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.

Project Management Certification Options

Here the project management Certification options for beginners, experienced pros and program managers

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

There are a wide range of project management certification options to propel your  project manager career. They can lead you to the upper levels of project, program and portfolio management.

If you have some experience and have earned your first project management certification, it’s easier to get a job in project management. Your first certification could be in a specific industry or in a functional specialty. Those project management certification programs give you basic skills for small projects. Then you can build on them by adding advanced techniques in estimating, risk management, planning with executives, tracking and status reporting. The better programs also give you training and practice in making effective presentations, leading meetings and communicating clearly with stakeholders and your team members. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers two certifications.  The PMP  (Project Management  Professional) is for experienced PMs. Our PMP Exam Prep course prepares you to pass that exam.  The CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) is for people who are new to project management. offers project management certifications in the following specialties:
IT Project Management Certification In addition to basic and advanced project management tools and techniques, this program gives you the skills to use different systems development methodologies, like Agile and Waterfall, and how to elect the correct one for each project. They also teach you how to manage the users’ expectations and your team members’ performance.

Construction Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools and skills, this program places special emphasis on accurate estimating, building customer/owner relationships and the intricacies of dealing with subcontractorsProject Manager Certification on your project. You learn how to manage risks and change orders which are critical elements in construction project profitability.

Healthcare Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced techniques and tools, this program gives you the tools to effectively deal with the unique organizational issues in the healthcare environment. You learn how to work with both the administrative departments and the medical staff of a healthcare institution. You will be able to build effective teams across those functional lines.

Business Project Management Certification In addition to the basic and advanced project management tools, this program teaches you how to integrate people from different functional areas into a high-performing project team. You learn how to build project plans and effective teams that include the efforts of information systems, marketing, sales and operations. Each of these areas has a unique perspective on projects.

Client/Consulting Project Management Certification This certification teaches you basic and advanced project management techniques as well as how to “sell” engagements to clients, manage their expectations and finish projects on time. Delivering those results earns a profit for your firm and creates a satisfied customer. You learn how to handle change orders profitably and develop a mutually beneficial relationship clients.

These certifications are valuable credibility-builders within your organization and help you stand out from the crowd when seeking a new project manager position.