Use Categories to Increase Insight into Your Project Portfolio

Project portfolio reviews require processing a lot of information and PMs are always looking for ways to streamline the process. One strategy that can make portfolio reviews more useful and effective is to assign a category to every initiative.

When projects are tagged with multiple categories, you can define the filter to fit the needs of different stakeholder groups. The executive team, for example, may want to understand which projects are still in the planning stages, are sponsored by the manufacturing division, are high priority, and have a current budget estimate of more than $4 million.

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Having the ability to sort, filter, and assess the project mix based on several categories can be a powerful way to conduct efficient and productive portfolio reviews.

Consider which categories would be most useful. You can add project types as the need arises, but you may want to start with categories such as project status, business unit, project type, priority, and budget threshold. Other options range from projects utilizing specific external expertise to those occurring in a particular region. Align the categories with your organization’s strategic goals and see how the process evolves.

Another benefit of adding categories to each project is that it enables you to provide more customized reports to the various stakeholder groups. Do executives need a high-level view while hands-on sponsors prefer seeing more detailed data? Are some stakeholders most interested in the financial side of the portfolio, seeking to review forecasted budgets, actual spend, and deviations between them? A comprehensive array of categories gives you a way to craft reports that suit a variety of needs.

With a good selection of filters to sort against, the use of categories allows for deeper portfolio reviews in a shorter amount of time. Stakeholders can quickly identify the types of projects they want to evaluate and compare them against others in the same category or in different categories. Rather than trying to orient themselves to the details of each project, your review team can instead begin by looking at projects in the larger category buckets and drilling down from there.

Categorization also enables more objective reviews because stakeholders can easily break down the portfolio’s various projects in different ways. By using sponsoring business divisions as a category filter, for example, the allocation of project dollars and other resources will be plain. Is one division consuming far more project labor than others? Stakeholders will no longer need to trust their gut or use incomplete data to identify any disparities—the categorized data will reveal actual and forecasted usage without any bias or subjectivity.

Project data is often abundant but deciphering and analyzing the huge volumes of information available to the review team is a common (and persistent) challenge. The implementation of categories for every project in the portfolio empowers stakeholders with more ways to visualize data. Their understanding of the portfolio’s overall health, balance, structure, and direction will be more accurate and complete, and they’ll have better awareness of where risks or conflicts may be brewing.

Awareness of the various project types enables your leadership team to balance the portfolio for optimal results and maximum return on investment. A portfolio heavy on projects in the pre-launch stages may signal the company is about to drain its resources, potentially triggering impacts on non-project activities. Projects that aren’t delivering their anticipated ROI may need to be reevaluated so other initiatives further back in the schedule won’t be underfunded when their launch rolls around. The right balance looks different for every business but applying categories across the portfolio allows the executives to strategically harmonize the mix.


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