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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

How to Stand Up a Portfolio Management Office Part 2 – Making the Case Unsuccessfully

Funny picture about portfolio management
Why do organizations hire experts and then ignore them?

“Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.” Konrad Lorenz

“Experts in any fields can be always hired. Yes, money can do it.” Sampath Kumar

Several years ago I was an executive lead on a complex international effort that had a short deadline, high visibility and a significant funding shortfall. It consisted of a variety of different projects, each focusing on a specific strategic capability. Only two of the projects were directly dependent on each other and the remainder of the projects had different functionality and different delivery schedules.

We had already established the usual governance. Each project had a team of well-trained professionals who were managing the triple constraints and were reporting progress to different project boards and various Executive Steering Committees. Some of the challenges the teams faced were out of their control and some hard choices about delaying or deferring functionality needed to be made.

With the above-mentioned exception, all the projects had different resources and no configuration management issues. However, because several of them were facing challenges it was felt that we needed a single body, a PMO, to manage all aspects of the functionality delivery. I was asked to develop a proposal on what this would look like.

As project managers we don’t have to invent things like this! We benefit from the combined knowledge of those who came before us, so I went to the PMBOK. These were unrelated projects focusing on a single strategic goal (implementation of legislation) with different schedules, resources and challenges. A Portfolio! I had done the research, determined measures, developed a reporting strategy and had prepared a clear and well thought out presentation. In addition to this, I was highly credentialed in this field and was a seasoned executive. I walked into the meeting with the second most senior executive in my organization confident of the outcome.

I was shot down.

I was surprised, but I’ve been around a while and it happens. My job is to provide wise counsel in a compelling way. My bosses job is to listen. If they decide to go a different direction, that is their choice!

However, since I did feel this was a completely wrong decision I requested a meeting with a very senior executive to make one final attempt to persuade him. In a final attempt to convince him he was getting bad advice from his team, I sat down at the computer and went to the PMI registry. I looked up the names of my team – all of which were certified in one discipline or another. I then looked up the names of the individuals whom this person was relying on for counsel – no certifications.

He was unmoved and was convinced he should listen to his experts, not mine.

At that point, I did what good generals do and planned to take the hill I was assigned to take!

But I was the responsible executive and I was unable to get away from the repercussions of the bad choice. Because we decided to stand up a Project Management Office, the implication was that all the projects were connected in some way. That presumed that release schedules had to be harmonized, resources were fungible and a delay in one automatically resulted in a delay in others. This was nonsense, but when all your governance demands that you live in a false reality, you are living in a false reality!

Predictably, the entire portfolio’s release schedule began to slow down. Requirements were deferred, and resources moved on to other projects prematurely. We ultimately delivered all the core functionality, but I believe we could have done dramatically better if managed as a portfolio.

Several years later I found myself in a conversation with a very high level person who was involved in the decision to treat this as a Program. He told me that “I almost had him” when I tried to stand up a Portfolio office. He said that he needed resources for higher priority work, and treating this as a Program allowed him to shift resources off this work and assign to what he believed were higher priorities.

Well played, sir!

Politics matter! In the next installment I'll discuss how I used this setback to prepare for the next success.


I am sitting in a hotel room in Europe writing this. I just left a meeting with delegates from a variety of jurisdictions and we were discussing governance issues as pertains to a multilateral IT project. While we all spoke different languages, we all spoke the same language of project management. When we discussed Change Control, Configuration Management or development life cycles, we all knew exactly what that meant! Thanks to the many professionals who are responsible for the PMBOK and Prince2 documents. Well done!


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