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International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365


www.elsevier.com/locate/ijproman

Project portfolio management – There’s more to it than


what management enacts
1
Bodil Stilling Blichfeldt *, Pernille Eskerod
University of Southern Denmark, Department of Environmental and Business Economics, Niels Bohrs Vej 9, 6700 Esbjerg, Denmark

Received 21 August 2006; received in revised form 25 May 2007; accepted 12 June 2007

Abstract

Although companies manage project portfolios concordantly with project portfolio theory, they may experience problems in the form
of delayed projects, resource struggles, stress, and a lack of overview. Based on a research project compromised of 128 in-depth inter-
views in 30 companies, we propose that a key reason why companies do not do well in relation to project portfolio management (PPM) is
that PPM often only covers a subset of on-going projects, while projects that are not subject to PPM tie up resources that initially were
dedicated to PPM projects. We address and discuss the dilemma of wanting to include all projects in PPM, and aiming at keeping the
resource and cognitive burden of doing PPM at a reasonable level.
Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Managing programmes; Managing projects; Organisation resources; Strategy

1. Introduction during their project life cycle); (2) Management and


employees feel they lack a broad overview of on-going pro-
At any given point in time, most companies engage in jects (especially when the number of on-going projects
many projects. Some of these projects may relate to prod- increases as more and more projects are not completed
uct development and marketing, others relate to changes in according to plan); and (3) People experience stress as
work processes and production flows, while yet others resources are continuously reallocated across projects in
relate to competency development, strategic turns, the order to make ends meet. These observations are especially
implementation of new IT systems, environmental issues, interesting because the companies were included in the
etc. A key managerial task is to dedicate resources across research project because they were supposed to be espe-
all of these projects (as well as do daily work) and conse- cially experienced in PPM, and because they actually
quently, management across projects (project portfolio engage in PPM according to the extant body of literature
management (PPM)) is critical to company performance. on PPM. For example, part of the companies’ PPM
This paper is based on a large-scale qualitative study, included an effort to pick the best projects on the basis of
which shows that many project-oriented companies do explicit or implicit criteria, and an effort to allocate suffi-
not perform well when it comes to PPM. This relates to cient resources to these projects. However, despite efforts
the inability to accomplish projects that are initiated. In to practice ‘good’ PPM, these companies experience severe
particular, we identify the following problems: (1) Projects problems in relation to PPM – especially in letting enough
are not completed according to plan (or they even peter out resources go into the ‘right’ projects. The purpose of this
paper is to confront PPM as advocated by normative the-
*
ories with actual PPM practices. Hence, the purpose is to
Corresponding author. Tel.: +45 65504139; fax: +45 65501000.
E-mail addresses: bsb@sam.sdu.dk (B.S. Blichfeldt), pernille@sam.
confront PPM theories with PPM as perceived by manag-
sdu.dk (P. Eskerod). ers and other employees for whom PPM is part of, or
1
Tel.: +45 65504154; fax: +45 65501000. affects, their work conditions. However, in this paper, we

0263-7863/$30.00 Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.


doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2007.06.004
358 B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365

