Assembling jigsaw puzzles: From projects to programs and portfolios

authored by added August 09, 2009 11:41 by Steve Jovanovic


“Project management” is a bit of a misnomer. It suggests that projects can be managed as if they were discrete endeavors, separated from the organization in which they’re undertaken. In fact, projects have all sorts of dependencies: one activity on the completion of another; the availability of a key resource; the completion of another project that establishes an architectural foundation (such as a mechanism for single sign-on) that will be used by your project; government-imposed deadlines; customer deadlines; delays caused by contract negotiations with a supplier; the approval of a budget; the support of executives; processes for collecting measures such as when a resource began work on a task, how many hours were worked, and when the resource completed the task; and many others.

A project—especially a very large one—exists in a very complex ecosystem with all sorts of driving and restraining influences, including the push-and-pull power struggles that sometimes occur across different silos of an organization. A project is a dynamic composition of people, skills, software systems, processes, competing goals, communication channels, constraints, assumptions, real money, and those unexpected surprises we call risks, all interacting in complex ways as a project manager strives to lead a project team to achieve the project’s defined objectives.

In the same way that the health of an individual can best be understood not only by looking at his current issues and habits, but his environment and its myriad influences, so, too, project management involves not just managing a project, but being aware of the broader influences that, like the submerged mass of an iceberg, usually remain unseen, yet can have a profound impact on the project’s outcome.

Becoming an expert in project management really involves becoming an expert in management. One has to be concerned not only with the project, itself, but with the program (if any) that it’s part of, the portfolio that it’s in, the governance model of the organization, and its strategic objectives.

Managing a project is a very important role that gets work done in the trenches. As you ascend the “management stack,” of project→program→portfolio→silo→enterprise→governance model→corporate vision, mission, and values, you begin to see that creating a successful project outcome—the job of the project manager—is like facilitating the creation of a jigsaw puzzle piece. This piece, in turn, needs to be assembled into a cluster of similar pieces (a program), where possible. Then, projects and programs are assembled into still larger pieces, like the continents of a jigsaw puzzle of a map. That map defines the objectives of the enterprise.

The higher up that you go in the management stack, the more factors there are to consider, such as which projects to undertake, how to establish the “fuel mix” of the portfolio (how best to combine various types and sizes of projects to achieve growth and meet strategic enterprise objectives), how to staff the projects (capacity planning), how to divide up the available budget, and how to undertake only the projects that can be reasonably completed within a given period of time, rather than overpromising and underdelivering. One must also consider external factors, such as vendor relationships and government regulatory constraints.

At pmFAQtory, we take a holistic view of the entire corporate ecosystem, and advise our clients on how to maximize the probability of achieving project successes and securing a more competitive position in the marketplace through superior execution.

In future posts, we’ll be exploring these topics in much greater depth. We hope that you’ll enjoy our blog and come away with some ideas that may be helpful in your own project management practice. We’ll also be sharing some of our tools and techniques to help you to get your own projects off on the right footing and defend them against risk, from start to finish.

Specifically, we’re going to be producing a podcast, and our own YouTube channel, as well as providing some of the tools and templates that we, ourselves, use. Our experiences with project, program, and portfolio management have taught us a lot. We also conduct academic research in the field of project management. By combining our experiences along with our research, we hope to deliver some very practical processes and tools to you in the near future.

We welcome your feedback and we’re excited about creating a thriving community.



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