How to Manage a Project Portfolio (And Get Past Barely Managed Chaos)

Project Portfolio Management is a term that’s used to describe how project managers and business analysts organize, prioritize, and show relationships between multiple active and proposed projects for their organizations.

Sound portfolio management enables key business executives to make informed decisions about project priorities and enable a more focused project delivery process. Many organizations are able to transition away from barely managed chaos as a result of implementing simple portfolio management practices.

With a portfolio management process in place, you will:

  • Clarify organizational priorities.
  • Allocate organizational resources towards the top priority projects.
  • Actually finish the most important projects on the list!

This might sound complex, but it’s actually quite simple. Watch the video for more detail.


For those who like to read instead of watch, here’s the full text of the video:

Hello. This is Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap. Today, I want to talk about barely managed chaos. How do you know if you’re working in barely managed chaos? Here are some of the complaints that we receive from our community all the time.

  • First, you might be in a big picture meeting or in a big project, and requirements keep getting added and added to that project and there’s no container for those other requirements. That project gets so bloated that it never gets off the ground. You’re doing a lot of work, but not a lot of implementation.
  • Another scenario is you spend a little time here, a little time there, you’re constantly experiencing shifting priorities, new requirements popping up, new projects that are more important than what you’ve been working on, and you go from one project to the other without ever actually finishing anything. Again, it comes to getting it done and getting it ready for implementation.
  • You manage to get some requirements that are pretty close to implementation, but now your developers get pulled off. You’re ready to go on this strategic important initiative, and they got pulled away from your meeting or your review, or even the project altogether to work on some top priority project for a very influential executive.

Do any of these sound familiar?

The solution to this kind of challenge is a project list. It’s relatively simple in theory. Inside my Project Prioritization Organizer, I share my template for the project list, as well as some supporting process documentation and guidance about how to put this kind of process in place in your organization.

Today, I want to share some of the simple practices and ways that you need to set this process up to ensure success.

Project Portfolio Management Tip #1 – Everything goes on the list

When you start managing all of your organization through a project list, one of the big rules is that everything has to go on the list. You can’t have some stuff on the list, and some stuff not on the list. It ALL has to go on the list, otherwise, the list loses its value; it loses its authority.

You have to keep line items for any project that’s pulling the business analysis team, that’s pulling the business stakeholder team, that’s pulling the development team; you’ve got to keep it all on one list. That’s the first key. If it’s not all on the list, then it’s going to become a distraction and it’s going to create chaos in your nice, organized environment of the list.

Project Portfolio Management Tip #2 – Update the list every week

The second thing, in order for this to work, that list needs to be updated routinely, often, every week. That means new projects get added to the list. That’s okay. We’re always going to have new ideas. If there are fire drills, they need to get added to the list. If something new, top priority, comes up, it needs to get added to the list.

That is this constant process of adding to the list, and removing things from the list, either when they become irrelevant, or not a priority, or when they get done. We get to celebrate and update the list as things get done as well.

Project Portfolio Management Tip #3 – All key stakeholders regularly review new items

The next thing is that all stakeholders must regularly review the new items. This isn’t all the stakeholders, but all the key stakeholders. You need to have all the different business areas represented so that nobody feels like their work is cut out, and everybody has a chance to negotiate for their items on the list to get attention, to get resources, and to get prioritized.

That’s an important point. That list is not just a list of all the things; it’s a prioritized list of all the things. It shows what things we’re working on, and what things we’re not.

Project Portfolio Management Tip #4 – Be sure the delivery team honors the list

This is a really important one. I’ve seen a lot of organizations do all this work to get their business team aligned and negotiate priorities and decide what’s the priority and what’s not, then their delivery team doesn’t honor the list. So, the delivery team has to honor it as well.

That means if super influential VP stops by developer Joe’s desk and asks you to start working on something else, or if you, as the business analysts, get asked to work on something else, you say, “Where does it fit on the list?”  Or, “It’s going to take away from my work on this other thing that is a priority on the list. So, could you make sure that this gets aligned and you make some decisions about those priorities as a stakeholder group?”

Everybody has to respect the list and respect the priorities. As soon as people start not respecting those lists and those priorities, that’s when the chaos comes back in because now we’re pulling all this attention away from what our business team had set as top priority.

Project Portfolio Management Tip #5 – Align projects on the list to strategic objectives

A final thing, which is not necessary, but is super helpful, is that you align what’s on the list to the strategic objectives of your organization. This happens every year. Your organization comes out with this big picture objective and all these things that they want to have done, how they fit together in the big picture, and then your team sets off to work on other things.

We want your project list to align to those strategic objectives and show how you’re making progress against those objectives. It will be a lot more powerful tool that way. If your organization doesn’t have strategic objectives, don’t worry about it. Just start with a list and it will help surface information about those objectives.

I’d love to hear what you think about this idea. Leave a comment below. How do you see a project list helping your organization?

Again, this is Laura Brandenburg with Bridging the Gap. We help you start your business analyst career.

>>Learn More About Managing a Project Portfolio

project-prioritization-organizerv2Our Project Prioritization Organizer provides a complete set of processes and templates to get out of barely managed chaos and start managing project priorities in a nice, neat project list.

Click here to learn more about the organizer.


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