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Author: Paul Atkin

Is this the Pinnacle for Project Managers?

The first managers to scale the pinnacle of Portfolio Management have recently qualified. Management of Portfolios (MoP) is the new Best Practice Guidance released by the Office of Government Commerce, a part of the UK Government which owns PRINCE2, MSP, ITIL and P30. Senior managers from the UK, Canada and Brazil, studied in March for the MoP Foundation exam in Scotland, on the first course run since MoP was launched in February 2011.

Is “pinnacle” too strong a word to describe MoP? Personally, I don’t think so. It is the top layer of best practice guidance that has until – now been – missing, so yes, it’s at the pinnacle – or apex – of the PM world. OGC has even adopted the pyramid as the MoP icon.

More importantly in these tough economic times – where every dollar or pound spent is under great scrutiny – it is the tool that can ensure a business delivers all its strategic goals effectively.

MoP is not going to be right for every Project Manager now. But I’m convinced that now is the right time to get in on the act: before everyone else.

What is MoP?

In simple terms, MoP could be described as the effective way to manage a national football squad – harnessing the skills of the celebrity club players, bringing together the different playing styles while reigning in star egos in order to create a slick team that can score goals and win matches.

In formal terms, MoP provides practical guidance for managers of Portfolios and those working in associated roles and areas. It is a co-ordinated collection of strategic processes and decisions that together enable a more effective balance of organizational change and business as usual.

As such, Portfolio Management provides senior management with reliable evidence enabling better and more informed investment decisions. It goes beyond passive monitoring of progress, to actively managing the composition and delivery of the Portfolio as a whole, as well as ensuring teams are energized, benefits realization is optimized and that lessons are learned and applied going forward

By Portfolio we mean “the organization’s investment and the changes required to achieve its strategic objectives”. In simple terms: Programs + Projects = Portfolio. For MoP, an organization could be a business unit, a department of a corporation, part of a public sector body, or a national branch.

MoP has five Principles which will underpin successful Portfolio Management:

  • Senior management commitment
  • Governance alignment
  • Strategy alignment
  • Portfolio office
  • Energized change culture.

MoP also describes the Portfolio Definition Cycle (identifying the right, prioritized, Portfolio of Programs and Projects) and the Portfolio Delivery Cycle (making sure the Portfolio delivers to its strategic objectives).

What can MoP do for a business?

What MoP offers an organization is a clear alignment between the strategic direction of the organization and what it is trying to achieve (ie its strategic objectives), through the Programs and Projects that are being delivered.

Portfolio Management determines whether or not there is a good fit to the strategic objectives. MoP helps managers determine if they are doing the “right” Programs and Projects and it may also highlight Programs and Projects which should not be undertaken.

In today’s rough economic climate, a clear line of sight between the business strategy and the actual benefits of the delivery of Portfolios, Programs and Projects can only help a business make the best decisions

Good Portfolio Management will help organizations: 

  • Run the right Projects and Programs, delivering a measurable contribution to strategic objectives
  • Remove redundant and duplicate Projects and Programs
  • Realize benefits that align with corporate strategy
  • Report effectively to improve transparency, accountability and corporate governance

Who should use MoP?

Obviously senior managers and directors in organizations who are responsible for a Portfolio of Programs and Projects should be using MoP. But I think it is also relevant for all the traditional Project and Portfolio Management professionals. (And here we’re thinking about program managers, program directors, senior responsible owners and business change managers as well as Project Managers who are looking to move up).

As the essence of Portfolio Management is the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders who will all have a contribution to make to the successful delivery of a Portfolio, this widens the net to senior managers in HR, IT, and Finance.

Are you ready for MoP?

If you are still not sure whether MoP is the next step for you – or your organization – then The Executive Guide to Portfolio Management is a good introductory guidebook from OGC. One of the book’s key features is a checklist “Are you ready for Portfolio Management?”  It helps you assess how far along the maturity model you are and how could you benefit from it.

The three-day MoP Foundation course, which the graduates took in Scotland in March, includes a 50-question multiple choice exam. There are no prerequisites for taking the training, although a familiarity with other OGC Best Practices would be useful as some of the concepts are common to PRINCE2, MSP, P3O and MoR etc. Later in 2011 an MoP Practitioner qualification will be available and the Foundation exam will be a prerequisite.

The trainer on the world’s first MoP Foundation course was my colleague Alvin Gardiner. He has been managing Portfolios for many years and is one of the most experienced Project Management consultants in Europe. Alvin, who is one of the first people qualified to train MoP, is an award winning PRINCE2 Practitioner, Trainer and Registered Consultant who was on the Scoping and Review Group for the latest refresh of PRINCE2.

