Project Portfolio Management: One size does not fit all

January 31, 2024


One of the biggest challenges buyers of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions face is identifying the right balance between functionality and usability to meet their specific needs. For many organizations, it comes down to aligning their vision of PPM with what already exists in the marketplace.

Although there are many debates about what a PPM solution needs to deliver, in the end, it’s the customers of PPM that will ultimately drive its definition. In many cases, it’s the buyer’s perspective that plays a critical role in the expectations of PPM.

Hence for buyers to cut through the noise created by the highly fragmented PPM marketplace, they need to ask themselves some basic questions.

Are we looking for tactical PPM software? Or are we seeking a strategic PPM software solution? These two viewpoints will heavily influence the required functionality, usability, and purpose of the offering proposed.

Moreover, understanding the difference between a bottom-up and top-down approach to PPM will point buyers in the right direction to the ever-changing PPM market landscape.

Tactical PPM – Crawl, Walk, Run

Historically, most organizations begin with a bottom-up tactical approach to managing their projects. Considering this, tactical PPM software solutions tend to attract organizations that are immature to moderately mature in their PPM practice. Typically, the tools in place are disconnected and, in some cases, non-existent.

Although many of these organizations can be project-centric in practice, portfolio visibility usually is poor, and their PPM practice is not fully formalized.

Depending on the maturity of the organization, a crawl, walk, and run approach may be applied in a phased manner to ensure user adoption and that the right balance of functionality is delivered.

Tactical PPM demands the ability to turn on functionality as an organization matures and evolves and turn off features when they are not relevant.

More importantly, the project collaborator is the primary driver of this approach guiding the project and portfolio leadership in establishing the priorities and the direction of projects.

At its core, Tactical Project Portfolio Management is primarily focused on improving the day-to-day execution of projects against the portfolio and the collaboration among all team members and project managers responsible for successful project delivery.

Organizations that seek a Tactical PPM solution face the pain of effectively getting their work done. This approach falls much in line with David Allen’s philosophy of “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

In opposition to top-down goal settings, the GTD approach focuses on getting things (tasks) off an individual team member’s plate in digestible chunks. The idea is to mitigate an organization’s or an individual’s feeling of being overwhelmed by applying a more realistic approach to delivering work.

Although GTD tends to be promoted as an approach that impacts one’s lifestyle, the overall concept rings true with many organizations that are looking to improve their tactical approach to PPM by restoring a sense of order to their current chaotic or disjointed approach to project delivery.

The fact is, whether your organization has no process in place or has a somewhat established PPM practice, it is critical that from the bottom up the team feels in control, engaged, and in the “know” in their project work to successfully deliver on what is planned.

Strategic PPM – Now Let’s Fly

For organizations with formalized PPM/ PMO practices in place that are looking to take a more proactive approach to manage their portfolio of projects, Strategic PPM solutions are designed to take them to the next level.

Organizations with mature project portfolio management practices are looking to optimize their processes and maximize the output of their portfolios.

By employing a top-down approach, the objective of Strategic PPM is to align portfolios with corporate objectives as well as better manage project intake ensuring the focus is on the most profitable and/or productive projects.

PPM solutions as strategic tools provide a holistic view of the past, present, and future with the intent to empower the decision-makers of the project team.

Business intelligence capabilities lie at the heart of this approach and the ability to deliver powerful data quickly and concisely to the leadership team is necessary to turn an organization’s PPM practice from a tactical group to a strategic organization with the ability to “fly” above the competition.

Strategic PPM primarily focuses on the mining of available project data to continuously improve project execution and performance. Whether it be applying lean management or Six Sigma techniques, the goal is to “up” the quality of the PPM or PMO practice by applying tried-and-true innovative techniques.

In fact, a great example can be extrapolated from a Six Sigma approach to projects which applies a quantifiable and statistical model to an organization’s PPM approach eliminating the guesswork often employed in the decision-making process around portfolio and project performances.

This top-down approach to PPM delivers the necessary visibility to the project leadership to effectively analyze today’s results while anticipating and preparing for future outcomes

Where Does Your Organization Fit?

Probably the biggest challenge buyers of PPM technology will face is the multitude of solutions and options that are available. For an organization to select the right PPM solution to meet its unique needs, it must go beyond the typical feature/function comparison exercise.

Organizations need to look at their corporate culture and analyze the maturity of their Project Portfolio Management practice to determine the optimal strategy for their team.
To help navigate the expansive PPM solution marketplace consider the following questions:

  • Is your organization seeking a solution to primarily help execute projects? Or are they looking more for a management solution with powerful analytics?
  • Where does project collaboration fit within the spectrum of required features? And who will be the primary collaborators on the system?
  • Do work and resource schedules lie at the heart of the desired solution? Or are demand management and “what-if” planning at the core of the requirements?

In the end, the best PPM strategies and solutions are built by organizations that carefully take stock of their current PPM practice and (as every good PM would attest to) deliberately build a detailed action plan that will ensure the selected PPM approach and solution is in line with their current business objectives.

Gulit Upadhyay


This article was provided by Gulit Upadhyay, Sr. Digital Marketer at, a company dedicated to providing Solar and EPC project management software so that you can achieve business excellence.