are more interested in PPM as enacted by companies than ensures that employees do not loose interest, allowing
in universally true perceptions. Hence, we adhere to room for creativity. Although scholars such as Twiss [14]
Weick’s [1–3] notion of enactment as the preconceptions acknowledge that actual project portfolios contain projects
that are used to set aside a portion of the field of experience that survived initial screening as an inherent part of PPM,
for further attention. In regard to PPM, enacted projects not to mention unplanned employee-initiated projects, they
are thus the ones management sets aside for further atten- are all expected to be subject to some sort of screening. For
tion (i.e. PPM). As such, we focus especially on ways actors example, Twiss [14] suggests that unplanned projects of no
define or enact projects [4] and make sense of how to man- commercial value should be rejected on the basis of some
age the sum of the projects. Drawing on this perspective, sort of evaluation. Thus, although Twiss [14], for example,
we account for findings that suggest why companies that points to the importance of emergent projects, the PPM lit-
do engage in PPM still experience problems. erature emphasises top management’s selection of the right
(number of) projects by employing explicit (and primarily
2. Project portfolio theory objective) evaluation criteria.
In recent years, research on PPM has changed, both in
This paper draws on Archer and Ghasemzadeh’s [5, p. terms of the research questions posed and in terms of the
208] definition of project portfolios as ‘‘a group of projects methodological background used. Dawidson [15, p. 1]
that are carried out under the sponsorship and/or manage- relates to the changes in PPM studies as follows: ‘‘During
ment of a particular organization’’. Henceforth, we define the past decade, the research on project portfolio manage-
PPM as the managerial activities that relate to (1) the initial ment has expanded into a more complete managerial
screening, selection and prioritisation of project proposals, approach – beside the focus only on tools, techniques
(2) the concurrent reprioritisation of projects in the portfo- and methods – including aspects on how project portfolio
lio, and (3) the allocation and reallocation of resources to management is practiced’’. In accordance with other
projects according to priority. For quite some time authors (e.g. [16]), Dawidson thus argues that PPM studies
researchers have suggested that low completion rates for that focus on PPM as a real-world managerial phenome-
new product development (NPD) projects and new product non – although only quite recently established as a research
failure relate to resource deficiencies in key areas [6,7]. Fur- field – are increasingly setting the agenda for academic dis-
thermore, while a host of researchers [8–10] have focused cussions on PPM. Hence, it seems that the research agenda
on the dimension of PPM that concerns processes relating for PPM studies has (finally) transcended the state of
to selection of projects to be included in the portfolio, unempirical research (i.e. the development of tools and
research e.g. [11] also increasingly focuses on the day-to- methods for PPM that were not tested for their practical
day management of the project portfolio. relevance) and has moved towards studies that also look
Among the first scholars who focused on PPM, the issue upon PPM as it is actually carried out by companies. How-
of choosing the right (number of) projects was especially ever, with a few valuable exceptions (primarily the works of
emphasised. Thus, these researchers suggested how one Dawidson and colleagues), especially recent ‘organisa-
reaches the optimum project portfolio by means of mathe- tional’ PPM studies (e.g. [17–19]) seek to offer normative
matical models (see e.g. [12]). Newer research (e.g. [13]) advice on how to set up PPM, which people to involved,
introduces portfolio theories, which hinge on the premise and how to organise them [15]. As a result, we adhere to
that companies generally start more projects than they Dawidson’s [15, p. 5] claim that ‘‘. . . the view of how pro-
would, had they only initiated the number of projects, for ject portfolio management decisions really are made in a
completion of which they have adequate resources. Fur- squeezed process, the contributions here must be consid-
thermore, most of these types of PPM models rely on cen- ered sparser’’. Thus, the empirical study accounted for in
tral tenets of rational decision-making theory, for example, this paper should be seen as a rather exploratory study,
an explication of a series of evaluative criteria mostly the purpose of which is to contribute to the building of
related to corporate needs and objectives; an accentuation knowledge on how and why companies do PPM in certain
of the extent to which each alternative (i.e. project pro- ways – and especially to the building of knowledge on the
posal) meets these criteria; and a selection (or prioritisa- consequences PPM has for project work.
tion) of the projects offering the most value when
evaluated using pre-specified evaluative criteria. In contrast 3. Methodology
to these PPM theories, some authors define project portfo-
lios as entities that may encompass more than just projects Over a period of two years, we did empirical research on
that survived rational decision-making processes. For how companies manage their entire range of projects, e.g.
example, Twiss [14] argues that not all funds are (or should renewal projects, strategic projects, IT projects, departmen-
be) allocated to projects that initially score well using the tally specific projects, and production based projects. In
criteria that traditional PPM is based on. Instead, Twiss relation to the selection of companies to be included in
[14] argues that some (loosely-controlled) funds should be the empirical study, a key criterion was that the study
dedicated to projects of personal interest to employees. Pri- should cover a wide variety of industries. As a result, the
marily, dedicating loosely-controlled funds to side projects empirical study covers 30 companies from industries as
B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365 359

