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How to successfully manage a portfolio of projects

The larger a business, the more projects it has on the go at once, leading to competition for finite budgets, resources and time. With the right tool, however, you can manage a multitude of projects at once.

The larger an organisation is, the higher the number of active projects and initiatives it has on the go at any given time. At the enterprise level, such projects will be pursued by different departments and business units, and for a wide variety of objectives. The question, of course, is that with so many simultaneous actions on the go, how does one obtain a longer-term view of these projects and their viability to ensure that the enterprise's short-term operations are kept in alignment with its long-term goals?

According to Diederik Jordaan, MD of Gen2 Group, it is for this reason that he always recommends adopting a continuous focus on project portfolio management (PPM), as this is vital if a business wishes to maintain organisation-wide consistency between individual project actions and its strategic business goals.

"You could describe PPM as being an approach that focuses on undertaking the right projects, at the right time, by managing all of these as a portfolio of investments, something that obviously calls for totally different perspectives and techniques. Essentially, the goal with PPM is to create additional business value by making the best use of limited resources, while at the same time building synergies between projects," he says.

"Bearing in mind that most large enterprises inevitably find themselves with more project work to do than the people and money available to do it, this leads to a situation where they end up trying to cram additional work into the calendars of their existing project teams. At the very least, this may lead to them cutting corners during projects, while at worst, it could negatively impact numerous projects, as these fail to receive the attention they should."

Jordaan suggests that by implementing PPM, businesses will be well positioned to prioritise projects, plan them carefully and staff them with qualified and available employees. He adds that PPM follows a top-down approach, which in turn ensures the most important and less risky projects are implemented first and that they also have the necessary resources made available to them. Only then is the remaining capacity allocated to additional initiatives, although this is still done in a manner that strikes a good balance between the three key elements of resources, time and money.

"It is, therefore, quite surprising to learn that far too many of even the biggest conglomerates in SA don't seem to realise that such tools are available. Instead, they find themselves battling on a monthly basis to report back on projects and progress made. A lot of their time is simply spent waiting for information that is usually well out of date by the time it is received."

By its very nature, continues Jordaan, PPM can only be truly effective if the project data it provides is in real-time, and when analysis is provided in this manner, it becomes a simple click of a button in order to see which projects may be in trouble or on target, or even under- or over-budget.

"With full visual control over all projects on daily basis, it becomes easy to identify problems early, allocate additional resources when required, and maintain a firm grip on all potential costs or project overruns.

"Of course, it is equally crucial to note that once you take the decision to use a PPM tool, it is imperative that someone in the business takes ownership of it, in order to ensure that it is utilised properly. Finally, it is vital to ensure your information is updated on a daily basis – meaning that every night, employees must be encouraged to fill in their time sheets on the system. This, in turn, allows the manager to look at their dashboard and immediately see exactly where their portfolio of projects stands at any given time, thanks to the granular, real-time, ground-level visibility such a tool ultimately provides," he concludes.

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