Tackling change

Alvin’s experience across the broad PM world convinces him that MoP is just what many organizations have been looking for. “From my experience, organizations often struggle to get to grips with the change initiatives that they have underway and also the impact those change initiatives are having on the organization, and specifically how they align with what the organization is trying to achieve,” he explains.

“I think lots of initiatives start off because someone has a good idea. Where that good idea fits within the overall requirement of the organization and what it’s trying to achieve can sometimes be a challenge.”

Alvin adds that it is only when you start to pull together what the organization is trying to achieve in terms of Programs and Portfolios with what commitment it has to make, and then confirm that the Programs and Portfolios are actually the right ones, that the picture can begin to emerge. “When we start to get the level of senior management consideration and commitment to that, then they could see ultimately the future.”

Finding that “clear line of sight” from what is it you are trying to achieve as an organization to the benefits that you would like to deliver at some point in the future is the trick for Portfolio Managers.

“That’s why I think that the MoP guidance is a really useful contribution to the support of organizations actually achieving their strategic objectives,” says Alvin.

For all of us in the PM world, the recent economic woes have put the spotlight firmly on evaluation and rationalization of what organizations are undertaking. It is not surprising that interest in Portfolio Management has grown. The fact that the great wealth of experience has now been distilled by OGC into a Best Practice Guidance and it is available as a standard for Portfolio Mangers to follow, is definitely good news for Project Managers everywhere.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Paul Atkin is a leading authority on the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology. He combines over 20 years of hands-on Project Management experience with a unique insight from personally training more than 900 PRINCE2 students. This gives him a deep – and intuitive – understanding of PRINCE2. As Founder and Chief Executive of Advantage Learning, Paul has harnessed his enthusiasm to gather a talented team of PRINCE2 consultants and trainers who deliver official training on four continents.

PRINCE2: the Project Manager’s Powerful Ally

Project Managers need all the help they can get. PMBOK is an excellent resource but I believe that Project Managers can really benefit from an alliance with PRINCE2. This methodology gives Project Mangers Processes, Themes and Principles which empower them to deliver their projects.

Last time [] I introduced PRINCE2 and explained what it is and I touched on how it is a powerful fit for certified Project Managers. This time I want to show you that it’s not just me that sees the strength of PRINCE2 and how it can become a powerful ally.

I’ve trained PRINCE2 in the US and in Canada and feedback to the methodology is always excellent – but what makes it stand out?

  • It is the missing tool that helps Project Managers apply the tools and techniques of the PMBOK.
  • Its Product Based Planning keeps the focus on a project’s deliverables.
  • Its Business Case keeps projects on track.
  • It brings a common language to Project Management.

Richard Tucker, PMP, PRINCE2, is a senior US Project Manager with experience in the Federal Government and Fortune 500 companies. He believes that whether Project Managers need to achieve compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley or Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standards, or just need to improve project performance to safeguard investment spending, better governance, process and tools are required in the Project Management Office.

Tucker says “PMBOK tells us to use a ‘Project Management methodology’ as a tool to support the development of various project artifacts and management plans. But, it does not say which methodology to use. If the PMBOK were a method wouldn’t PMI simply list the PMBOK as such?”

He adds: “While many US-based Project Managers are struggling to establishing project governance and policy, management plans and procedures, our UK equivalents are setting up and operating project operations using PRINCE2, ‘a structured method for effective Project Management’. PRINCE2 is a true Project Management methodology that provides a stage-gated governance model for organizing activities and decisions throughout the project life cycle.”

Or, to put it another way: “Where the PMBOK is very descriptive, defining the inputs, processes and outputs of nine distinct knowledge areas, PRINCE2 is prescriptive in its approach to establishing and operating Project Management services. PRINCE2 provides the Project Manager with a roadmap to successfully perform their job.”

When an organization adopts PRINCE2 methodology it brings a common language, and defined processes so that everyone knows what is expected of them. This was evident when I worked with Manitoba eHealth as it introduced PRINCE2 across the organization and its suppliers.

As James Nick, the Director of Manitoba eHealth’s Program Management Division, explains: “It used to be like the Tower of Babel where you have people speaking different languages. Different vendors had their own proprietary methodologies using terminology that may have had different meanings depending on the context. People heard a word but without a common definition may have interpreted it incorrectly. The introduction of the common PRINCE2 language is definitely of benefit to our organization.”

He adds: “PRINCE2 has exceeded my expectations. It has addressed a number of the common problems that we faced in project delivery, things like governance, planning, communication, and project/quality assurance. And the focus on quality has allowed a better quality product to be delivered to our customers.”