diverse as, e.g. mobile telephone communications, finances, views also included interviews with project managers and
energy, pharmaceuticals, toys, software, and foods. How- project team members. Hence, while interviews with top
ever, due to the fact that we were looking for companies, managers and functional managers especially focused on
where the amount of on-going projects suggested they were issues such as strategy and management, portfolios, organ-
engaged in PPM, the study is biased towards larger compa- isational culture, organising for PPM, and project manage-
nies as well as companies that define at least a substantial ment, the interviews with project managers and project
part of their activities as projects. The degree to which team members especially focused on the ways in which
the companies participated in the study varies. Hence, half the management of project portfolios affected employees
of the companies are labelled ‘inner circle’ companies due and their daily work. Hence, the study encompasses a dual-
to the fact that we drew extensively on these 15 companies. ity of perspectives, covering the perspectives of those who
For example, in these companies more interviews were do PPM and those who are subject to PPM. In the follow-
conducted at various points in time and at various organi- ing sections we present the key findings of the study.
sational levels. Hence, a longitudinal perspective character-
ises the involvement of these companies. The remaining 4. Many projects and a lack of resources
half of the companies are labelled ‘outer circle’ companies
because their participation in the study has included fewer The most striking finding is that the empirical evidence
top-management interviews, the purpose of which was to obtained at all organisation levels suggests that the 30 com-
gain insight into ways in which (top) management defines panies experience a host of the resource-related problems
the content of their project portfolios and manages them. and symptoms accounted for in the literature. For exam-
The primary source of evidence employed was 128 qual- ple, a managing director, an operations manager, and a
itative interviews (with one to three interviews conducted in vice president in charge of project management stated the
outer circle companies and 5–18 interviews conducted in following (all interview quotes in this paper were translated
inner circle companies). In addition, data was obtained from Danish to English by the authors):
from other sources of evidence than interviews, e.g. project
‘‘Probably, the key characteristic is that all projects get
handbooks, project lists, computer systems and databases,
postponed and postponed.’’
and other company-specific documents. Primarily, this type
‘‘I dream that one day we will become better at limiting
of additional data was used by the researchers to prepare
the number of projects we initiate.’’
for the next interviews. A final stream of additional data
‘‘I think that we are reaching the tolerance level regard-
was obtained as the researchers engaged in a series of
ing how many balls we can juggle with at once . . . I think
workshops with the companies. The main purpose of these
that we waste a lot of time on joggling so many balls . . . I
workshops was to obtain feed-back from the companies on
think we could do more by doing fewer projects . . . It is
the researchers’ preliminary interpretations, findings, and
important that we find the balance between doing a
conclusions. Hence, during these workshops, the findings
proper job in choosing between projects and in achiev-
of the study presented in this article were discussed with
ing a fast process and thus, quantity.’’
and modified in accordance with feed-back offered by the
companies. In practice, some of the researchers presented Also, the marketing manager in one company argued
preliminary findings during these workshops and subse- that:
quently discussed these findings with the company repre-
‘‘It is a battle for resources. We have a lot more projects
sentatives, while other researchers observed these
than we are able to work on, we really do . . . I think
discussions and took notes. These notes were used during
there is a tendency to always take too much in.’’
the next phase of analysis in order to ensure that the find-
ings – and especially the choosing of key quotations – actu- Furthermore, three engineers who are part of a project
ally resemble PPM as enacted by the informants. team found that:
The 128 interviews were done in two series. First, the
‘‘Somehow, perhaps, we ought to have more resources,
preliminary round of interviews was comprised of 38 inter-
because we generally have more ideas than we have peo-
views that each lasted from one to two hours. A deliberate
ple to do the work.’’
choice was made not to make these preliminary interviews
‘‘It is easy to say, ‘you get this amount of time’. But
too structured in order to allow the interviews to affect the
when it comes down to it, the time simply isn’t available.
interview guides that were to be used in subsequent inter-
I mean, you are assigned a portion of time, but in prac-
views. All 30 companies participated in this preliminary
tice that portion of time simply doesn’t exist.’’
round and the interviews were conducted with top or
‘‘I don’t think that we have ever kept a deadline.’’
higher level managers responsible for PPM. Afterwards,
the researchers conducted 90 semi-structured interviews. The lack of resources combined with many (suffering)
Some of these interviews were one-on-one interviews and projects is not an uncommon finding [20]. The interesting
others were group interviews with people at the same point is to figure out why companies heavily involved in
organisational level. Apart from interviews with top man- project management and PPM (and henceforth a group
agers and functional managers, the second series of inter- of companies that may very well be best practice companies
360 B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365

in these respects) have not overcome the crunch in projects whose existence management is unaware of) and
resources for projects. The following sections offer an are followed by a discussion of ways in which these subsets
explanation. compete for resources.

