Plan Your Portfolio Like an NFL Team – 4 steps to better portfolio planning

Author: Lindsey Marymont

‘Tis the season for football playoff clinching and bowl game preparations as we watch our favorites and fantasy teams advance to the post season. Winter has a lot going on, but most PMO leaders are late to holiday dinners and gameday parties because they are spending much of their time in planning meetings, discussing the merits of proposed initiatives and deciding what projects will be taken on over the next year.

As you watch your portfolio unfold over the year while catching highlights from ESPN, you might also have noticed that there are some similarities between what happens on the field and what happens in the office – you might even begin feeling like a quarterback at times watching the play clock, gaining yards, and making sure you have the right team in front of you to get to the next first down. Projects can feel much like that – making sure they are on time, under budget, and productive to get you to the next step. I’ll challenge you to take that a step further and during your planning sessions to think of yourself not as the quarterback anymore, but as the team manager. Instead of thinking about what you need to do to win the next game, think of what you need to win the Super Bowl.

4 Steps to Better Plan Your Portfolio 
When thinking of your portfolio like an NFL team, here are four ways you can improve your portfolio planning for a better season.
 
  1. Get Buy In: Overcoming the challenge of portfolio planning starts with getting the team on board. Often times people are assigned tasks and measured based on how long those tasks take, but when everyone understands the overall benefit of the task and is working toward the right goals, the result is better outcomes and achievement of strategic goals. A barrier we often see to getting buy in among the team members occurs when politics come into play. When projects are selected based on influence and personal agendas, team members quickly become disengaged. Politics are a common and likely unavoidable circumstance of project management, but the key is to manage it and put in place process to limit political influence. Setting mutually agreed upon criteria for project selection, value-based scoring, and other process improvements can help reduce the frequency of politics and lead to a strategy-led decision-making process.
  2. Establish Processes: Process helps steer away from politics running your portfolio, but it also helps keep everyone in line. You shouldn’t feel like a referee all the time, but let the process do the refereeing for you, and over time it will feel more like a safety net for all involved. The key to successful process is to establish metrics and use outcome-based measurements. Keep in mind what is measured is what will happen, and you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Don’t catch yourself counting yards when you should be counting points on the scoreboard.
  3. Align Tools: Processes will only get you so far – you will need tools to support the processes put in place. Spreadsheets and disparate systems can cause more work than they solve if you’re not using them appropriately. Understand your requirements and find a tool that can automate the manual part of portfolio planning and management and allow you to do more strategic thinking and analysis.
  4. Anticipate Change: Use the playbook but read the game. Planning is meant to provide direction and a guideline to follow. As things change it is important to anticipate change and stay ahead of the curve to always be working with the best possible scenario. The strategy should allow for real-time response and be able to withstand impacts of change. Just like in football, there are more ways than one to win a game.
Portfolio planning is inherently challenging – there are many factors to consider and elements of uncertainty. But it is also an extremely important factor in the success of the PMO. Both top-down strategic-level planning to assess projects and meet the needs of the organization and bottom-up tactical-level planning ensure you are continually working on the right initiatives. Just as football teams watch tapes and evaluate what is working well, PMOs must also check in and evaluate performance and make adjustments based on what is working. Keep in mind the metrics you use should start with the end goal in mind. Gather and incorporate feedback to be constantly improving. Learn more about how to better handle portfolio planning by downloading this whitepaper.