4×4: 4 Portfolio Questions in 4 Minutes

This edition of 4×4 comes from Peter Shirley who is a portfolio management specialist at PA Consulting currently with The Bank of England.  We both talked at The PMO Conference this year and Peter has just been commissioned by Gower to write a portfolio management book sharing P3O implementation, and maturity journeys from different industry sectors and P3M3 perspectives – I’m looking forward to that one!

1. What areas of portfolio management provide you with most value?

Portfolio management is still largely undervalued across most industry sectors. For me ultimate value is added when the Portfolio office and PMO work and mature cohesively (i.e. in a P3O), allowing for top down alignment of strategic plans to the investment portfolio whilst providing consistent, reliable and transparent ‘look-through’ information to enable decision making and efficient / effective delivery.

2. What are your biggest challenges with portfolio management?

a) Maintaining ongoing commitment from senior teams is always a challenge.
b) Collaboration across division and teams is a challenge and the PfM function sits at the heart of the tension.
c) Delivering BAU PfM whilst improving maturity – it is very difficult to implement a P3O and maintaining solid performance from an ever more stretched BAU function.

3. How are you overcoming those challenges?

Maintaining ongoing commitment from senior teams – politics move and changing organisational priorities or leadership can fundamentally impact the level of support for a newly forming Portfolio or P3O function. This is why it’s important to maintain as wide a support base as possible from across the organisation.

Collaboration across division and teams is a challenge and the PfM function sits at the heart of the tension. Building strong relationships helps ease some of the messaging and a logical and pragmatic approach that is based on data and facts is hard to argue with.

Delivering BAU PfM whilst improving maturity – as the BAU initially matures and expands its service card it is likely that the workload for the team will also expand as BAU has to be supported whilst further maturity of the function continues. Automation will help with this burden but takes some time to catch-up and is of course can be a small set of projects in its own right which further adds to the work load.

4. What are your top tips?

I could write a long list here, watch out for the forthcoming book ….. in no particular order….

1. Gain support for PfM form the top – understand where the greatest supporters and detractors reside
2. Ensure strategic plans are detailed enough to align the investment portfolio against – if not, work with the Strategy team to ‘bridge the gap’
3. Getting reliable data is the kernel of successful outcomes and adding value – deliver simple first steps whilst ensuring consistency
4. Use a lean approach to review P3O processes and devise new ones – don’t be afraid to radically change existing process if there’s a more efficient or effective way
5. Ensure Financials are tied down asap – this will make the CFO an advocate
6. Put in place a basic benefits framework asap – focus on tangible / financials – don’t underestimate how long even the simplest approach will take to gain acceptance and embed
7. Balance progress across PMO and Portfolio offices – one can’t fully function without the other
8. A different team is required for BAU than for set-up
9. Ensure extremely tight governance and control re P3O maturity project – live by your own rules!
10. Maintain stakeholder communications (upwards, downwards and sideways) – easy to put these to one side when it gets busy but never underestimate the importance


I publish a 4×4 interview every two weeks from great portfolio management professionals.  If you want to share you’re portfolio management insights in a 4×4 post – email me with your answers to the questions above.  Remember, no more than 4 minutes reading time please.



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