Uncertainty and Project Portfolio Management

It’s not uncommon for individual projects to encounter uncertain circumstances. Short-term hiccups could delay equipment or material deliveries, or an unexpected contraction in the company’s workforce could temporarily put a project’s scope or timeline into question. In addition to addressing these acute issues for active initiatives, PMs must also manage the potential impacts of uncertainty across the organization’s broader project portfolio. It’s an undertaking that can be difficult and demanding, since inadequate planning could trigger significant domino effects and other downstream challenges across the full range of upcoming initiatives.

Project Portfolio

Because there are so many potential opportunities to mishandle the company’s project portfolio during periods of uncertainty, PMs may opt to turn to an outside consultancy for assistance. An experienced firm can offer project management services to help the organization develop a more comprehensive understanding of how market conditions are likely to impact future initiatives, while also working alongside the company’s internal team as they formulate contingency plans and other strategies to maintain the right level of forward momentum.

The first step is to assess your portfolio with the current situation in mind. Start off by evaluating the projects in your company’s project portfolio and deciding where plans may need to change. Consider every initiative in the pipeline and look at any dependencies that exist between the various projects. Linked projects should be evaluated together while standalone efforts can be reviewed independently. In all cases, however, you need to be careful to keep issues such as resource constraints, sponsor support, supply chain reliability, and workforce availability at the forefront.

To save time and ensure you’re working on the most important and time-sensitive tasks, you should next determine which projects are far enough in the future to be left alone. Some of the organization’s efforts are likely not forecasted to begin for many months. Some of them may even be a few years away from active status. Because you likely have priority projects that need your attention right now, it’s best to mark any far-off projects for follow-up at a later time. As their respective start dates approach, the landscape may have changed. At the very least you’ll be in a position to reevaluate the project with the most current data in hand.

Now, look for projects which could experience downstream impacts from today’s uncertainty. There may be pending initiatives in your project portfolio that link up with one or more projects already underway. What effects will the present uncertainty have on those related efforts? Do you anticipate timeline changes that could delay when you’ll be able to begin the next set of projects? If you need to reshuffle (or downsize) personnel in the current climate, how will that change the workforce that’s available for future efforts? Are key vendors or external partners similarly impacted by the current uncertainty? They may also experience cutbacks or resource conflicts as a result of the shifting environment, so take those factors into account.

Pay special attention to strategic projects. Because strategic efforts are typically complex—and because they often involve several connected initiatives that represent both tremendous value and risk to the company—they deserve additional consideration. Rather than examining them individually, it’s prudent to assess strategic projects as a group. Talk with sponsors and the executive team about these initiatives so everyone is on the same page when it comes to modifying budgets, scopes, resource allocations, deliverables, or timeframes. Together you can evaluate how the current environment may impact planned strategic projects and where it’s possible to push low-priority efforts aside, ensuring the highest-value initiatives will have ample resources to drive them to a successful completion.


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

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