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Moving to a Portfolio PMO

There’s something happening in PMO. More and more frequently I’m getting asked questions like this one:

I’m currently working in a PMO, supporting a large programme. I’d like to move into a portfolio PMO in the next few years and want advice on what I should be doing to make this a reality.

Portfolio management is certainly something that being discussed in PMO circles – in fact the PMO Flashmob went as far as publishing a report on it earlier in the year.

Let’s take a step back and understand first of all what a portfolio PMO is.

The link between an organisation’s strategy and how that strategy is delivered is commonly referred to as portfolio management. It is becoming increasingly common to hear about organisations putting together a portfolio office to support this kind of activity.

To date, project and programme offices have focused on helping these projects and programmes to be delivered well. With portfolio office there is still a requirement that all the project based activity in the organisation is delivered well, it’s just that they are more concerned with making sure the right projects and programmes are picked in the first place which will ultimately help deliver the organisation’s strategy. We can also refer to portfolio management as forming part of the strategy execution processes of an organisation – hence the three “P’s” – project, programme and portfolio.

Making the Move from Project/Programme PMO to Portfolio PMO

For people currently working within project or programme offices, the portfolio office presents a new challenge because of this shift of focus.

To make the transition into portfolio office it makes sense that you will have to understand more about the business as a whole. If portfolio management is the glue between strategy and delivery you can clearly see that the strategy side is probably the side where the skills gaps are right now for project and programme PMO practitioners.

Experience

How to gain experience that helps a practitioner move from project / programme to portfolio? Well this is a tricky part to try and develop because it will require more exposure to the business side rather than programme/project delivery. Talking to line managers about the development situation is helpful because they are likely to have some suggestions. Practitioners may even need to consider a sideways move into a business role to help them gain relevant experience. Business analysis is just one option to consider.

Knowledge

There is also the knowledge part of portfolio management that practitioners will have to gain. Take a look at the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) from PMI as a starting point. Practical skill areas will include project prioritisation; benefits management, resource management and investment appraisals. You should also be thinking about attending industry events and seminars to help you form a wider view of portfolio management and how it works in other organisations.

Softer Skills

There is also another side to portfolio management which you need to consider which is the change in level and diversity of relationships. The portfolio office has a closer relationship to the senior executive or board levels of an organisation which will require a change in the softer skills areas than you’re currently used to. If your skills in areas such as influencing, negotiation, conflict management, and managing up need attention, now is the time to kick-start that kind of development.

The Opportunity

Finally, you need to think about where this opportunity might be for you in the future. If your current organisation is not thinking about portfolio management, now could be the time to switch to an organisation that is.

Making the move from project / programme PMO to portfolio PMO is about utilising your current skill set and being able to take that up to the next level. A lot of PMO practitioners who have made the transition have said that it takes a combination of all of the above plus a heavy dose of luck i.e., being in the right place at the right time as the organisation starts to think about and push forward with portfolio management principles.

Sometimes you can make your own luck because the Inside PMO report from PMO Flashmob highlighted that many organisations don’t even realise that what they need to become more successful is even called ‘portfolio management’ and many PMOs are helping them to define what portfolio management might look like in their organisation. The time might just be right to start asking questions at the organisation you’re currently working in?

 

 

 

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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