Portfolio Management – Delivering what you promise

Delivering a complex Change Portfolio can often feel like spinning plates and, without the right capabilities, it can feel like doing so blindfolded. In this article, we review some of the challenges faced by one retail customer and how we helped them address these. 


Our customer successfully pivoted during the COVID period from a face-to-face Auction business to one that now receives the majority of bids online. To achieve this, and deliver on their growth goals, the delivery teams grew substantially, and numerous change portfolios were being run simultaneously. However, they did not have a single enterprise Portfolio view. Following a short ‘Change Diagnostic’, the need for an effective Portfolio Management function was identified as one of the key interventions required to help the organisation deliver on its Change Transformation commitments via a properly prioritised portfolio. 


Many organisations are dissatisfied with the pace of change and the predictability of delivery.  Our customer had challenges due to a number of delayed key projects, resulting in commitments to their business partners not being met. Warning signs across their agile and waterfall initiatives included: 


  • Uncertainty over business priority of inflight initiatives and committed dates 
  • Key staff being over stretched covering too many inflight initiatives 
  • Initiatives tracking Green going Red without warning due to missed dependencies 
  • New demand was being taken without analysis of the ability to deliver within the existing teams 
  • Steering forums that were ineffective requiring ‘back-channel’ decision making 
  • Insufficient time and effort spent on assuring delivery. 


Overall, this led to a feeling of dissatisfaction on behalf of business customers and the delivery teams which undermined the good work that was being delivered.  


A new Portfolio Management function was defined and implemented to address these issues. This included: 


  • Redesigned and improved Governance Forums to improve their effectiveness and auditability. 
  • A single Enterprise Portfolio View was created across four domains. This provided a single version of the truth for all stakeholders. Smartsheet was used as the primary tool supported by Jira & Confluence. (Top tip – Tip – don’t get too concerned over new tooling, use what works for you. The approach and the experience are more key than the tool used.) 
  • Prioritisation and classification of initiatives was improved and implemented. This allowed in-flight initiatives to be effectively re-assessed to confirm they were still priorities and where necessary initiatives were curtailed or stopped. 
  • A New Demand Forum and process was introduced to ensure that new work was thoroughly assessed by the business and IT against current demand before it was added to the agreed Portfolio. Critically, new strategic demand was only initiated after it had been robustly assessed by the business teams to ensure it aligned to the customer’s strategic objectives. 
  • A new PMO team was designed and recruited to support the Change Portfolio and provide assurance of the more complex initiatives. Initial design and staffing came from Project One to set up the team for success and then transitioned to permanent resources to provide the best mix of rapid impact and cost effectiveness. 

Our customer now has a much clearer view of their Change Portfolio which has significantly helped communication with business stakeholders.  Steering forums have significantly improved with key decisions being discussed and agreed in these forums rather than behind closed doors.   


They also have a much more robust process for initiating new change and ensuring this is a priority and that it can be delivered.   


Finally, a small, experienced Portfolio Management Team has been put in place which can support this process, acting as an assurance function and as coaches to support the delivery teams. 


Improvements will take time to bed in but ultimately this will allow the organisation to ensure it only promises what it can deliver and deliver successfully on those promises. They still have a challenging portfolio of change with many plates to keep spinning but at least it now has many of the right tools in place to do this successfully. 



Project One value add:  


  • Clear identification of the key issues through a rapid diagnostic across Agile and Waterfall delivery teams 
  • Design and implementation of Portfolio Management processes based on best practice but tailored to the clients unique situation 
  • Experienced resources to support rapid implementation and then transition to an ongoing BAU team minimising disruption to inflight work. 

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