Beauty contest


Beauty isn't the only criteria needed to judge which projects are best for an organization's portfolio.


“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” doesn't apply only to romance and fashion. Even in portfolio management—the land of objective measures and data-driven decisions—there's room for subjectivity.

In portfolio governance management processes in particular, the “beauty,” or strategic alignment, of a project has the potential to be highly subjective. Many leaders, motivated consciously or not by their own agendas and pet projects, may assess the value, risks and priority of projects or programs in the portfolio through a subtly skewed lens.

The objectivity of numbers, weightings, rankings and scores should streamline the selection process, but any project manager can employ the right tools to make his or her project strategically align.

That's why I’ve long been stuck asking: What measurement tool— blinded voting, categorization, risk assessment, etc.—works best for the selection process?


The answer, I’ve learned, depends on:

▪ The organization's project management maturity

▪ The availability and transparency of project information

▪ The organizational and leadership structure

My organization has tried numerous selection methods in search of the tools that work best for the project portfolio prioritization.

Most selection tools can work, as long as they answer the right questions. And, no, “Does this project align with our organization's strategic plan?” is not the only question. You must also ask: What is the impact?

To answer that, break down your questions into categories. Does it…

▪ Make money?

▪ Enhance customer service?

▪ Improve market share?

▪ Save lives?

Clearly, the categories depend on the organization's industry, but using pointed, specific questions will offer a more encompassing view of what a project can achieve.

Risk assessments may also help organizations see how much organizational oversight will be needed for each project. The higher the risk, the greater potential for failure, and the more attention needed to confirm all project tasks are going as planned.


Projects that rarely tie to organizational strategy, such as those linked to compliance efforts or business continuity issues, are more difficult to assess. These projects keep business humming along, and they're needed to reduce risk, improve efficiency or replace outdated functions.

While they're unlikely to be the most attractive or most enticing projects up for discussion, they're essential. What I’ve learned at my organization is that the selection process for these types of projects has to come down to honest dialogue and accurate information. Without both, these projects, which don't dazzle anyone like an innovation-focused project would, risk not getting the attention that they deserve.

Whatever method you use for governing your portfolio, keep in mind another adage: “Beauty is only skin deep.” The “prettiest” project on the outside may not always provide you with the greatest value on the inside. PM



Teresa (Terri) Knudson, PMP, is the director of the enterprise portfolio management office at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA. She can be reached at [email protected].




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