Portfolio Ambition

It’s February and six weeks into the year I’ve listened to project portfolio managers wrestling with their organisations’ daydream-like expectations of the project portfolio. When the board signed off the portfolio with a list of change initiatives and project objectives in January, they had not made a proper evaluation of the resources available to complete the work or the risks involved.

Project portfolio management must balance aspirational ambition with achievable expectation.

In the world of Rugby football February means the six nation championship has started. The four nations of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and including Ireland) started this championship in 1883. More recently they’ve been joined by the rugby playing nations France (World Cup finalists) and Italy (an emerging star). As reporters make comments in the buildup for this championship it became apparent that, once more, the smaller nation of Wales was expecting very ambitious results. The Welsh history of strength and glory in this championship is in the mind of Welsh rugby fans. Wales has had some spectacular successes. They were the first of the four UK teams to beat each of the other three (“wining the Triple Crown”) two years in succession. The painful memories of humiliating defeats are only ever discussed shortly after those events. When they look at the new championship their thoughts are purely on possible successes. Hearts and history dictate over heads and current realities.
The Welsh value a rugby player who is small, fast, powerful and tenacious in pursuing their duties – and, of course, creates wins. The story of Nelson, the English admiral, includes a famous signal that was sent to his fleet before the battle of Trafalgar “England expects every man to do his duty”. In Welsh rugby the nation’s expectations of duty and success are 1000 times tougher. Commentators are now suggesting that Wales, year on year, have the most unrealistic expectations of their team. However Welsh fans are resilient, no matter how brokenhearted: they commiserate with their players and look forward to the next game.
That’s a luxury organisations do not have. Building a habit of failure to meet the portfolio objectives is actually a demotivating situation not the positive stretching targets that some senior manager believe. When the senior management and other stakeholders have huge expectations of their project managers and the potential for success in their project portfolio, failure to meet those expectations cannot be shrugged off as readily as a poor season in the six nations tournament. Failure to meet objectives in most organisations will not be received with the good nature of the Welsh fans. The lasting damage to stakeholder confidence will have a longer term and potentially catastrophic impact on the organisation. It is vital that the governance framework and processes for determining the portfolio objectives include a realistic evaluation of what will be possible and the resources available to deliver it.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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