Have you ever attended a dining event where the host had a perfect understanding of his guests, knew just how to arrange the event and delivered a beautiful dining experience? Or, you may have attended several different kinds of special events at their invitation and they always seem to get it right.
The skills for setting the table for a dining event is not unlike the skills needed to deliver portfolio management to an organization. Three important skills will get you to the ideal portfolio management setting: 1) Your guests, their experiences and expectations; 2) the food and service costs; and 3) gathering guest taste feedback to make your next event even better.
Guests and their Experiences – Stakeholders and their Expectations
When you start to plan a dining event, you think about the guest list and consider palates and preferences. For instance, they may be frequent gourmet diners and have had broad exposure to different ethnic foods. There are also other considerations as you think about your potential guests: allergies, personalities, common interests, etc.
Similarly, when your organization starts to look at portfolio management as part of its service offering, you have numerous items to consider. You must understand your audience and stakeholders, and determine their level of understanding of portfolio management; it may be a common level of understanding or widely diverse. You also need to think about the company’s overall exposure to portfolio management, whether it’s rolled-up project reporting, idea intake or both. It’s also good to know if your company is a leader or follower, and what’s in it for them.
Back to your dinner plan. It’s time to think through the kind of menu you want to create and your end goal with the event. You may want to feed a large group in a short period of time, or create an intimate five-course fine-dining experience for a special occasion.
For your company’s efforts, you’ll determine what type of portfolio management to deliver and its overall purpose. You’ll work on the list of considerations, including the type of decisions your team supports – whether you’re a reporting team, audit team, if you’re helping align work to a company strategy, whether you support a chargeback system and more.
Understanding who is sitting at your table – whether it’s a dining table or a portfolio meeting table – will ensure a higher satisfaction rate when the experience is over and coffee is served. The team’s types of services and deliverables will depend on the functions your team will support. Knowing whether you serve the management team, the business team, the project teams, the resource managers or all of the above will determine the number and types of settings at your portfolio table.
Cost of Food and Labor – Portfolio Management Cost of Control
When planning a restaurant dining event, the chef needs to look at the cost of the meal as well as the cost of serving (or delivering) the meal. He considers the cost of ingredients versus the price for the meal, then determines the value and worth of the ingredients. For instance, serving fresh versus frozen can mean a lot to the quality of the overall meal.
Knowing which type of portfolio management your team will deliver, how much status reporting and what kinds of trending to collect for decision-making are just a few of the cost inputs to effectively run your team. You also need to consider the time it will take for idea intake, estimating at an idea level and balancing your portfolio forecasts. In addition, rolled-up status reporting and understanding how project change requests impact your current portfolios will impact your services.
Next is the type of table setting you’ll use. A buffet may work best if you’re serving large amounts of people and using a small serving staff. For a more formal affair, you may go all out with multiple forks and knives, cloth napkins, wine glasses, water glasses, a centerpiece, a chef, a sous chef, servers and bussers. You make sure you have the right venue, equipment and staff to execute the event and create the experience you desire for your guests. There is a cost of service associated with the type of menu you set, as well as your operational costs for space and equipment.
In addition, portfolio teams must account for the time needed to operate under organizational services or functions. These include, for example:
- Auditing or quality checks
- Phase gate reviews
- Collection of measure and metrics/reporting/trending
- Governance meetings
- Project health facilitation
- Portfolio idea management
- Portfolio change control – balancing portfolios
- Project staff augmentation or project rescues
- Center of excellence (process and tool ownership)
Portfolio teams also determine which resources are needed for the team (in terms of people, processes and tools). Depending on the functions or services, you may need "super PMs,” financial analysts or program managers. You then locate which tools and processes will best enable your team. The cost of running an organization is called the cost of control. The level of this cost of control may depend on the risk tolerance level of your organization. General industry standards, depending on the portfolio management service offering, can run between 15–25% of total project spending. 
“How was your Meal” or “Is this Working?”
There’s a wide set of expectations around the dining experience. Informal, fast-food or buffet diners may not hesitate to tell their hosts how they feel, and yet these diners know they have little impact on changing the long-term results. A fine-dining experience may not include a server that solicits feedback, but results can be gathered by what is left on the plate at the end of each course. Either way, both types of dining experiences want repeat customers.
Whether your portfolio team is in place to manage idea intake, project health escalations or quality checks, or to manage the financial aspects of your portfolio, continuous feedback will help to refine the kinds of services, functions and deliverables (reports) that will help make the portfolio management offering better. Depending on your organization’s culture, you may solicit formal or informal feedback. The results should be a validation of what’s working and adding value, and what could be done better. What you do with the results is what will bring back customers to your portfolio table.
Ensuring that you have a follow-up process for any of the services your portfolio team offers will lend legitimacy and credibility. Just like you don’t want to eat off of dirty plates and torn table cloths, stakeholders want accurate reports, timely meetings and follow up to unanswered questions. Continuing to ask, “Is this helping you to make decisions?” or “Does this incite the correct behavior?” will help keep the table clean and ensure repeat customers.
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Cindy Lee Weber is a highly motivated, dedicated and passionate project management professional experienced in both corporate and small business cultures. Her focus on maturing best practices, while providing practical solutions has been applauded time and again by clients.
Cindy believes in measuring success and provides strategic foundations for delivering on-time and on-budget implementations. She consistently leads large improvement efforts for clients, including detailed process improvement for governance, portfolio management process improvement, and process documentation and refinement. Her expertise includes: project management, project management office, portfolio management, project and portfolio framework and methodology, project management training programs, solutions implementation, and measures and metrics.
Cindy is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and an active member of the Project Management Institute’s Minnesota chapter