showing the expected end date and the size of the dots showing the size of the project, possibly with sectors for business units. Over time, some rules of thumbs might evolve about how many major projects the organization is able to digest, which types of projects require the most coordination across business units, etc.

A weak point of the method of de-facto giving the line management power to decide which projects to run, is that often only the needs of current customers will be heard.

Forms, of course, can be useful. The most obvious example I can think of is that a suitable template, or form if you will, can contribute to getting the project owner to think in business case terms when arguing why it is a good idea to run just their project… And PMOs can of course be useful facilitators for the decision process. Also, I am not suggesting to get rid of the documentation or the preparation for the meetings, but I still think that the main point is valid: Prefer storms over forms, decisions over documentation, and prioritization over administration.

This article was originally published at in January 2010.

Sondre Bjørnebekk is an experienced project manager with a proven track record. He is currently running his own company, Innovation Consulting. Sondre holds an MSc degree in computer science from NTNU (the Norwegian University of Technology and Science) and an MBA in technology management from NTNU and MIT Sloan. Sondre maintains a Project Management Blog, the Project Management Monkey.

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