4.1. Content of project portfolios 4.2. Projects that are part of enacted project portfolios

Although PPM research tends to emphasise NPD pro- All of the 30 companies included in the empirical study
jects, we found a number of other project types in the com- engage in a wide variety of enacted projects. In general,
panies included in the empirical study. For example, when NPD projects account for a substantial portion of all the
addressing the content of the company’s project portfolio, projects the 30 companies engage in. Apart from NPD pro-
a sales and marketing director reasoned: jects, enacted project portfolios (i.e. portfolios subject to
PPM) encompass larger renewal projects, e.g. IT projects,
‘‘We have a lot of things we need to develop in relation
organisational development projects, and strategic projects.
to customers. We spend many resources on those things.
The notion ‘larger renewal projects’ is adopted in order to
Then we have some things we need to develop in terms
account for projects characterised by the following features:
of production. We also spend a lot of resources there.
And then we have an organisation that needs to keep
– The origins and end results of the projects are not
up.’’
(directly) linked to the demand-side,
Along the same vein, a vice president elaborates on the – Primarily, the aim of the projects is to enhance internal
project portfolio as follows: activities and not to deliver superior value to customers
(directly), and
‘‘If we are talking about new products, then we have
– The intra-organisational renewal projects cut across
around 5–10 projects . . . perhaps more . . . If we are talk-
more departments (or even the entire company).
ing about other types of projects . . ., e.g. organisational
development projects . . . there we have . . . I don’t know
Regarding both types of enacted projects, companies use
how many of these qualify as projects . . . but we are
stage gate processes characterised by frequent reviews of
building a new plant, I don’t know if that is a pro-
on-going projects. However, some key factors discriminate
ject . . . we have new production technologies . . . we also
between management of NPD and renewal projects. First,
have IT projects . . . IT includes large projects.’’
the number of projects is a key discriminator as companies
Although the informants account for a series of different have much fewer on-going renewal projects than NPD pro-
projects, the most important finding is that actual official jects. Second, a renewal project typically represents a much
project portfolios appear to contain other types of projects heavier investment than a NPD project does and more of
than NPD projects. Furthermore, it seems that actual, the renewal projects are initiated by top management as
although not official project portfolios contain projects, well as closely monitored by top management throughout
the existence of which is (more or less) unknown to top their life-cycles. NPD projects are typically initiated at a
management and, thus, not subject to PPM. We apply lower level in the organisational hierarchy. Third, larger
the notion ‘enacted portfolios’ in order to set projects sub- renewal projects and NPD projects are not managed in
ject to PPM apart from projects not subject to it. Thus, the same way. For example, after having addressed the
enacted project portfolios are comprised of the projects management of NPD projects, a managing director and
included on the project lists that top managers rely on an IT manager, respectively, offered the following com-
when they engage in PPM, e.g. when they compare new ments on the management of larger renewal projects:
project proposals with each other in order to decide which
‘‘I don’t think we are as professional when it comes to
projects they will (not) dedicate resources to and, hence,
[larger renewal projects]. Or at least, we are not as expe-
which projects they will include in project lists; when they
rienced. Actually, I think this is an area where we could
engage in on-going prioritisation of projects on the list
improve. And . . . an area where we could use more struc-
and, hence, when they (re)allocate resources across pro-
ture, more reviews, etc. It is not that we lack seriousness,
jects; when they decide to kill projects; and/or when they
we are just not that good at it.’’
decide to put projects on hold. Thus, enacted project port-
‘‘Generally, I feel that we are on top of things in relation
folios include projects whose existence top management is
to NPD projects. Renewal projects . . . organisational
aware of and the progress (or lack thereof) that top man-
improvement projects and projects relating to processes
agement takes an active interest in. However, the empirical
internally in the company are what I see as prioritised
study suggests that – apart from ‘enacted’ portfolios – com-
less.’’
panies engage in a plethora of smaller projects that tie up
valuable (and scarce) resources; although these projects Furthermore, no external customers relate to renewal
are never subject to PPM and they do not receive top man- projects. One implication of the lack of external clients is
agement’s attention. The following sections account for the that although top management is highly involved in, or
two subsets of project portfolios (i.e. enacted projects and at least concerned about, renewal projects, often NPD pro-
B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365 361

