Published here October, 2006.  

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
Downside | Summary

What We Liked

Harvey has spent the best part of two years researching this topic, gaining insight from knowledgeable people and finding out what companies actually do. He has surveyed the best of the best and collected their knowledge and wisdom. The result is this book. Since the availability of books on this subject is relatively sparse, certainly ones that provide profound, up-to-date and practical information, this one is an essential addition to the list.

Perhaps the first thing to understand is why all the fuss? It is interesting to follow the genesis of project management itself. Although not recognized as such, project management was clearly practiced in the great building endeavors of the ancient world. In the last century it emerged as a management discipline in its own right, essentially from the traditional heartlands of construction and engineering where it has a well-established process and track record. But the sizes of such projects are such that they generally tend to be not only truly unique but also relatively unconnected.

As we noted in the Introduction, the advent of business automation through the use of information systems, computer technology and software development, has brought immense change to business governance and operations. Consequently, there has been a tremendous upsurge in project-based work. This is typically associated with new challenges and opportunities brought about by other technological developments, shifting boundaries of knowledge, dynamic market conditions, environmental regulations, changes in organizational thinking, and in strategic directions. The challenges that these bring have been compounded by the drive towards shorter product life cycles, customer involvement, and increased scope and complexity of inter-organizational relationships.

Today, organizations have embraced project management, in principle at least, as the way to address these challenges. So, all these areas have entered the project management domain - indeed they have swamped it. Consequently, it is not unusual for larger companies to be faced with hundreds of projects annually, and still more to choose from. It can be shown mathematically that supposing you have, say, a mere fifteen projects to choose some, but not all, then you have around 30,000 choices.[2] Obviously the optimum selection within the constraints of the enterprise's resources is a serious challenge.

Harvey's book provides insights into how to tackle this problem and the information you need to do so.

The second thing to recognize is that we are dealing here with three different groups of people who don't speak the same business language. You have the governance group, that is, the business executives such as CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CIOs, senior functional managers, or even strategic planners. These are the people that run the enterprise within which projects take place and are the ones responsible for keeping the organization afloat. Then you have the program/project group, who plan and implement designated projects, and finally, you have the operations group, the production or "business-as-usual" people that keep the organizing moving.

Each group has a different mindset. The senior executives in the governance group are interested in successful products and services. The program management group is interested in successful projects, and the operations group is interested in efficient, cost-effective product deployment. So, the primary project management issue for executive management is not "Will the project be 'on time' and 'within budget'?", important though that may be, but "What benefits will this project bring to the organization, when, and how risky is it?"

The important point here is that the answer to the first part of this question is typically beyond the purview of the average project manager. Certainly, timely delivery of the right product at the right level of quality is essential, but the correct deployment of that resulting product is what will determine whether the project is really successful. This is the essence and significance of Project Portfolio Management that Harvey addresses in his book. For all this to make sense, Harvey introduces the reader to a new idea, the Project Portfolio Life Span (PPLS). This PPLS encompasses five phased components as follows:[3]

  1. Identification of needs and opportunities (effective governance)
  2. Selection of the best combinations of projects (the portfolios)
  3. Planning and execution of the projects (project management)
  4. Product launch (acceptance and deployment of deliverables)
  5. Realization of benefits (efficient operational usage)

The third lesson to be gained from this book is that it makes a cogent case for a consistent project management methodology. Without this it is not possible to generate and collect the requisite project selection and decision-making data. It makes an even stronger case for establishing a central project or program office to facilitate the collection and transfer of that data and provide unification of project direction, priority assignment of limited resources and so on. Such an office must also facilitate the transfer of requisite information back to the various project managers so that they have the information available for making rational corporate-beneficial decisions rather than just project-beneficial decisions.

Book Structure  Book Structure

2. Wideman, R. M., A Management Framework: For project, program and portfolio integration, Trafford Publishing, 2004, p181
3. Levine, H. A., Project Portfolio Management: A Practical Guide to Selecting Projects, Managing Portfolios and Maximizing Benefits, Jossey-Bass, 2005, p21
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