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The Definitive Guide to Portfolio Management

Discover how digital tools help you to gain insight over your Strategic Portfolio

What is Portfolio Management?

In your enterprise there are many activities, initiatives, and projects. Some are already underway. Others are being planned. Each one represents an investment of resources, so how can you be sure that all these investments are aligned to your overall business goals? That no project is stealing resources from a worthier candidate that could bring greater value to your enterprise?

Individual project managers will want to achieve the most they can, asking for whatever resources they deem necessary. You can’t blame them for that. However, you can make sure that all their efforts and those of their teams are being oriented in the right direction with time, money, and skills being shared out appropriately.

Portfolio management is the selection, prioritisation and control of an organisation’s programmes and projects, in line with its strategic objectives and capacity to deliver.

The goal is to balance the implementation of change initiatives and the maintenance of business-­as­-usual, while optimising return on investment. (APM, 2021)


Why everyone needs a portfolio management process

Effective portfolio management is the key. It lets top management make the most of all the energy in their enterprise. It also leverages operational input from people at the sharp edge who can give you the detail on progress or problems for each project. It brings opportunities to the business to realign projects that are pointing the wrong way. It lets you reallocate resources between operations to maximize the total performance of your business. You can balance the change you want for tomorrow with the business you need to keep doing today.

As the business world continues to accelerate, effective portfolio management also needs tools to simplify and clarify situations and decisions. However, this means more than a software application portioning out people-hours and money. Project dependencies must be identified.

Giving priority to one project may have an impact on others. Levels and types of risk may change. Without some system in place to monitor and assess risk, a collection of projects can become unbalanced.

Perhaps most importantly, good communication is paramount, ensuring that information flows in and out properly, constructive discussions lead to good portfolio decisions, and the results are made clear to all stakeholders.

"SharpCloud allows us to collaborate in real time. Project information and updates are now accessible online and offline to both key stakeholders and the product development team. Everyone is on the same page."

Diana Grauer, Ph.D
Vice President of Engineering, Hoerbiger


Boosting portfolio management awareness

If you want to develop a “portfolio management attitude” in your team or your company, start by making sure everyone is using the same terms to mean the same things.

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A project is an activity with a scope (what you want to accomplish), a budget (the resources you’ll use), and a schedule (when the results will be available).

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A programme is a group of projects that accomplishes a bigger goal than any of the individual projects could achieve on its own. For the programme to be successful, each project in the program should be successful.

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A portfolio is a collection of projects and programmes, some of which may be interdependent, others not. A portfolio must be balanced in terms of what value is generated for the enterprise at what time, the resources that are required, and the risks associated with the different projects and programs that it contains.

So, for example:

In marketing, separate projects might be to build a customer database, to update sales literature on products, and to win certain major accounts. A programme bringing these together might have the objective of increasing market share and profits. The overall marketing portfolio would then include this programme and all the other programmes and projects for defining new products and services, obsoleting old ones, increasing customer loyalty, and so on.

In IT, separate projects might be to upgrade servers, to increase networking speeds, and to implement new software applications. These projects might come together in a programme to help the enterprise to increase productivity. The overall IT portfolio could include this productivity program, cloud migration initiatives, end-user support services, cyber security, and more.


Five key goals of portfolio management

Portfolio management can be complex, especially when the number of constituent projects and programmes rises. Keeping initial objectives simple and relevant helps:


Prioritize the right projects and programmes for the best trade-offs between results and risks. All the important elements must be considered, like customers, employees, social responsibility, regulations, profitability, and long-term sustainability of the business.


Communicate with stakeholders to understand needs, requirements, options and best ways forward. Portfolio management cannot afford to be overly complicated or to exclude pertinent input. Analysis, insights, and decisions should be intuitively easy to make and understand.


Be flexible in allocating or reallocating resources, reacting quickly and appropriately to changes in business conditions.


Do more with less. Good portfolio management eliminates redundancies between projects and programmes, promotes synergies, and shares best practices. Efficiency and returns go up while requirements for resources go down.


Anticipate problems and opportunities. Portfolio management helps to solve issues in a timely way or even prevent them from happening. It also positions projects and programmes to make the most of changes in the business landscape.

"The ability to visualize real time updates and insights in a collaborative fashion, helps provide greater visibility and interaction to how the overall Portfolio is performing."

Lewis Choi
Senior Director IT

The good, the bad and the ugly

In enterprises, projects and programmes in portfolios can vary - from the awesome to the abysmal. You might not always like what you see, but transparency and realism are crucial. When you can see everything, “warts and all”, you can engage your teams and your enterprise to fix problems and make the most of opportunities

The good

  • Identification of top-level business goals
  • Business value of each individual project in the portfolio
  • Capacity of the enterprise to deliver on the portfolio and its projects
  • Desirability of delivering (relative value, relative risk of the projects)
  • Change management as current and new projects are

The bad

  • Divergence between business strategy and project initiatives
  • Wasteful redundancy between projects
  • Inability to adjust priorities as situations change
  • Overspending on some projects, underspending on others
  • Poor communication of portfolio challenges or intentions.