jects are prioritised before renewal projects (for which it is EUR 100,000 before they spend much time on it at their
much more difficult to suggest bottom-line results). Never- meetings.’’
theless, the largest of the renewal projects are so large and ‘‘We are talking about small projects, projects that never
strategically important that they occupy a prominent posi- become big enough to make it worthwhile to set the
tion in the project portfolio. whole machinery in motion . . . Most of the time, I just
do them without asking anybody.’’
4.3. Projects that are not part of enacted project portfolios
The smaller projects are activities that the individual
employee or a middle manager (or a few people) engage
Apart from enacted projects, all of the 30 companies
in when time/other work-related activities allow for it.
also engage in a wide variety of smaller projects that are
Thus, rarely do these activities qualify as real projects in
not subject to initial screening; hence, these projects never
the minds of managers; hence, they are not integral parts
become part of enacted project portfolios or PPM. One
of the company’s official project portfolio. As a result,
R& D manager explained the nature of un-enacted projects
smaller projects are not an integral part of PPM, although
as follows:
the mere number of smaller projects suggests that this type
‘‘It is those projects that are not formulated, or some- of project work is, indeed, alive and kicking, as well as
how documented, or promised to anybody but oneself. resources consuming. In fact, the empirical study suggests
They are mostly things you have started up on your that, in practice, smaller projects consume quite a substan-
own. . .’’ tial proportion of employee time and resources. Middle
managers (including project managers) seem to have some-
The pool of smaller, un-enacted projects includes smal-
what mixed feelings about the tendency to engage in smal-
ler NPD projects as well as smaller renewal projects (pro-
ler projects independently of PPM. One project manager
jects characterised by the features listed previously). Thus,
states:
this cluster of projects is comprised of smaller projects
undertaken by one, or only a few, people located in the ‘‘I could easily start something on my own, but then it is
same department. It seems that knowledge about these for me only. Somehow, I think that is as it should be.
kinds of projects only exists at departmental levels. For But, it would be unfortunate if we all did our own things
example, when asked about the total range of projects that independently. Actually, I try to fight against that.’’
the company is involved in, the IT-manager in one com-
As suggested by the above comments, which resemble
pany stated:
empirical evidence across all 30 companies, a lot of smaller,
‘‘I have to say, I don’t know what is going on in the un-enacted projects seem to exist in all of the companies,
other departments.’’ upon which our empirical work is based.
Furthermore, a project chief argued that:
4.4. Ways in which projects compete for resources
‘‘I don’t know exactly what they are doing down there,
but I hope that we have about 10 significant projects The fact that a host of small-scale projects are initiated
going on.’’ and completed, but unknown to (top) management has pro-
found managerial implications for the resources available
Also, engineers working with operations in the same
for projects included in enacted and, hence, ‘managed’ pro-
company argued that:
ject portfolios. Thus, although each un-enacted project
‘‘There are lots of project lists. For example, we have a list does not tie up many resources, the number of such pro-
in Lotus Notes. It is only the big projects that are regis- jects suggests that, in sum, they take up a lot of the
tered there. Nevertheless, people have so many . . . resources necessary for the completion of on-going enacted
medium-range tasks and projects . . . I have my own list projects. Furthermore, these small-scale projects take up
that I discuss with [my superior] once every so often.’’ resources without ever being screened against the evalua-
tion criteria that are applied when management screens
Top management is rarely involved in the smaller pro-
enacted projects. Although most managers welcome
jects because they pop up independently of top manage-
small-scale projects and bottom-up initiatives, the projects
ment’s PPM, while they only affect the work of a very
demonstrate that the demand they put on resources poses a
few people in the organisation during their life cycles. Fur-
dilemma.
thermore, at all organisational levels, it seems that it is per-
The progress (or lack thereof) of ‘enacted’ projects is
fectly acceptable not to seek approval for such projects.
closely monitored by top management and, thus, the
For example, the following arguments were offered by
allocation of resources to such projects is an important
two engineers:
part of PPM. In practice, top management spends much
‘‘There are project portfolio limits in terms of money. If time and resources balancing the needs of enacted pro-
it is projects or tasks below [EUR 7000], top manage- jects. For example, top management may put a renewal
ment won’t make a fuss over trifles. It has to cost project on hold (or at least dedicate fewer resources to
362 B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365

