The epiphany of the Portfolio Management Cycles

After being asked to write the first version of Management of Portfolios (MoP) way back in 2007, it took me around 6 months to write the first word, I couldn’t clear my mind and I couldn’t concentrate.  It was my mother who suggested I needed a change of scenery, so I decided to return to a place I found shortly before during a trip to see Paulo Choelo’s talk celebrating his 20th Anniversary of The Alchemist, the talk was in Aviles (Spain).

I returned to the beautifully secluded guesthouse that is situated on the side of a mountain in Asturias.  My room had a small wooden desk, and old rickety wooden chair that sat in front of a window with a wonderful view of the valley.  The only interruption being a very happy donkey in the field next door (I never realized how loud donkeys can be!), this is the spot.


For four days I sat here writing for 12 hours per day until it happened, the devastatingly gut wrenching feeling that was the realisation of accomplishing nothing more than a very dodgy mixture of PRINCE2, MSP with a tiny sprinkling of PMI’s portfolio guidance…all in all, this was an absolute nightmare situation.

So I left the desk, confused, worried and angry with myself and went downstairs to eat.  I had a flash back of the view that I had looked at for four days solid, but for the first time I actually felt a deep appreciation for the whole ecosystem and the way everything was working together in such synchronicity.  The grass, the sky, the rain, the bugs, the mountains, the birds, night, day and of course the donkey too.

This was my epiphany, I realised my problem, I had been trying to collate and express into words and pictures all of my experiences and advice sequentially, when in fact the reality of the situation was the opposite.  All of my experiences in portfolio management were based on a concurrent mixture of planning and delivery, delivery and planning all happening at the same time.  So I drew two circles touching each other on my napkin, called one Definition and the other Delivery.  I then wrote understand, categorize, prioritize, balance and plan in the Definition cycle and some initial delivery principles in the delivery cycle.

Seconds after the epiphany I ordered two double espresso’s, necked them both and went upstairs back to the desk, I scrapped absolutely everything I had written before and started with a fresh page.  I wrote through the night and around dawn on the first day I realised that the Portfolio Definition and Portfolio Delivery cycles needed something to make them work.  I knew it wasn’t management, direction, leadership, motivation or any of the standard things that one would expect to read in a portfolio management book, that would be far too easy, it was way more than that.

Then, once again as I paused to look across the mountains I realised that there is an invisible fuel powering the ecosystem, keeping it alive.  That fuel is energy, a life energy and it is this very energy within people that is needed to keep the portfolio powered.  Hey presto, there was my answer, so I wrote the word Energy between the Definition and Delivery cycles and I continued writing stopping only for chorizo sandwiches and to chain smoke two cigarettes every hour.

35 hours later I was smiling as I closed the lid of my laptop, I thanked the hotel owners for their hospitality and the mountains for their inspiration and flew back to London.  First thing to do when i got back was speak to Sue Vowler (author of P3O and my go to person at moments when i need to check my own sanity).  Next up was Mike from the Office of Government Commerce, to convince him that I wasn’t completely mad and that ‘Organisational Energy’ should be at the heart of the draft Portfolio Management guidance, fortunately Mike was open minded enough to agree (albeit he did think it was a bit too “70’s”).

Never the less, it worked, and the UK Government released it as an official public consultation draft for best practice portfolio management.  It turns out this was adopted widely with no complaints and so over the next couple of years with the additional genius of Stephen Jenner’s involvement, it developed into a fully fledged book and was included in the suite of best practice guidance joining its cousins MSP, PRINCE2, MOR in 2011.

So, without my Mother, Paulo Coelho, the mountains of Asturias, Sue and Mike, there would be no Portfolio Management Cycles….funny how things work out eh.



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