Project and portfolio management revolve around orchestrating efforts that are launching or are in progress, as well as planning for future initiatives. The efforts that are on the horizon can go through different iterations as your team works to build on the current crop of projects, align with the organization’s stage of maturity, and set the business up for customer and market demands down the road.
But as project teams grapple with the accelerating pace of business, some may worry they’re losing sight of the organization’s longer-term goals. If decisions around budgets or hiring are focused only on near-term needs, for example, your team could face challenges later. You may not have the right skills to execute complex projects, or you might lack funding for future projects if today’s initiatives don’t perform well financially.
The need to blend near- and long-term needs has always been around. So why are organizations today having more trouble balancing their active project lists against an overall portfolio with a forward-looking view?
Historically, businesses have had a pretty good handle on long-term planning. There may be a miscalculation here or there but looking ahead five or even 10 years was an expected part of the process for most organizations.
That largely changed in 2020.
Once the pandemic’s effects began disrupting previously stable supply chains, upending workforce dynamics in multiple regions, and disconnecting where people lived from where they worked, long-term planning suddenly became much more difficult. Even though enterprises wanted to maintain a strategic plan that looked several years out, the exercise simply became less relevant and, in many cases, downright problematic.
As a result, fewer companies today craft forecasts that extend more than a couple of years into the future. Some don’t even do that. Instead, they’ve adopted what they hope is a highly responsive approach to planning. More businesses are now likely to prepare their actions out for perhaps a year and then rely on their ability to swiftly change course to keep a short but rolling plan aligned with their industry’s and region’s landscapes.
This short-term vision can make project management—and by extension, portfolio management—a challenge. It’s not uncommon for transformative projects to last for a year or more, and with the planning phase leading execution by some measure, that duration could extend across several calendar years.
Savvy project teams are undergoing their own shifts in thinking to better balance what their organizations or customers need today with what’s likely to be on the corporate plan in the coming years.
If your group hasn’t yet made that transition, or if you’re struggling to update your team’s mindset to match the new reality, there are some strategies that can help you put your short- and long-term planning activities in a better place.
First, lean on your senior staff and take your cues from them. Are they adjusting their approach to shorter-term planning or are they including strategic initiatives many years out? If they expect you to be responsive with an emphasis on a near time horizon, then follow their lead.
It’s also important to build a partnership with an experienced project management consultancy that can help you develop and augment the skills you may need to elevate your project controls. You’ll want the ability to tightly monitor performance on current projects if your longer view will be cloudy, but that might be difficult if you haven’t already implemented a methodology that includes advanced planning and control techniques.
With access to the right expertise and guidance, you can more successfully move current projects forward while protecting the health of your project portfolio.