Dr Homayoun Khamooshi, is also well placed to explain why PRINCE2 should work well for American Project Managers. He is Assistant Professor of Project Management at the George Washington University, and has vast experience to draw on. Not only has he taught Project Management in the US, the UK and the Middle East, he has professional experience from a decade working in the Middle East oil industry as well. This unique perspective makes him ideally placed to highlight PRINCE2’s strengths and how it can carve a lasting role in the US.

Khamooshi was first exposed to PRINCE2 while he worked in the UK at the University of Northampton in the mid 1990s. “When I started to learn about PRINCE, the more I read the manual, I enjoyed it so much. I thought ‘wow, this is a Project Management bible’.”

When he crossed the Atlantic in 2002 to a faculty position in Washington DC, Khamooshi entered a world where “PMI” and “PMBOK” were the watch words. He defines PRINCE2 as a Project Management system. “I intentionally use the word ‘system’ because PRINCE2 is not just a set of tools, techniques and processes as may be seen by many. To me it’s a system which can be transformed and tailored to the needs of the organization. You can change, edit and adapt the many well designed different forms to suit your needs and that is really a very powerful source – and only PRINCE2 could provide you with that.”

Khamooshi believes that the PRINCE2 methodology has a value for any market, but it is specifically the American market where it can make an impact. “The American approach is systemic; we always try to improve efficiency. So the PRINCE2 system is definitely an excellent add-on to North American Project Management environment and, I would say, we certainly can use it profitably here.”

He adds: “The design of the PRINCE2 system is smart and there are some particular or special areas PRINCE2 emphasizes which you can’t find anywhere else.”

Khamooshi agrees with me that what really gives PRINCE2 the edge is its treatment of the Business Case. However, he also thinks the direction and governance of a PRINCE2 project by a Project Board, is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project. The Project Board requires membership from the business, user and supplier representatives on the project allowing them to work together from the very start. This guarantees that all the different project interests are committed at the highest level and a broad view of the project is taken.

Khamooshi, whose expertise is in the planning and scheduling of projects, sees the Project Board as an important tool for success. “Many of the projects in the US fail because the bird’s eye view of the project was not looked at. The Project Manager was the highest level that monitored the project, whereas in PRINCE2, we have the Project Board’s perspective. This is a strategic management perspective”

He admits that other Project Management approaches may have an “overview board”, but its job is not as clearly defined and stated as the Project Board in PRINCE2. “The Project Board is responsible for the Business Case and strategic management of the project and validity of the case as and when something changes.”

The way PRINCE2 treats Risk is another strong point for Khamooshi. “I think that one of the main advantages of PRINCE2 is its exceptional emphasis on project Risk management. Everybody knows risk management is a must. In PRINCE2, Risk is never ignored at any point in time in the life of the project. It’s in bold and you have to bring it up at each and every step of the way.”

According to Khamooshi, PRINCE2 also scores because Change Control has been taken up and challenged by PRINCE2 very seriously. “The whole thing has been addressed in detail. Everyone says ‘yes, change should be minimized, change should be documented’ and PRINCE2 has a proper methodology, a proper process in place for Change Control.”

Together PRINCE2 adds up to a forceful package. “To me, the combination of Business Case and Project Board which is looking at the Project Management strategically minimizes the Risk of failure of a project,” concludes Khamooshi.

Could PRINCE2 make the difference for American business? “If you ask me whether any of the failed projects in the US could have benefited from PRINCE2, I would say ‘certainly’ because I see a lot of advantages in using PRINCE2. Generally I don’t see any disadvantage. It’s a good thing for North American Project Management.”

These ringing endorsements of PRINCE2, are missing one piece of the jigsaw – the value of PRINCE2. Finding quantifiable evidence that I can quote has always been a challenge for me. Few Project Managers have been able to reveal the costs of their projects or go “on the record” for the rest of the Project Management community. Even the PMI’s eagerly-awaited research on the Value of Project Management in 2009 failed to show return on investment.

In 2009 Advantage Learning commissioned our consultant Alvin Gardiner to put a figure on the value of PRINCE2. He reviewed the actual Business Case and project documentation for the implementation of PRINCE2 in a UK Government organization. Gardiner’s research showed that using PRINCE2 returned a financial saving of over $900,000 in just three projects and that delivery costs using the method could be reduced by 63 per cent.

In these tough economic times, what better endorsement can you have?

Next time I’ll look in more detail at how the Business Case makes PRINCE2 such a powerful ally for Project Managers.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Paul Atkin is a leading authority on the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology. He combines over 20 years of hands-on Project Management experience with a unique insight from personally training more than 900 PRINCE2 students. This gives him a deep – and intuitive – understanding of PRINCE2. As Founder and Chief Executive of Advantage Learning Paul has harnessed his enthusiasm to gather a talented team of PRINCE2 consultants and trainers who deliver official training on four continents.