the project) when getting strategically important NPD 4.5. Why projects subject to PPM fail
projects completed is critical. On the other hand, if top
management decides that a renewal project needs to be The exclusion of smaller projects from the official port-
completed quickly, a decision is often made to drain folio is not concordant with Cooper et al.’s [13,22] sugges-
resources from NPD projects. Cooper and Edgett [21, tion that all projects should be subject to a stage gate
p. 50] argue that ‘‘most businesses have immediate devel- process due to the fact that all projects (and thus, also
opment needs, projects that must be done. . .’’ and that small projects) take up resources. Thus, contradictory to
‘‘these ‘must do’ projects always exist’’. The empirical theory, the empirical study suggests that smaller projects
study corroborates the fact that – during their lifecycles – are not integral parts of PPM, although the mere number
enacted projects shift priorities. Thus, at a specific point of smaller projects identified by the empirical study sug-
in time, top management may define a specific renewal pro- gests that these projects are, indeed, an important part of
ject (e.g. an IT project) as a must-do project, whereas top project work. In fact, the empirical study suggests that, in
management may very well allow the schedule to slip for practice, smaller projects and tasks consume quite a sub-
this project at a later stage. Especially this kind of de-pri- stantial proportion of employee time. Even more impor-
oritisation of renewal projects seems to relate to some tantly, the host of smaller projects does not draw on a
NPD projects turning into must-do projects during their pool of loosely-controlled funds, i.e. funds not tied up
lifecycle. For example, one functional manager pointed according to pre-specified purposes. Instead, these projects
out that: draw on time and resources that top management has ded-
icated to enacted projects and, thus, smaller projects actu-
‘‘Customer-related projects may make us put other types
ally drain resources from enacted projects. The fact that
of projects on hold. But nothing, nothing at all, should
resources are spread too thinly across projects emerged
stop these other [renewal] projects. They might stagnate
throughout most of the 128 interviews; two engineers sta-
for a while, but it shouldn’t stop them.’’
ted, for example:
Managers thus seem to be very aware of the fact that
‘‘You really want to do well [in projects]. It is just that
internal projects and NPD projects compete for scarce
you don’t always feel that you have the time for it.
resources. For example, when addressing the challenges
You don’t feel you have the time to do your job prop-
of PPM, one marketing manager argued that:
erly, get the development projects absolutely fine-tuned
‘‘. . . especially [tension exists] between customer-related and completed. That can be difficult.’’
projects and projects steered internally . . . there are lots ‘‘It is difficult to run a project without being disturbed.’’
of considerations concerning this. Sometimes it goes one
The existence of smaller un-enacted projects is not the
way and sometimes it goes the other.’’
only reason for resources being drained from enacted pro-
Apart from project selection and approval, especially jects. A large amount of other daily work is another impor-
management of enacted portfolios thus concerns (1) tant factor. Concordant with the PPM literature, the
resource allocation and sharing across projects, (2) review- people in the 30 companies are rarely assigned to projects
ing the portfolio and hence, project termination, and (3) full-time. Instead, mostly only a portion of people’s time
reallocation of resources across on-going projects in accor- is devoted to project work, while the remaining time is ded-
dance with shifting project prioritisation. For example, one icated to other duties and daily work in their departments.
IT manager reasoned as follows: However, in reality, daily work often predominates and,
consequently, time and resources dedicated to project work
‘‘We have to acknowledge that, nowadays, in a figura-
are under pressure. For example, one production manager
tive sense, you never have an empty in-box. You can’t
stated:
get to the bottom of the pile, because things change all
the time. Thus, you have to be able to reprioritise. ‘‘It is intriguing to do renewal projects. The thing that is
Actually, this is one of the most important managerial less amusing is when every day is booked with daily
tasks: to always prioritise resources at the right point work, because renewal projects then take the back seat
in time.’’ and it stops being intriguing.’’
Also, one marketing manager argued that especially the At lower organisational levels, employees also address
management of project portfolios concerns: the dilemma of being assigned to both daily work and pro-
jects. For example, when elaborating on their attitudes
‘‘Trying to push some projects ahead of others.’’
towards projects in general, two engineers argued as fol-
Drawing on the preceding section, a key finding of our lows:
empirical study is that enacted project portfolios are sub-
‘‘It depends on the time of the day when I am asked. If
ject to PPM concordantly with normative PPM theories.
you ask me at the project meetings, etc, then project
In contrast, smaller projects are not subject to PPM and,
work has the highest priority. If you ask me when we
hence, compete for resources in ways that do not align with
have an important, incoming order, then projects don’t
PPM theory.
B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365 363

matter at all. When a project lacks results, however, it 5. Managerial implications


