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Why Project Managers Shouldn’t Run Your Portfolio Management Effort
By Anand Sanwal

“Project Management is about doing projects right. Portfolio Management is about doing the right projects.” Marco Vd Poel, Air France

Now let that sink in for a second.

How money is that line, eh? It is absolutely 100,000% correct and elegantly simple. So the next logical question is why are project managers running portfolio management efforts within their organizations if it is a different skillset altogether. It’s a bit like having Eliot Spitzer teach a class on abstinence. They don’t go together.

Undertaking the right projects and investments is about measuring value, considering strategy, risk and financial returns, etc and optimizing the portfolio based on those inputs and factors. Plain and simple – this is not what project managers know how to do nor what they are trained/supposed to do.

Portfolio management in the corporate setting especially IT has basically evolved like this. If you have enough projects, they roll up into a program. If you have enough programs, you all of a sudden have a portfolio. Somehow having a portfolio defined this way gives you the skills to do portfolio management. Wrong.

I’m not sure when folks will realize this. When they do, it will let project managers do their job better because they won’t have to do these portfolio exercises. And it will let organizations get the right people to head up their portfolio management efforts and actually get the value they can from such an effort – instead of the glorified project management that it currently is.

This is not meant to disparage project managers. I just think they’re being asked to do things that they’re not best-suited to do. Picking the right projects as part of a portfolio is a strategic, financial and risk discipline and very different than the skills possessed by project managers. If you are in the handful of project managers who can do it all, please don’t write to tell me this. You are awesome and a rare gem. I’m talking about the average project manager who doesn’t have the project management + strategy, finance, risk, etc skills.

Thoughts?

Anand Sanwal (www.anandsanwal.com) is the former Vice President, Investment Optimization and Strategic Business Analysis, at American Express where he was been responsible for building and managing the company’s corporate portfolio management discipline. American Express is widely recognized as having built and pioneered one of the most advanced and ambitious corporate portfolio management efforts amongst corporations of any size. In his role, he also oversaw the CFO’s strategic business analysis group and led the company’s $50MM Chairman’s Innovation Fund. He is currently a Managing Director at Brilliont (www.brilliont.com). He is the author of the book Optimizing Corporate Portfolio Management: Aligning Investment Proposals with Organizational Strategy which features a foreword by the CFO of Citigroup, Gary Crittenden. He is a recognized thought leader on corporate portfolio management frequently speaking to and consulting with companies, governmental organizations and research organizations including the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable, CFO Executive Board, and Gartner amongst others. He can be reached at asanwal@brilliont.com.

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