Results of a Brief Survey on Portfolio Management

Two months ago, in preparing to talk to a class of MLIS students at Catholic University about project portfolio management, I sent a very quick and totally unscientific survey to the Digital Library Federation’s Project Managers Group about their practice of portfolio management at their libraries. I asked two questions:

1. How many of you or your organizations are doing something like project portfolio management (however you or your orgs understand that term)?

– YES / NO / KIND OF / I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT

2. And if you are (or kind of), how are you tracking projects? In other words, what system, platform, process are you using to gather, hold, and review the information about your project portfolio?

I got 11 responses (thank you everyone for responding so quickly!) Here is a summary.

Who is doing PM?

  • 9 said yes,  1 said no (but they will in the future),  and 1 said “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • Of the 9 who said yes, 7 said they were doing portfolio management in a limited way or were developing the capacity to formalize or expand their portfolio management process. 2 have a process in place that is already developed enough for their needs.

Why do it?

  • standardize the project intake process
  • work prioritization at the project level
  • resource allocation and planning
  • reporting out and up on our work

Tools, processes, and documentation:

  • By far, the most popular tools combination was Jira (for issues) + Confluence (for documentation). A few were also using the Greenhopper add-on for Jira which supports agile project management.
  • MS Project
  • Liquid Planner
  • Spreadsheets, to track roles and responsibilities and assign resource percentages

Documentation and Process:

  • Scope documents: very important for defining projects, documenting project goals and objectives, requirements, deliverables, success criteria, assumptions, constraints, and team members. As one responder noted, “The scope document is a useful tool for communicating up the chain.”
  • Work breakdown structure
  • Project selection/prioritization criteria and process
  • Project review meetings and portfolio review meetings

Challenges:

  • project priotitization
  • keeping information up to date
  • resource allocation and resource forecasting
  • knowing how much capacity we have and how many projects we can accomplish

It seems that for many of us, portfolio management is very much a work in progress. Most of my respondents are working to establish processes that help them gain a strategic view of their project work and enable them to plan future project work. Rather than adopt sophisticated project and portfolio management platforms, the majority are using commonly available and relatively simple tools like spreadsheets, wikis, and issue tracking software for their project documentation and tracking.

At the same time, they are formalizing their project documentation and portfolio review processes. Scope documents are an important way to define projects, deliverables, and constraints. Respondents are interested in better predicting staff time on projects and forecasting how many projects they can support going forward. A number are seeking ways to better prioritize and organize projects, and they hold regular meetings to review portfolio issues.

While several respondents acknowledged that keeping project and portfolio information current is a challenge, none said that it was a deterrent to practicing portfolio management. On the contrary, the benefits certainly seem to outweigh the costs.

Are you practicing portfolio management? What tools are you using? How is it working for you and your organization?