The ugly

  • Difficult markets
  • Tougher regulations
  • Fiercer competition
  • Customers moving towards other suppliers
  • Product or service development setbacks.

Key areas in portfolio management for visibility

You can foster a strong portfolio management orientation in your enterprise by raising visibility in the following areas.

Performance metrics

Often, the first things that stakeholders ask, “show us the money!” Management wants to know what is being spent where and what bankable value is being produced. That does not mean that elements like business innovation or customer satisfaction are unimportant, far from it. However, money spent and made are relatively easy to measure and compare. It’s a “quick win” in demonstrating the advantages of portfolio management. Then you can get to grips with other metrics that may be less basic but just as important. Some portfolio management tools have built-in capabilities for tracking metrics. Others make it easy to pull in the data from other applications or databases.

Project and programme relationships

Projects that are totally isolated from others are rare, even non-existent. Somewhere, somehow, they probably still compete for the same resources as other projects. They may be a hidden enabler for one project. They may depend on the output of another project, which may in turn depends on yet another project. Understanding these relationships is a critical success factor for many enterprise portfolios. Recording and displaying this information to make it easy to grasp and explore levels of dependency are also high priorities.

Risk management

Zero risk does not exist. However, remember that risk can be positive as well as negative. On one hand, you’ll want your company to consider threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts. The portfolio must be balanced and robust enough to ensure that a hiccup in a project here or there does not prevent satisfactory results overall. On the other hand, there may also be opportunities to bring different projects together into programmes for higher efficiency and bigger, more valuable goals for the business. The ability to quickly and intuitively explore “what-if” scenarios is important here.

Resource deployment

Most resources can only be spent once and in one place. Information is a notable exception, but otherwise, money, time, and people must obey this rule. A portfolio management system needs to allocate enterprise resources to projects accurately (no double-spending) and appropriately (aligned for high value and acceptable risk). If you see that project A will do everything that project B will do, but faster and with more added value, it should be straightforward for you and other stakeholders to explore the possibilities of redeploying Project B’s resources elsewhere.

Change management and new projects

At a micro level, change is everywhere and can be disruptive. At a macro level however, overall change can be smoothed to get the benefits, but minimise the disruption. You can choose timely evolution instead of revolution. The project pipeline is one example. Portfolio management tools can help you integrate new projects and their needs more easily, minimising or avoiding any undesirable impact on the output of existing projects.

"From a management point of view, SharpCloud has given a much greater visibility across the complete portfolio and enables the senior management team to rapidly delve into the detail of planned activities, to show how they link directly to our partner’s needs."

Pete Osborne
Senior Technical Fellow


Portfolio Management Tools

Ideally, everybody in an enterprise would use the same tool to manage portfolios and their constituent projects and programmes. Dream on! Tools from different vendors offer varying functionalities and appeal to different users, broadening the range adopted by users.

You may meet any of the following tools and technologies when you dig a little deeper into what people in your enterprise favour:

Spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel

These are popular because they are easy to use on a PC or a mobile device. The problem is that many users can mean many versions of the same file floating around. However, as many other applications export their data in Excel format, this can be a useful conduit for getting project, financial, risk, and other data into a portfolio management system.

Pen and paper

Still in use! In addition, many good business plans have been written “on the back of an envelope”, an approach that obliges you to be concise and relevant. Obvious limitations include difficulties in sharing and organising the information, but for simplicity and intuitive ease of use, the standard set by pen and paper is something worth aiming for.

Presentation software

Microsoft PowerPoint is a well-known example and makes it easy to make static presentations about portfolios and projects. However, it may be more difficult to modify a presentation in real time or to try using it to explore different portfolio scenarios.

Project management software

From basic Gantt charts to complex scheduling algorithms, these applications operate at the project and sometimes the programme level. Some may make intuitive use of email to run projects. Others may require expert knowledge to make them give the results that are needed.

Scheduling software.

Some projects are complicated enough to require the use of a separate scheduling application. This software plots activity durations and due dates and assigns resources to ensure activities happen as planned and give the output expected. Firms executing major engineering and construction projects with large teams and complex supply schedules are among the users of such software.

Risk analysis and management software

Enterprises can use this kind of application to create a repository of risks and link them to company objectives. They can then track them and use analytics to estimate the chance and the impact of risks, as well as other aspects such as risk velocity. In many projects and programmes, there is no shortage of risks to be considered. Market, financial, security, natural disaster, compliance, governance, legal, and reputational risks are examples.


