Published here October, 2006.  

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
Downside | Summary


At around 560 pages, this is a hefty tome. Given that the book title is Project Portfolio Management, that PPM is evidently different from project management, and that the latter is already well covered in the literature, the elaboration of project management topics seems superfluous. For example, work breakdown structures and earned value analysis might have merit in bringing structured approaches and factual data to strategic planning and risk analysis. But these are clearly project management techniques and their inclusion suggests either a lack of confidence in management's analytical ability or in project management's integrity. Either way, if either exists the system will fail. If there is any doubt, other management techniques need to be brought to bear, such as management audits.

We even need some convincing that the Theory of Constraints can really be usefully applied to PPM and certainly to no greater detail than the scheduling of complete projects. This is not to deny the utility of such techniques but rather to observe their misplacement. Instead, we think that in a discussion of Project Portfolio Management it would be better to view project management as the proverbial black box, more than adequately explained in other literature. Indeed, in the context of PPM, project management is but one of many sophisticated disciplines in the overall profession of corporate management.

In our view, books containing chapters by different authors, such as in Part Two of this book, put themselves at a disadvantage. For one thing each author tends to have a different perspective of the subject at hand, sometimes at odds with the other authors, and frequently using different terminology. In this case, we were very intrigued by the description of the "Analytical Hierarchy Process" (AHP) by James Devlin.[4] According to Devlin:

"AHP is a powerful and flexible methodology that improves project portfolio management (PPM) decisions in both commercial and government settings. Using AHP helps decision makers to think clearly about complex portfolio decisions, reach consensus on project priorities, and measure portfolio performance."

That does sound impressive.

All was well until we got to this section:

"Traditional portfolio management methodologies in many cases use outdated prioritization methodologies. [MW. No doubt true, assuming they use a methodology at all!] One such approach requires that evaluators use measurement scales that range from 1 to 5 or 0 to 10 to score projects. [MW. Also true.] Although this methodology is typical of many gate-based approaches, it suffers from an inappropriate use of numbers. The noted scales ... are most frequently interpreted as ordinals, or at best intervals, and convey no information about the proportionality of the judgments being made. Moreover, it is inappropriate to perform any mathematical calculations on ordinal measures, even addition, because these numbers are not meant for calculation. (An ordinal scale is a set of numbers that is invariant under monotone increasing transformations... .)"[5]

We are certain that this explanation of "ordinal numbers" is of fundamental significance - if only we understood what it meant.

In this book we seem to have a proliferation of techniques dealing with the selection of projects for a portfolio, i.e. the front end of the PPM process, and very little on the most important part - the back end, the actual deployment and realization of benefits during operations. And that is to say nothing about how to sample those actual results relative to the selected projects, and feed them back to the executive project selection decision-makers. That seems to be an area that still needs research, development, application and further study.

What We Liked  What We Liked

4. Ibid, Chapter 4.3
5. Ibid, p168
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