Stuck in Traffic and Boiling Over: Why Project-Level Thinking can't fix Portfolio-Level Problems

Abstract Improving the value created by a brownfield portfolio requires more than optimizing the slate of projects according to best overall business value. Attention should be paid to improving the flow of work, to maximizing productivity of resources assigned to develop and deliver projects, and to addressing systemic weaknesses, conflicts and constraints that threaten every project.

Techniques to improve portfolio flow and productivity borrow from the world of manufacturing and are more analogous to traffic management than to project management. Project-level thinking won’t resolve portfolio-level problems.

This paper advocates a portfolio-level perspective and offers 12 practical steps to implement portfolio-level leadership, with the aim of increasing the value created by the slate of projects while reducing the systemic obstacles that reduce quality, productivity and satisfaction. The 12 steps include clarifying business drivers, identifying baseline portfolio performance, communicating performance improvement targets, identifying system-level causes of waste, and implementing sustainable improvements that benefit all projects and the people who must execute them.

In the long run, regardless of where we are in the business cycle, the most productive team has the best chance of winning. Owners and contractors alike will benefit from finding ways to collaborate for greater productivity and greater value creation from the brownfield portfolio.
Keywords: Flow, Portfolio Management, Productivity, Systemic Improvement, Project Controls, Reliable Planning, Performance indicators, Lean, Project management, Brownfield
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