Portfolio management ensures that an organization can successfully select, manage, and execute projects on a grand scale.
According to the Project Management Institute, it’s “a way to bridge the gap between strategy and implementation.”
To begin, strategy drives business decisions by helping you identify strengths and weaknesses, and ensure resources are appropriately allocated. But without implementation, strategy is useless. Managing the transition between the two, adapting to changes, and executing effectively all depend on portfolio management.
In this article, we’ll define portfolio management, suggest some best practices, and show you why deploying portfolio management software is essential for your organization to thrive.
What is portfolio management?
The process of portfolio management is the selection, prioritization, and control of an organization’s projects and programs. Such centralized management and oversight help establish a standard of governance across the organization.
Put plainly, project portfolio management assigns responsibility, so the organization always has a individual or a group of people closely monitoring the performance of the company’s project investments.
If a project is aligned with the company’s strategies, values, and long-term goals and it’s performing well, then it’s more likely to get funded and prioritized.
If it’s risky, underperforming, or misaligned to the company’s greater strategy, then it’s probably going under the microscope to either pivot or get scrapped altogether.
Building portfolio management into your organization puts you back in the driver’s seat, where you can make more educated decisions about how to effectively deliver against your strategy.
What’s the difference between portfolio management, project management, and program management?
The relationship and hierarchy between portfolio, program, and project management can be described as the following:
- Project management typically involves managing temporary or unique endeavors focused on a specific product or service
- Program management entails a coordinated approach to managing related projects in a manner that aligns their connected objectives
- Portfolio management takes a group of projects and/or programs and manages these collectively as a group, ensuring they’re consistently aligned with the overall strategy
Simply put, projects are the building blocks that make up a program, while programs and individual projects combined form a portfolio.
What does a portfolio manager do?
As with most things in life, there’s no one-size-all fits answer to what a portfolio manager does all day. It’ll largely depend on the organization they work for and the industry they’re in. That being said, there are some tried and true project portfolio practices you’ll often see.
While there are a variety of definitions to describe the daily responsibilities of a project manager, there are some general approaches that are applicable to every project manager.
For starters, portfolio managers absolutely treat planned and in-progress projects across the organization as individual investments, much like a financial manager would treat bonds and stocks as investments. From the lens of an investor, they’re carefully considering the company’s risk tolerance and weighing the overall performance of said investments.
Much like a financial portfolio manager, the goal of project portfolio management is to maximize the value of multiple projects by carefully balancing risk and reward.
Day-to-day, a portfolio manager is responsible for gathering data, monitoring project performance, closely watching marketing conditions, and influencing the organization on which decisions to make and which projects to prioritize.
Additionally, portfolio managers track in-progress projects and elevate any known risks or issues which may result in pausing a project or pulling the plug on them entirely.
If a project isn’t on track to achieve the forecasted value originally promised, then sometimes it’s best to cut losses vs. infusing more cash and resources into it.
Portfolio management best practices
Much like the day-to-day, portfolio management best practices will naturally vary. Each individual project will have its own unique needs, just like every portfolio will as well.
Nonetheless, there are tried and true methods that are applicable to most industries.
Perform a hands-on, detailed project inventory
Taking stock of all your projects provides a level of understanding that’s critical to effective portfolio management.
Include the project’s title, timeline, estimated costs, business objectives, potential ROI, and how it benefits the business.
This way you can create an instant high-level overview with all the information required to provide investors with updates or make better on-the-spot decisions.
Technically speaking, it’s possible to create such a high-level overview by hand or in Excel, but this is accompanied by a myriad of inefficiencies, and doing so means you’ll miss out on all the advanced features a true portfolio management system provides.
monday.com, for example, offers in-depth boards and dashboards rich with automation and colorful visuals that make it incredibly simple to simultaneously track your entire investment strategy. More on all that in a minute.
Evaluate projects through a strategic lens
The core criteria deciding which individual project will get funded or prioritized is based on how closely the project meets the company’s strategic objectives for the year.
For your portfolio to succeed, it must align with the overall organizational strategy. Otherwise, you’re making short-term progress and forgoing long-term gains.
Other factors to consider are how risky a project is and whether the project will involve massive reengineering. To put it plainly, if the project is deemed to negatively impact a large number of stakeholders (or customers) or is subject to enormous restructuring, then it may be deprioritized.
Ultimately, a good portfolio manager will identify overlapping project proposals early and cut off any projects with poor business cases upfront, to ensure better alignment between management and stakeholders.
Prioritize, categorize, and fund projects
Once you’ve completed evaluating each project, it’s not uncommon to realize the company has more projects than they can actually prioritize and fund. Cash flow is a finite resource, and meeting your financial goals requires strict financial planning.
