Project vs. program vs. portfolio management 10 benefits of adopting project portfolio management

10 challenges in project portfolio management adoption

A portfolio management approach to project management can really pay off, but it's not easy to implement. Learn about the main challenges.

Project portfolio management is an approach used by organizations to centralize the methodologies, processes and technologies used by their project management teams and to establish common governance of projects enterprise wide.

PPM's centralized management of projects yields numerous benefits to the enterprise, including better decision-making around evaluating and prioritizing proposed projects, improved visibility into the status of all projects across the organization and ultimately faster delivery of more profitable projects.

Top challenges to successful PPM adoption

Given such benefits, it's not surprising that research indicates growing investment in the PPM discipline. According to research from SkyQuest, a market intelligence firm, the PPM market was worth $6.3 billion in 2021 but is predicted to hit $11.4 billion by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.37% during that time span.

A centralized approach to project management, however, is difficult to pull off and many organizations struggle to implement PPM, according to Karen Willow, senior sourcing consultant at the management consulting firm Swingtide.

Here are 10 challenges that can upend a PPM initiative.

Headshot of Samir Datt, global lead, technology strategy and operations, ProtivitiSamir Datt

1. Lack of a well-defined or universally agreed-upon strategy

Implementing and operationalizing PPM requires having a vision of what this approach will do for your organization and identifying the tools and techniques needed to enable that vision, said Samir Datt, global lead of the technology strategy and operations segment at global consulting firm Protiviti.

But instead of determining the best methodologies, processes and PPM software to adopt for moving forward, enterprise leaders frequently defer to "the loudest voice or the most important person in the room, and that may or may not be appropriate," Datt said.

2. No specific objectives, goals

Developing a vision is important, but PPM adoption can also falter if that vision is too broad and lacks specific objectives to be achieved, said Bob Dutile, chief commercial officer with UST, a digital transformation services company.

Headshot of Bob Dutile, chief commercial officer, USTBob Dutile

Dutile said organizations that define and articulate what they want to get out of PPM adoption are better positioned to create and implement a management program that meets their needs.

"You need clarity on what you want to get from your portfolio management. If you just want better reporting -- and there's nothing wrong about just wanting to report clearly -- then focus on that," he said. Or, if it's about managing a constraint such as talent, then the focus should be on investing first in the processes and tools that address that problem.

Headshot of Karen Willow, senior sourcing consultant, SwingtideKaren Willow

3. Inability to operationalize and scale

Developing the vision to centralize projects within a portfolio and govern them from PPM's centralized perch is a start. And as challenging as that may be, Karen Willow, senior sourcing consultant at the management consulting firm Swingtide, said operationalizing and then scaling that vision -- that is, putting in the resources required to make it happen -- is an equally large if not larger challenge to successful adoption of PPM.

4. Under-resourcing the PPM initiative

On a related note, project experts also cited the lack of appropriate funding for PPM adoption and operations as a major challenge. Of course, organizations shouldn't spend unlimited dollars on this endeavor, but they should be realistic about how much they need to spend to achieve their objectives and then commit the required dollars.

You need clarity on what you want to get from your portfolio management. If you just want better reporting -- and there's nothing wrong about just wanting to report clearly -- then focus on that.
Bob DutileChief commercial officer, UST

5. Lack of executive support

Creating and enacting a vision for PPM as well as defining the required policies, procedures and tools are significant undertakings.

They require executive support to succeed, Datt said, explaining that executives must send the message that project managers and project teams will be expected to work within the PPM function and follow the standards and governance it sets.

Such support gets the entire organization on board; the lack of it could tempt some project managers to follow their own paths.

6. Failure to go all-in

Some organizations struggle when adopting PPM because they fail to fully implement and enforce the governance, methodologies, standards and technologies that are needed to succeed.

"We see a lot of half-baked implementations," Datt said.

To avoid that, Datt said PPM leaders should focus on communicating and training project managers to ensure they all understand and are skilled in the approaches, processes and software that the PPM establishes as the standards for the enterprise.

7. Indecision on how much to centralize project management

PPM does indeed centralize certain elements, such as governance, but it also allows for individual teams to make their own decisions on some matters.

But what to centralize and what to leave decentralized should be a strategic decision, not something left to happenstance, Willow said.

Organizations that don't take action and determine what elements will be centralized and what parts won't be often create confusion that limit the returns they see on their PPM efforts.

8. Opposition

Some project management leaders will encounter outright opposition to PPM adoption.

"People aren't always onboard with putting in a PPM," Willow said. Some oppose the move because "that means those running rogue or those who are just doing things differently from department to department are now going to see this centralized with rules, methods and tools that may be different than they want."

PPM proponents should have a strategy for countering such opposition, leaning on things like change management (see challenge #9) and executive support to get opponents on board.

9. No change management component

Like all other organizational changes, the adoption of project portfolio management means some employees will have to work in new ways. As such, Datt said it's imperative that project management leaders implement a change management strategy to get everyone onboard and ready to work in the new manner.

Indeed, skipping the change management component could tank a move to PPM, as employees don't often move to the new ways of working on their own.

10. Failure to mature the PPM function

PPM is not a set-it-and-forget it exercise.

Rather, it requires a commitment to continuous improvement.

Organizations with a well-functioning PPM program not only improve how they run individual projects, they become more efficient in managing the entire project portfolio, experts said. They do that by focusing on continuous improvement exercises, such as looking for opportunities to automate processes and applying lessons learned.

"You have to get some base-level capability in place and then focus on improving over time. You have to think of it in terms of maturity," Datt said. "It sounds cliched, but the phrase 'It's a journey' applies here. Have a roadmap of interim benefits that you can validate, communicate and realize. And commit to keep moving forward."

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