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The promise of IT portfolio management is the quantification of IT efforts, enabling measurement and objective evaluation of IT investments and alignment with business strategy. Understand how IT portfolio management can be a driver of IT process improvement and governance alike.
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This article was originally published by Info-Tech Research Group. Copyright (c) 1998-2008 Info-Tech Research Group. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
As many as 75% of IT organizations have little oversight over their project portfolios and employ non-repeatable, chaotic planning processes. This typically leads to the wrong projects receiving priority and funding, coupled with the increased costs and risks that come with poor planning. IT portfolio management offers one solution to this problem.
IT portfolio management is the application of a system of portfolio management methods and tools to the work managed by an IT team. This work includes projects and other planned initiatives, but also includes ongoing services like application or technical support. The promise of IT portfolio management is the quantification of IT efforts, enabling measurement and objective evaluation of IT investments in addition to alignment with business strategy.
The concept of IT portfolio management is analogous to financial portfolio management in that the seeking of value is constantly balanced with risks and costs. The IT portfolio is managed like a financial portfolio: riskier strategic investments (high-growth stocks) are balanced with more conservative investments (cash funds), and the mix is constantly monitored to assess which projects are on track, which need help, and which should be shut down.
Risk management plays a large part in both financial and IT portfolio management, yet there are significant differences:
- IT investments are not liquid, like stocks and bonds (although investment portfolios may also include illiquid assets), and are measured using both financial and non-financial yardsticks (e.g. a balanced scorecard approach). A purely financial view is not sufficient.
- Financial portfolio assets typically have consistent measurement information (enabling accurate and objective comparisons), and this is at the base of the concept's utility in application to IT. However, achieving such universality of measurement is going to take considerable effort in the IT industry.
This In-Depth Report will do the following:
- Make an argument for IT portfolio management by highlighting what actually happens in organizations without this discipline.
- Discuss various methods for managing the IT portfolio, in the context of implementing this discipline.
- Discuss some of the features of common portfolio management software tools, since it is difficult to effectively manage all but a small portfolio without automation.
- Provide standards for managing the IT portfolio still under development.
- Show how to confront some of the key challenges that the typical IT portfolio management implementation will face.
The Whys of IT Portfolio Management
It is easy to spot an organization without an IT portfolio management discipline. Managers cannot access real-time status on projects, resources, and requests. Most, if not all status reporting requires manual intervention and may be considered cumbersome. Methodologies may be pushed but not tracked. There is no formal process for managing the steady flow of new demand relative to currently active projects and tasks. This leads to the following common scenarios:
- High-priced projects that may not meet the company's strategic objectives are approved when submitted by well-connected or vocal business sponsors—or by those most deft at preparing presentations.
- Important projects do not receive sufficient funding or management support.
- There is a serious backlog of key projects.
- Tracking the total cost of ownership of IT services and infrastructure (and in some organizations, even determining the total amount spent on IT) is an elusive goal.
- Key maintenance activities get too little - or too much - attention relative to projects, programs, and new business initiatives.
- Measuring the value of IT and its work streams and projects is difficult.
- IT management ends up sponsoring projects that should be generated and sold by line-of-business heads.
- The wrong IT resources are working on the wrong projects or work streams.
- There is difficulty finding enough people to adequately staff projects, or "resource delays" are often blamed for project failure.
- There is high turnover of key IT resources.
- Excessive overtime and other pressures have led to a burned out IT staff.
- IT management has difficulty seeing how much funding and resources a given project is consuming, relative to the overall portfolio.
- Projects move back and forth from active, to on hold, and back to active.
- The interactions and dependencies between various IT work streams and projects are not always well-understood and managed.
- The organization struggles to align business strategy with IT execution since business people do not understand what is technically possible, IT does not understand business drivers, and neither side really understands how the other impacts it.
- The company doesn't build good business cases for IT projects or it doesn't do them at all, leading to redundant projects.
- Key executives and managers wonder why certain projects go ahead while others do not.
A strong portfolio management program can:
- Maximize value of IT investments while minimizing risk.
- Allocate project management, support, and delivery resources to IT work according to the best match of skills, capabilities, and project priorities.
- Improve communication and alignment between IT and business leaders.
- Encourage business leaders to think "team," not "me," and to take responsibility for projects.
- Allow planners to schedule resources more efficiently.
- Reduce the number of redundant projects and make it easier to kill bad projects.
IT portfolio management, not unlike financial portfolio management, can achieve this by:
- Becoming conscious of all the individual listings in the portfolio.
- Developing a big-picture view and a deeper understanding of the components of the portfolio, analyzing how they interact and compare with each other, and considering how they add value to the portfolio as a whole.
- Allowing for sensible sorting, adding, and removing of items from the portfolio based on their costs, benefits, risks, and alignment with long-term strategies or goals.
- Facilitating the measurement of portfolio value in addition to individual component value.
- Enabling the portfolio owner to get the best-bang-for-the-buck from resources invested.
And why is IT portfolio management of interest to project managers themselves? Project managers want to have enough resources available to complete high quality project deliverables, on-time and within budget. Project managers typically also prefer to work on projects that are perceived to be valuable and, therefore, enjoy plenty of support throughout the organization. Project managers who find themselves continually frustrated by lack of resources or by other organizations stealing their resources should be especially interested in this discipline. These frustrations are symptoms of an unbalanced (or unacknowledged) project portfolio.
In short, the frequent complaint of not enough resources is simply another way of saying that there are too many projects. And if there are too many projects, then someone should be sorting them out, prioritizing them, and killing the projects that aren't high priority.
Next: Methods of Managing the IT Portfolio