Systems of record such as those used for financial accounting, project scheduling, and enterprise resource management typically use relational databases. This lets them guarantee accurate recording and retrieval of data. Some portfolio management tools can communicate with such databases to extract useful information.

"SharpCloud is reducing a lot of headaches by saving time, improving collaboration and increasing process efficiency, which is resulting in more informed business decisions across our Project Portfolio."

Nathan Dillon
IT Project Manager

Portfolio management solutions may need to deal with one or more of the applications or resources above to extract the data required. Solution efficiency and usability are important goals, with the ability to:

Capture the complete picture to the level of detail required from an overview to a deep dive. Comprehensive project, financial, relationship, and any other data must all be brought together for discussion and decisions at the level of overall value to the enterprise.

Present portfolio status, trends, and plans simply and effectively. Instead of multiple spreadsheets and presentation slide decks, the portfolio management solution must make it fast and intuitive to understand what is at stake and which courses of action are the most desirable.

Streamline data collection and consumption. The portfolio management solution needs to be the “go-to” version of the truth for stakeholders. This can be via the information it holds directly or through its links using automated data retrieval from reliable sources that are always up-to-date. Access to the solution should be available from PCs and mobile computing devices, anywhere, anytime.

Engage stakeholders. Linear static presentations should be replaced by dynamic ones to engage stakeholders and explore and answer their questions in real time. 3-dimensional views of project timelines can help get attention and interest that you can then keep with deeper content such as text, videos, and animations. Your audience can participate in data-driven business stories that they help to tell for a clear view of key portfolio status and evolution.

Dashboards and key performance indicators

A dashboard for portfolio management must bring you and your enterprise two things. First, an at-a-glance appreciation of your portfolio. Second, the ability to drill down or explore any aspect of interest.

At-a-glance views of a portfolio depend on indicators that tell you what you want to know. These key performance indicators or KPIs may relate to portfolio value, risk, allocation of resources, or issues, but they will be specific to each enterprise.

To pick them properly, look at the factors of your portfolio that are the most important to your business and then define your indicators accordingly. For example, if your business is highly geared towards export markets, an exchange rate may be an important portfolio indicator for you.


What you should get out of portfolio management

Let’s recap on measurable benefits that portfolio management goals, tools, and practice can bring to your enterprise.


More projects delivering useful output. By comparing individual projects against overall business goals, you’ll see how to align projects to optimize their contributions to the enterprise and to each other.


Better budget control. You can make sure that not only each project keeps to budget, but also that the enterprise sticks to its overall financial goals for spending.


Faster project returns. Portfolio management lets you score projects in many ways, including their time to value. To keep the lights on while preparing for the future, you will be able to select the projects with the fastest returns as the priorities.


Fewer or no worthless projects. Portfolio management also allows you to allocate budget based on the value left for a project to deliver, not how much you already spent on it. Instead of sticking rigidly to a previous plan, you can pragmatically decide to terminate one project if another project can accomplish more with the remaining budget.

Remember that business portfolio management is a continuing process, not a one-off exercise. At regular intervals, you will need to assess direction, synergy, and benefit, and re-adjust as necessary to meet your business goals. The elements and approach outlined here can help you do that while keeping your stakeholders engaged and strengthening awareness and support for portfolio management throughout your enterprise.

"Getting senior leadership attention and enabling the organisation to understand and manage the risks of achieving our objectives; for me SharpCloud is priceless."

David Shipp
Enterprise Risk Manager

About SharpCloud

A single point of truth for your portfolio.

SharpCloud is a no-code platform for enterprises to business productivity apps such as strategic roadmaps. SharpCloud helps you and your teams to visualize interdependencies and progress, and to keep all your stakeholders on the same page with dynamic, real time data, all in one place.

SharpCloud brings together resources you currently use, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office 365 applications, and seamlessly integrates across multiple platforms, allowing you to communicate, interact, and collaborate across multiple documents and data in context and by topic.

By gathering information from different data sources in one place, SharpCloud users can quickly create and explore powerful business stories (apps) that can be used as presentations, strategic roadmaps, or project portfolios. With hundreds of customizable and interactive views, SharpCloud has the power to provide the insight required. 

Thanks to embedded images, video, documents, and discussion, your business stories become visually impressive and truly interactive. Use SharpCloud for executive & leadership presentations, knowing your presentations are always showing the latest facts and figures or empower teams to display data on mobile, desktop, touchscreens, and more.

Through smarter, more informed decisions, SharpCloud enables you to increase business agility, solve business challenges and innovate faster across the organization. 

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