resumes highest priority.’’
‘‘Projects are affected profoundly by daily work. A key finding is that the gap between required and avail-
Nobody does projects all the time, so we all have to take able resources is very much attributable to the existence of
daily work into consideration as well. So the production a host of smaller projects that never become part of enacted
flow has first priority and then everything else runs on project portfolios. Thus, at an aggregated level, the empir-
the side.’’ ical study suggests smaller, un-enacted projects qualify as
resources crunchers in so far they are not considered to
Also at higher organisational levels, people are aware of
be a part of enacted project portfolios. In order to over-
the battle for resources between daily work and project
come this crunch in resources, two solutions seem obvious:
work. For example, one managing director stated:
‘‘Once in a while when operations pressure us we 1. Enacting more, i.e. having PPM embrace all projects,
manage top-down. At the moment, the situation is 2. Allocating more resources to a pool of loosely-con-
that across most of the organisation we have thrown trolled resources for the un-enacted projects to draw on.
everything else away in order to only focus on
operations.’’ However, as suggested below, both of these solutions
have their drawbacks.
Given that, apart from daily work, employees (and
especially employees in manufacturing and R&D), as
5.1. Embracing all projects
mentioned previously, initiate a host of smaller projects
for which no time is officially allocated, which means
One solution to the resource crunch is to try to make the
time dedicated to work on enacted projects ends up being
smaller, un-enacted projects an integral part of PPM. Thus,
very sparse in practice. Furthermore, employee motiva-
managers could try to make PPM concordant with Cooper
tion to work on these projects may be even higher than
et al.’s [13,22] suggestion that all projects should be subject
their motivation to work on enacted projects due to the
to PPM. Thus, if all projects – no matter how small they
fact that the end results of these types of smaller projects
are – were included in the official project list that manage-
are highly visible to the individual employee, i.e. the com-
ment relies on when doing PPM, the tendency these pro-
pletion of these projects occurs in the foreseeable future.
jects have to drain the resource pool dedicated to other
Thus, the existence of smaller projects has the negative
projects would disappear. However, the empirical study
side-effect that personnel are spread too thinly across
indicates that the task of including all projects in the pro-
the projects they are supposed to work on. Consequently,
ject list that PPM supervenes on is – in practice – an impos-
although smaller, individual projects do not take up
sible mission. Especially, four major concerns disfavour
many resources, on an aggregate level they take up a
any attempt to generate project lists that encompass all
considerable portion of the resources that top manage-
projects:
ment thought was devoted to other projects by means
of PPM. The fact that smaller projects tie up resources
1. Top management has limited capacity (cognitively as
that have never been assigned to them is addressed as fol-
well as in terms of time) to apply to PPM.
lows by a project chief:
2. It may be difficult to identify and estimate the activities
‘‘For larger projects, the managing director decides on in the projects, and, thereby, carry out detailed resource
the time and money and then I assign people to the pro- management.
jects. As for smaller projects, I think it is more like peo- 3. The resource burden arising from identifying and
ple try to squeeze them in . . .’’ administrating small projects is very high compared to
expected benefits.
Also, one engineer confirms that smaller projects are
4. Bureaucracy induces less employee flexibility and free-
squeezed in as follows:
dom to do independent project work.
‘‘It is as if the projects are often managed from the bot-
tom. Some of us say, for example, ‘it would be smart if At all levels of organisation, our empirical evidence sug-
we did something here’. And then we do it without much gests that smaller, independent projects are desirable. How-
managerial interference.’’ ever, the generation of all-encompassing project lists
qualifies as a rather utopian idea. First, top managers find
This study corroborates the claim made by, e.g. McDon-
that it would be a waste of their valuable time if they were
ough and Spital [11] and Cooper and Edgett [21], that daily
to enact all projects no matter their size. Second, top man-
work is a factor, which induces stress in employees. On top
agement finds that an organisation with no independent
of the conflict between daily work and enacted projects, the
project work would qualify as rather static and un-innova-
small, un-enacted projects and tasks make this pressure
tive. Third, middle managers find that a lot of tasks are
even worse, while, at the same time, top management
completed better if employees initiate and complete them
may not be aware of this issue.
on their own compared to if they had been subject to
364 B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365

