Sustainability: The sixth management principle in Project Portfolio Management

Sustainability: The sixth management principle in Project Portfolio Management

Bert VliexProject management forms a part of portfolio management and in both there is currently a lot of talk about the issue of sustainability but not a lot of implementing sustainability in portfolio management.

Organizations have strategic objectives that clarify what they want from projects once completed. Therefore, a lot of the effort is focused on project management: how the project will be carried out and what methods and approaches are chosen to do it. The budget, the scope and time limitations are all included, even if sustainability is omitted. But if sustainability is insufficiently considered from the beginning when a project portfolio is defined, it becomes extremely difficult to implement at a later stage in the project as the Project Manager will struggle to find enough flexibility in the budget to do it.

Consider a train journey: the train started its journey from the station, the route is planned and the tracks are laid out from the station ready to carry the train to its destination. Project, programme and portfolio management should be looked at in the same way; the birth of potential projects begins with the board and this is where the discussion of sustainability must take place, along with methods, budget and scope, in order to keep the train on the tracks even after the journey is complete.

Sustainability and projects

There’s room in best practice to introduce sustainability to projects more. Methods, like PRINCE2® and the new PRINCE2 Agile™, could encourage sustainability at board level discussions. At the end of a project, if you produce products or services that are sustainable, the customer is happy and their customers are happy. Sustainability can only be a good thing but some more guidance is required and that’s where project portfolio management comes in.

Portfolio management is a way of trying to understand the bigger picture that projects fit into; clarifying the strategic objective, understanding change initiatives and transferring them into the various projects. Project management, or more accurately the Project Manager, is responsible for reaching the scope of the project defined in the project mandate and this is a completely different discipline again. The basic technical and behavioural skills remain the same but Project Managers are at more of an operational level whereas Portfolio Managers operate at a more tactical, strategic level.

When the Portfolio Manager and the Project Manager understand each other’s role we can see a true difference in the way the business’ objectives are transferred into projects and that’s why sustainability needs to become a business objective; introducing the approach from the top down and filtering it through all the various levels.

And it’s in these surroundings where the dimension of sustainability in Project Portfolio Management has to be integrated: at the source, where new projects are born. The ultimate place where engaged stakeholders should bow themselves over their strategic objectives. It is here where you should look for potential chances to integrate sustainability into the roots of the world of projects and programmes by means of a tailored (appropriate) use of Project Portfolio Management.

Sustainability and organizations

Many organizations are still working in a very antiquated way with sustainability not being implemented; universities have done research into it, books are being written about it and yet we are still not incorporating it into our project portfolio management techniques. It’s not a new idea but awareness is limited, even though in our personal lives we behave sustainably. Many of us strive for a better quality of life and invest our time in things that will serve us well in future. That’s sustainability. It’s thinking ahead so why aren’t we working this way in our projects?

Sustainability and best practice

There is a way we can bring sustainable approaches and sustainability into projects and it’s right under our noses: Management of Portfolios (MoP®). In MoP, five management principles are defined:

  • Senior management commitment
  • Governance alignment
  • Strategy alignment
  • Portfolio office (PMO)
  • Energized change culture.

However, we should be defining one more here: sustainability.

Defining sustainability as one of the management principles in project portfolio management forces everyone to think about it, understand what it means and how it can become a part of the project and not an afterthought. Becoming a principle gives it weight and clarity, enabling us to explain it in a well-known best practice framework.

Including sustainability in best practice as a management principle forces the change from the top and filters the idea down through all the levels. It would give practitioners the starting point where none currently exists.

See our Management of Portfolios (MoP®) section for more information.

Is sustainability an important principle for you or your organization in your project portfolio management? Do your PPM processes include sustainability and are there other considerations that are equally important? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below. Also, if you have any ideas for future AXELOS blogs, please use our Suggest a Blog form to tell us what you would like to read here.

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