Is The Snowball Effect Wrecking Your Project Portfolio?

While it’s not uncommon for a project to encounter some type of challenge, most issues are manageable and easily handled by the team without any lasting negative impacts. However, problems that crop up repeatedly or that aren’t adequately addressed the first time around can grow to create harm far outside the scope of the project where they initially appeared. Once a problem gains a foothold—whether because it’s ignored, underestimated, or simply not noticed—it can quickly snowball. From there, the repercussions of one otherwise manageable challenge may propagate across other initiatives in an organization’s portfolio.

Snowball Effect

Consider if you’re seeing any of these warning signs that indicate your portfolio management efforts are being undone by the snowball effect.

If resource management is a recurring sticking point, you may be fighting against problems that extend beyond a single project. Try as you might, your team encounters ongoing roadblocks when it comes to managing project resources. This could come in the form of missed opportunities, such as a failure to adequately forecast, schedule, and consume resources in one project that then reduces the ability to consolidate resources across other projects or to take advantage of economies of scale. You may also encounter ongoing problems related to a lack of availability—in money, people, or both—to execute key activities.

Teams whose risk management efforts keep falling short could be bumping up against problems on a portfolio-wide scale. You’re probably making vigorous attempts to identify, assess, and mitigate risks, but the results aren’t as effective as you’d like. The problem is that haphazard application of a risk management methodology, where different team members take different approaches, will inevitably leave gaps. Those gaps will then spread to other projects in your portfolio, leaving you with risks in multiple areas that aren’t spotted until it’s too late to cost-effectively address them.

Those silos that continue to exist within your organization are likely a sign that your portfolio is being impacted by systemic issues. Despite a concentrated effort to overcome departmental boundaries and functional perimeters, your project activities may still be hindered by silos. Communications aren’t shared as widely, quickly, or completely as they should be. Improvement opportunities remain limited in scope rather than being embraced by the many groups that could make good use of them. Resource consolidation efforts involving multiple linked projects are sporadic, leading to across-the-board cost increases and internal competition for expertise.

When your data is no longer trusted by stakeholders, you could be facing deep problems throughout your project portfolio. Credible information is a vital component in any portfolio management strategy. As soon as that foundational data becomes unreliable in one project—your datasets are outdated, duplicative, or incomplete—your portfolio-level reporting is also impacted. Executives and sponsors can no longer trust the data they’re seeing and the ability to make good strategic decisions is diminished.

Each of these warning flags points to much larger problems. When issues don’t receive adequate attention, they quickly snowball. As your team loses its ability to contain problems in one project, they’re likely to infect the rest of your portfolio. Small issues become all-encompassing. Projects that seemed to be in good shape suddenly face failure. Delays and budget overages create deficits and timeline challenges that must be fought on multiple fronts. Your team is forced into firefighting mode.

To maintain the health of your portfolio, it’s important to identify and resolve challenges early in the process. Robust controls along with a solid strategy and support from an experienced project portfolio management consulting partner can help your organization proactively handle any obstacles before they gain steam.


PMAlliance, Inc offers project management consultingproject management training and projecportfolio management services.

Discuss Your Project, Portfolio & Training Needs