Here’s where a thorough scoring and categorization process comes in handy. Start by pooling projects together by cost and by stakeholder priority. Then decide upon a simple scoring system. For example, you could use 1-5:
- A project that scores a 5 could be the least risky with the highest benefits.
- A project with a score of 3 might be more challenging because it requires a change in processes.
- A project with a score of 1 is uncharted territory that the company doesn’t have a track record of successfully completing or even attempting before, which elevates the risk profile.
Naturally, you’ll have to draw the line based on how many projects your budget and existing resources can support, but a scoring system can make that process much easier.
Thoroughly review and manage your portfolio
A first-rate evaluation and prioritization process won’t help if your portfolio isn’t actively managed after creating the approved project list.
A platform like monday.com streamlines this process by allowing you to oversee the status of each project on a data-driven, yet beautifully designed dashboard. The clear visuals make it easy for everyone to stay on the same page and get the information they need at a glance, without getting bogged down by an indecipherable interface.
At a minimum, portfolio managers should be monitoring asset performance at a quarterly level but to truly excel, this should occur more frequently. Many portfolio managers request progress updates from their project managers monthly or bi-monthly.
With updates in hand, the portfolio manager can then input the data into their project portfolio management software and assign a status.
For instance, on monday.com, this status is instantly recognizable at a glance. You can mark a project as green, which signifies it’s on track; or yellow, meaning it’s becoming riskier and should be monitored more closely. Marking a project red would mean imminent intervention is likely required.
During the review process, portfolio managers and stakeholders will often meet to discuss which initiatives require and are worthy of additional funding, which ones to pause, and which to stop altogether.
Portfolio management challenges
Portfolio management is highly effective, but it requires a serious commitment from both the portfolio management team and stakeholders. Managing the engagement between the two isn’t always smooth sailing, as both parties often have strong feelings about how decisions should be taken.A democracy is preferable in portfolio management, but it’s not always easy. For stakeholders and business leaders used to calling the shots, taking a backseat won’t always go smoothly.
Often those leaders aren’t used to having investment decisions scrutinized and are now having decisions decided via group consensus.
It’s important not to let a couple of detractors pull focus from the group. A group of 12 will almost always make better decisions under consensus than one or two that make unilateral decisions for everyone.
Of course, getting good, reliable information on a consistent basis isn’t easy. It takes dedication from the bottom to the top and as much transparency as possible to keep projects on course. Only through constant monitoring can a portfolio manager quickly react to market changes.
Another critical element to consider is time constraints. It’s likely that at any given time project managers and the team that brings the project to life alike are spread too thin.
Why you need a portfolio management platform
Keeping track of project status, funding, investment rounds, ownership, and communication is hard enough when people and resources are stretched or limited. Without a portfolio management platform, you might as well be making educated guesses that occasionally meet their mark.
With one, your organization benefits from greater transparency, up-to-date investment data, and real-time project statuses.
The best tool is one that also considers your project managers’ needs since their data needs to trickle up to higher-level portfolio managers and their corresponding boards and dashboards. A solution that eliminates manual data transfers or excessive status update meetings should be what you aim for, with the aim of improving your overall processes, impact, and keeping your sanity.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that there’s no single “right” way to track your portfolio.
Every organization will have a unique way of doing business, which is why flexibility is key. Off-the-shelf software is the standard option, but the ability to customize your software is priceless.
monday.com lets you do that.
How monday.com brings it all together
monday.com is a Work OS that allows you to build a custom portfolio management platform that will fit your needs better than any off-the-shelf “what you see is what you get” software.
Investing in monday.com checks off all the best practices, as it allows you to:
- Perform a hands-on, detailed project inventory with a portfolio management board. This board provides a high-level overview that’s easily connected to a more granular project view that your project managers keep up to date.
- Evaluate projects through a strategic lens with custom columns that make it easier to track funding rounds, funding status, resources invested, estimated current value, and last evaluation.
- Prioritize, categorize, and fund projects based on custom columns that show priority and custom project scoring.
- Thoroughly review and manage your portfolio with custom dashboards that provide a snapshot of the overall profitability and health of the portfolio.
The ability to assign ownership to individual tasks, so that you always have a go-to person, provides greater insight into performance and makes it easy to manage any potential risk as they arise.
Get the transparency you need
We know that every investment, program, and project matters to your leadership team, which is monday.com is designed to fit and adapt to your specific needs.
With next-level customization of 30+ column types, unlimited automation capabilities, and dozens of integrations, you can curate your ideal digital workflows, integrate with your existing tools, and connect the dots across your organization.
And if you need to get started quickly, you can easily import data directly into monday.com and jump right into managing your portfolio with our Portfolio Management Template.
You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. What are you waiting for? Try monday.com today.