Project Portfolios: Managing Multiple Projects

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

As projects multiply in an organization, the number of people on more that one project increases and project performance declines because:

  1. Projects compete for scarce resources
  2. Anyone can start a project on a whim
  3. The organization starts more project than it can finish so it wastes significant work hours on canceled projects
  4. No business value criteria exist for new projects
  5. No priorities exist for using resources 
  6. No consistent tracking of progress exists.

Portfolio Management Process

Organizations can solve these problem by making someone accountable for managing the portfolio of projects. That individual will start the project portfolio process by:

  1. Defining a Project Protocol. This tells everyone how to originate, plan, schedule, budget, track and close out a project. The heart of the protocol is that work estimates are made for each task in the approved projects.  This enables the organization to track actual progress.  The protocol doesn’t need to be more than one page long. Project managers will be trained in this simple methodology for doing all projects.
  2. Securing executive approval of a process for Initiating Projects.  The portfolio manager assesses each new project by comparing the business value the project will produce to the time and money it will consume.  The executive committee considers the portfolio manager’s recommendations and approves certain of the projects. It’s best if the organization sets a project initiation standard so people know what criteria their projects must meet.
  3. Setting priorities using the project initiation data on approved projects. The management committee reviews the portfolio manager’s slotting of projects into priority tiers.  It is our experience that 7 tiers of projects works best. And no tier should utilize more than 15% of the organization’s resources that are available for projects.  The organization also needs to reserve 15-20% of the resources for emergencies.
  4. Scheduling projects by priority tier.  Projects in the first tier get their resources first and can start work immediately.  Lower ranking projects have to wait for their resources. Projects in the bottom priority tiers may not start this year.
  5. Tracking progress weekly.  The portfolio manager and the people assisting him can compare actual progress to the plan and take corrective action. They can also report to the management committee on problem projects.

Training for Portfolio Managers

The portfolio manager role is difficult. He or she must allocate resources across all the projects in the  portfolio they manage. They must deal with executive sponsors and stakeholders frequently. They must try to enforce effective organization-wide processes for managing multiple projects and programs. And that is a significant challenge.  Here is the training we provide for portfolio managers:

Managing multiple projects

The technical skills of portfolio management, setting priorities and allocating resources are straight-forward and rather simple. What’s not simple is handling the politics of managing multiple stakeholders with conflicting interests and priorities. Many newly promoted program and portfolio managers think all they need to succeed is the power of the CEO behind them. However, they soon find out that the senior executive, while backing the idea of doing projects the right way, will not overrule the executives that the program or portfolio manager deals with every day.

Far from using their power to force compliance with the program or portfolio manager’s proposals and processes, the CEO will want them to “work it out” with the executive stakeholders. Thus, managing multiple projects takes program and portfolio managers into the world of political maneuvering, horse-trading and deal-making. They must join in the political deal-making and coalition-building or the executives will quickly ignore them. They will consider the program and portfolio managers irrelevant to the issues and challenges these executives face.

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on