management interference. Last – but certainly not least – making processes is likely to be the decision not to generate
across all 30 companies, employees were very fond of smal- comprehensive lists. If the end result of the decision-mak-
ler, independent projects. Employees especially appreciate ing is to not make comprehensive project lists (i.e. lists that
these projects because they empower them, i.e. working include all minor projects), then management faces two
on these projects makes them feel that they make a differ- additional challenges. First, top management has to decide
ence and that they are able to control their own work on the boundary that sets enacted projects apart from un-
schedules. Hence, the fact that employees work on their enacted ones. Thus, managers have to deliberately decide
own projects has a positive, and substantial effect on the which projects should be subject to PPM and which ones
individual employee (an effect we might label increased should not be. Second, having decided on degrees of enact-
self-realization and self-respect). Thus, if management finds ment, the challenge is to decide how many resources should
that it is important to facilitate creativity and initiative on be set aside for the plethora of small projects that do not
the behalf of employees, then it seems to be a dangerous appear on the project list. Otherwise, smaller projects will
strategy to take away a means of creativity and self- take up a critical portion of the resources that are – offi-
empowerment, i.e. smaller, independent projects that cially – set aside for the completion of projects subject to
employees appreciate. PPM. It is not, we argue, possible to make any rule-of-
thumb to indicate what the extent of top management’s
5.2. Setting up a pool of loosely-controlled resources enactment of projects should be. Especially, this is impos-
sible due to the fact that degrees of enactment hinge upon
Due to the severe problems regarding the first solution top management’s predispositions towards top-down PPM
(i.e. making PPM all-embracing), another solution would and employee empowerment. Hence, it especially seems
be to assure that there is the space and resources for that top management might reduce the crunch in resources
employees to do smaller, independent projects without by means of deliberately deciding on (1) which projects
these projects becoming subject to PPM. Hence, the second need top management attention, and (2) which projects
solution is to set up a pool of loosely-controlled resources are better left to employees.
dedicated to projects that are simply too small for top man-
agement to incorporate them into PPM. Thus, manage- 6. Research implications
ment could make room for employees to work on
smaller, independent projects of their own choice. A piece The empirical study elaborates on the ‘‘significant short-
of well-known advice in the project management literature age of resources devoted to NPD’’ that Cooper and Edgett
is to set up an 80/20 rule, i.e. let PPM cover 80 percent of [21] argue is the fundamental problem ‘‘that plagues most
resources and set aside the remaining 20% for employees to firms’ product development efforts’’. Our work especially
allocate across smaller projects. In practice, this could be suggests that the shortage of resources devoted to enacted
done by dedicating four days a week to PPM projects projects is not a problem that primarily arises in relation to
and one day to smaller projects. However, as simple as this top management’s PPM. On the contrary, in-good-faith
may sound, setting up loosely-controlled resources for top management dedicates resources to enacted projects
smaller projects to draw upon may prove difficult in prac- on the basis of sound PPM. However, what top managers
tice. Especially, problems may arise from the following do not do is take into account the host of smaller projects
issues: that individuals initiate and – more importantly – top man-
agers ignore (or at least heavily under-estimate) the amount
1. Daily work getting in the way of work on both enacted of resources that these smaller projects tie up. Hence, we
and un-enacted projects. argue that especially the crunch in resources may be attrib-
2. Tight deadlines on a specific project may make it wiser utable to the un-enacted competition for resources that
to focus on that project rather than spread out resources smaller projects subject enacted projects to. Consequently,
across more projects. the key contribution of our empirical work to research is
3. The level of liability on behalf of employees that this that it emphasises that if we wish to study PPM (and espe-
type of strategy is dependent upon. cially if we wish to relate PPM to project performance), we
4. Implementation of this strategy necessitates that man- might be better off taking into account the entire range of
agement defines where the boundary between enacted projects that actual (not enacted) portfolios are comprised
and un-enacted projects actually lies. of. Thus, if we as researchers only enact the projects that
5. It may be problematic that un-enacted projects are not are neatly listed by top management, then our research will
evaluated or that they are not subject to some sort of neglect the host of projects that are not subject to PPM,
screening like enacted projects are. projects that nonetheless take up valuable, and scarce,
resources. The fact that the empirical study includes inter-
In conclusion, it thus seems that a key managerial chal- views with managers, i.e. those who do PPM, and inter-
lenge is to decide whether individual projects should be views with personnel at lower organisational levels, i.e.
part of PPM. As the generation of all-embracing project those whose work is subject to PPM, is the reason why
lists is rather problematic, the end result of this decision- we were able to identify un-enacted projects. Thus,
B.S. Blichfeldt, P. Eskerod / International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 357–365 365

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