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Author  Milvio DiBartolomeo

August 15, 2018 |

 7 min read

  • Blog
  • Strategy
  • Portfolio management
  • P3O

Before we begin, let's define what culture is. Culture is a pattern of responses discovered, developed or invented during a group's history of handling problems which arise from interactions among its members, and between them and their environment.

These responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think and act, and are passed on to the new members through immersion and teaching. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms and values, as well as attitudes, behaviour, dress and language.

Now let's look at good characteristics that support an effective Portfolio, Programme and Project Office (P3O) model. They include:

Information sharing

Within a P3O environment, information sharing is absolutely paramount and describes the exchange of programme and project data to report information, knowledge and wisdom together with the actions and decisions between the various P3O roles, technologies and the broader corporate organization. That means capturing accurate data. Reviewing data and adding context so that it can be transformed into useful information and ensuring only relevant data that adds value or knowledge is being captured.

This is done by working collaboratively with the senior responsible owner/project executive and with programmes and projects respectively to engage and guide teams early in the investment lifecycle so rework is minimized but also to build delivery maturity. The mindset here is as much about informing teams about what they need to know, who they need to consult with and when as it is about informing teams what information and evidence they need to have – with the lightness of touch.

Focus on learning rather than blame

P3Os provide proactive services to help programmes and projects, particularly communities of practice, to grow and continually improve. Rather than track failure by analysing data and artefacts for things going wrong, P3Os review and challenge the content of documents as part of their development to offer assistance prior to significant spend of programme and project effort and well before approval is sought by the programme/project board. The focus is on continual improvement of portfolio, programme and project maturity so while support is provided up front in the lifecycle (where needed) diminishes once the programme and project is in delivery and maturity improves.

Value focus to all activities

The intent with a value focus to all P3O activities is to be proactive and to select more attractive decisions to ponder before attempting any solutions. Ralph L. Keeney (1996) says that the standard way of thinking about decisions is backwards. As a problem arises and people react, emphasis is often placed on the mechanics and fixed choices instead of the objectives that give decision making its value. That is, people tend to focus first on identifying alternatives rather than on articulating values and the identification of better alternatives. A focus value approach improves communication among programmes and projects in relation to decision making by the senior responsible owner or project executive, facilitates involvement of stakeholders and enhances the coordination of interconnected portfolio, programme and project office decisions. As such, there is a P3O need for greater depth, a clear governance structure, and a sound conceptual basis for relating strategic objectives to each investment in decision contexts.


Innovation generally refers to changing or creating more effective processes, products and ideas. For P3Os, this means implementing new ideas, creating dynamic products or improving existing services. The measure of innovation at the organizational level therefore relates to the successful delivery of programmes and projects. When changing the business, measurements are generally structured around management dashboards that should cover several aspects of innovation such as business measures related to finances, innovation process efficiency, employees' contribution and motivation, as well benefits for customers. Ultimately, this is to enable P3O boards to quickly see key information and identify where they need to provide direction and support.

Service focused

P3Os consider customer service as one of the cornerstones to building and preserving investments in programmes and projects in the delivery of a clear line of sight between strategic intent and the realization of financial and quantifiable benefits. As programmes/projects depend more on consultancy services, it is vital that P3Os continually evaluate and improve their service offerings and the service management processes that enable those services.

Proactive analysis rather than data collection

To enable a good P3O culture, P3Os focus on communicating process principles rather than detailed process steps (supported by appropriate training in portfolio, programme and project management) to assist staff in balancing what is required to achieve governance e.g. gated assurance, decision support and transition to new ways of working.

While reactive analytics can help understand what happened in a specific situation. Proactive analytics allows P3Os to offer support that can improve successful programme/project outcomes by seeing potential problems as they occur in real time. This can mean taking action of a potential risk threat as it happens instead of after. This method should be the standard approach of information gathering and subsequent decision-making.

Pragmatic approach, flexing where appropriate

In enabling new business and preserving existing value, C-level executives (the highest level executives in senior management, usually with titles beginning with "chief") are more challenged than ever to balance the agility organizations want with the stability that they need.

As such, a P3O may service a single programme, a number of programmes/projects or the organization’s portfolio of change. The detailed design and size of individual offices within the P3O model will need to take account of the project portfolio maturity of the organization and the characteristics of the programme/project it will serve and enable. The design and size will depend on the P3O vision and the business drivers it is established to serve.

Facilitating rather than directing

In an environment of rapid change, no single person has complete visibility. Command and control styles of leadership under these conditions are often proven to be ineffective. As such, P3Os facilitate the manage-by-exception principle or technique that is so important particularly when people on the front lines have the most current information. Where provided with the delegated authority and tools to act, P3Os can rapidly respond to changes to the organization without adding bureaucracy to the decision-making process.

Managing by objectives

Management by objectives, the term first outlined by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management aims to improve performance of an organization by clearly defining objectives that are agreed to by both the senior responsible owner/project executive and the programme/project. According to the theory, having a say in setting objectives and developing programme/project plans should ensure better participation and commitment among employees, as well as alignment of strategic objectives across the organization. As the plan is implemented, management by objectives demands that the organization monitor a range of performance measures, designed to help programmes/projects stay on the right path towards its mutually-agreed objectives.

Believing in continuous improvement through recorded lessons

If changing the business is as important as running the business, then organizations continually seek best practice programme management and project management as a means to protect the delivery of strategic intent and the realization of financial and quantifiable benefits. A continual improvement process is seen by P3Os as an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek "incremental" improvement over time or "breakthrough" improvement all at once.

In summary, it is important to understand the organizational culture into which the P3O model will be delivering, and to adapt the approach and communications to suit that culture. Organizations recognize that good management of programmes and projects does not happen in isolation without the involvement of P3O offices that provide the decision-enabling and support business model for all business change within an organization.