Category Archives: Portfolio Delivery

Leading transportation organization – Portfolio optimization

Understanding the project portfolio and defining ‘what’ the organization should do to deliver strategy and policy through project investments – balancing risk, return and resource constraints is vital to business success. Seldom do organizations get it right and this case study explains an approach to how to improve the performance of this ‘integrating’ practice.

This client, operator of one of the largest, and oldest, transportation systems in the world, wanted to improve its process for allocating £500MM of annual capital funds to some 2000+ projects for the replacement and expansion of infrastructure. 
It needed a better way to identify investments, within a fluctuating funding limit, to yield the greatest system benefits.

What we found

  • Annual portfolio planning process in place, but based largely on subjective and non-standardized input, and with a limited time horizon
  • Made investment decisions by allocating capital to functional departments (and a few strategic projects) on the basis of initial business case statements. 
  • Generally, it was left to business lines to make more refined decisions on how to spend the funding they were allocated
  • Due to overall complexity and conflicting value measures, often projects would be selected simply because they had the most vocal advocates
  • No way to account for changing priorities or to determine the cumulative benefit of a potential scenario

What we did

  • Developed a new portfolio optimization approach, taking into account budgetary/ resource constraints, complex business objectives, and project interrelationships
  • Developed and implemented an optimization tool to perform analyses, allowing management to efficiently run a series of “what if” scenarios
  • Extended the planning horizon up to a decade
  • Installed an assessment assurance process to ensure consistency between competing business line bids
  • Standardized business case requirements to reflect a set of defined programme targets, enabling direct comparison and cumulative analysis

What was achieved?

  • The optimization of the project portfolio was explicitly based on quantified benefit as it relates to defined strategic targets – and provided projections of the outcomes of various scenarios against these targets
  • Increased speed and flexibility compared to the previous, manual approach
  • Feedback loops enabled business lines to improve their bids until much later in the business planning process
  • A “virtuous cycle” of better planning, improved data quality and availability, and improved decision-making/ results
  • Ability to re-optimize portfolio elements (on an annual or semi-annual basis) with an objective understanding of impact.

This organization not only improved their portfolio management practices but totally overhauled their strategic planning process on the back of this initiative.

John Hall
PA Consulting Group


Building a projects culture at a leading UK financial institution

Continuing our series of real life track record articles illustrating how delivery reliability is built on a systematic improvement of the basic project management processes, I elaborate this week on the most basic (and most common) issue – that of building a projects culture, the all-important foundation in our hierarchy in the diagram below.

During a period of intense change and faced with an increasing number, size and complexity of projects, this leading UK financial institution needed to enhance and standardize its project management capability.  PA helped the client design, develop and implement a dynamic, company-wide PM approach.

What we found

  • Development projects often failed to achieve projected benefits, despite substantial investment
  • Projects were often approved without clear objectives, timescales, deliverables, costs or benefit delivery plans
  • A common approach to project delivery had been identified, but its shortcomings had not been corrected and it was difficult to ensure its consistent application
  • No formal appraisal process or training program to understand and build capability amongst project personnel
  • No process to capture, disseminate and apply lessons learned

What we did

  • Developed a comprehensive Project Management Handbook (and training regimen) to document key techniques and define company-wide procedures for the control of projects
  • Implemented a capital-based control philosophy (based on a size-complexity matrix) to target assurance efforts and reduce the reporting burden
  • Established a central project office to monitor and coordinate the portfolio of projects undertaken across the bank
  • Adapted the appraisal process to monitor and incentivize the development of project delivery capability & experience
  • Established a program management center of excellence to capture lessons learned and oversee development

What was achieved?

  • Standardized and improved tools and processes encourage the development of a project-based culture, including effective project management principles
  • Targeted assurance processes increase ability to deliver projects on time, realize planned benefits, and maintain greater focus on business need
  • Increased performance incentives lead to the voluntary adoption of company-wide project standards, with improved results
  • Project personnel are trained in standardized processes that incorporate best practice, specialized business needs and individual considerations
  • PM center of excellence maintains and revised company best-practices to avoid deterioration of benefits

Establishing (and reinforcing in some cases) the projects culture helped to get everyone in this organization onto the same page while at the same time this elevated overall delivery perfomance relatively quickly to a high level and they continue to hone that as new challenges present themselves.

John Hall
PA Consulting Group

Delivery improvement at a medical device manufacturer

In my blogs I have been discussing delivery performance and the journey to strong, reliable and consistent performance. To do this I have used real examples of our track record to illustrate that what we blog about is not just theory but a proven record of results for our clients.

We see this journey as a progression illustrated by the diagram below.

The journey is reliant upon the maturity in the seven project management practices discussed in Key stages in the project portfolio delivery performance improvement journey.

This medical device company had grown rapidly from strong academic origins to create a highly motivated group of 240 young and talented researchers, yet with little experience of commercializing new technologies and negligible revenues. 

Initially concerned with development of one of its advanced products, they set out to transform delivery and commercialization of all products.

What we found

  • Key decision-making processes had collapsed within the business unit responsible for the basic drug delivery platform
  • Contributing factors included a lack of organization structure, misaligned leadership of the scientific, project management and business development functions and weak communication
  • In addition to this, data fundamental to the progress of pharmaceutical product development, such as agreed specifications and test methods, did not exist.

What we did

  • Interim managers inserted to reinforce the affected business unit
  • Team building was introduced to encourage communication at all levels and between different groups within the company
  • Governance processes put in place for decision-making on complex problems
  • Terminated up to 100 smaller projects which were distracting the business and draining resources and
  • Organizational changes (training schedules, appraisals and setting of personal objectives were introduced to motivate teams, improve performance and change behaviors)
  • Key capabilities including QA
  • Technology road-mapping leading to a full strategic review
  • Focus on next generation products

What was achieved?

  • Increased revenues tenfold
  • Brought escalating staffing expenditures under control
  • Turned around the most important core projects
  • Created new Intellectual Property Rights
  • Reduced product development timescales

Overall delivery performance improved substantially and continues to improve after gaining control of the portfolio.

John Hall – PA Consulting Group

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