Project Manager on paper Portfolio Manager in practice

Be honest. Sometimes as a manager, you do a lot more that comes from your contract. Do you think that your job title is not always reflecting what is your real role in the company? You are not alone and this happens a lot! The key is realizing it and adapt your action accordingly. From this article you will find out:

Who is Project manager?

Project manager is usually a person leading the project. She/He is responsible for the whole project. She/He is organizing the project activities and resources. Project manager main goal is to lead the project within budget, time and resources constraints to the successful finalization. Here theory stops… Now, comes the reality. Let’s talk a bit about those constraints that project manager is happy to maintain within. In practice, what your boss really wants is to have exactly profit that was estimated at the beginning of the project. Of course, from that touching project initiation moment, especially long-term projects, everything changes. Thus, previous assumptions are far from today’s reality. Your perfectly chosen team is now in pieces. Personal lives of team members are evolving. Some of them change the job, some are employed on different work conditions and some of them works only part-time. There are parents on maternity leave and some freshly recruited newcomers. One thing do not change – project manager job. She/he have to make sure that the project will meet deadlines, generate foreseen profit and lead to the successful finish. Of course, despite all those changes and many relevant conditions entirely different than assumed at the project initiation.

Who is Portfolio manager?

Portfolio manager is a person responsible for entire project Portfolio in the company. In short, she/he is responsible for orchestrating all projects and initiatives in the company. From the one side Portfolio manager is handling the resources assignment between projects, resolving problems among different projects. She/He is many times helping managers with mitigating risks and monitoring projects progress. On the other hand, his/her job is to make sure that the projects from the Portfolio are in line with the strategic goals of the company. Portfolio manager makes crucial decisions about the project like:
  • initiating,
  • terminating the project,
  • special mitigation measures for some risks,
  • shifting resources.
Portfolio manager also reports the whole Portfolio to the higher management. In large companies, where there are many projects from a few fields of company expertise, Program managers level is added. Program managers handle projects on program level and manage project from similar area. While Portfolio manager is responsible for management on the level of the entire Portfolio build from those programs. The additional program level is introduced then to make the management and decision smoother.

What’s the difference between Project and Portfolio Manager?

Scope – the difference between Project manager and Portfolio manager is their small world that they are responsible for and aims that they have. Project manager is focused on her/his project, the project team, project tasks and going according to project plan. Leading the project to the successful finish is her/his goal. The project creates at the same time small world with the team, tasks, risks and budget inside and leader in this world is a Project manager. While Portfolio manager world is built from not one but many projects. Sometimes they are gathered in thematic programs but not necessarily. The resources that he/she is handling are shared between projects. Portfolio manager team consists of Project managers. While Portfolio manager main goals is to fulfill strategic goals of the company. Usually the goals of every project are in line with strategic goals of the company. However, sometimes it is not so straightforward. You can imagine situation: The project is handled in the boundaries of its planned resources and is leading to achieve project goals. However, analysis of the overall company Portfolio may lead even to termination of this project.

Job description doesn’t matter

Many times people who ARE in reality Portfolio managers are named Project managers, company owners, higher management or in many other names. It does not matter really. What matters is their actual situation and realizing that they really have a Portfolio and it should be managed accordingly. The job title is not relevant. Let’s assume you are Project manager but you have a few projects assigned that you are handling. You are making two jobs at the same time but to do it well you have to change hats. You manage each project as Project manager. Then, you change hat to Portfolio Manager get the birds eye view of those projects. Let’s consider different situation. You are an owner of very small company and you handle a lot of things. You haven’ t got “managers” etc. Still, if you think about it, you will realize that you handle many projects and at the same time you are handling entire Portfolio. The well being of the company is in your hands and to reach your business goals you need a bigger picture. Not only day-to-day management to take care of. Thus, you are also changing hats – from Project manager to Portfolio manager.

What matters – Your responsibilities

Now, try to think about your exact situation – not the job title. Be honest with yourself. Try to list initiatives that you are actually responsible for. Be open minded about it and do try to not neglect initiatives only because you are not naming them project in your company. I am sure that for many of you, despite your actual job title, the bigger picture and portfolio management techniques will be helpful.

What You can do about it?

If you try to be open minded, your answer is “YES, I have a Portfolio!”. And what next? I should go and name myself Portfolio manager? I should go to my boss for a rise? Is it changing anything? You do not have to change a job title or go for a rise. Of course, you can mention it to your boss in a more subtle manner that your job description should matching well more with Portfolio rather that Project management. You can discuss it or you can just leave it as it is if you are happy with the things as they already are. But the most important is that YOU KNOW you actually HAVE a PORTFOLIO and from now on you should be aware of it.

Act like You have Portfolio

You know that you have a Portfolio, then you should act accordingly:
  • Find out what Portfolio management is really about.
  • How it differs and were it is quite similar to project management.
  • Find out more about different methods and techniques dedicated to managing Portfolio.
  • Choose those of them that make you work done better, make things easier for you and your company.
It is not easy to change hats. See things in detail and then just swap to the bird’s eye view. That is why many times, Portfolio managers are not responsible for one particular project and are not acting as Project managers at the same time. It will not be easy to make objective decisions if you are involved in some project as a manager and for others you are only “impartial” Portfolio manager. But we do not want to change reality, we want to adapt to the situation that you are already in. Many times to reach this birds eye view, you need a data that are prepared in a way to be easily analyzed and compared. In that case, Portfolio Report is really helpful and make it easier to handle you own Portfolio.
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