There are two main perspectives to manage projects and programs in any organisation: Project/Program centric and Portfolio centric.
Program centric approach
This approach relies on an experience and knowledge of a program team. Schedule maturity and quality defined by program stakeholders, especially by PMO manager, Program manager and Master scheduler/planner.
Portfolio centric approach
This approach recognises that while each program is unique, all of them operate in the same environment and need to follow the same critical processes (project gating, procurement, reporting, etc.). Therefore, this approach focuses on templates, corporate norms and the implementation of project practices that support all types of programs.
Advantages of program centric approach include:
- Easier to address program-specific requirements and meet stakeholder’s expectations by implementing fit-for-purpose program delivery methods & techniques
- A master scheduler usually has wide-ranging control over all schedules in the program and can implement practices that would too complicated to be used at the portfolio level
- Easier to manage dependencies between projects within the program
- Easier to manage program resources
- Fewer requirements for scheduling tools, as a manual workaround could be an option
Disadvantages of program centric approach include:
- It is difficult to mature portfolio management if scheduling data is not centralised and programs use different scheduling practices
- Historical information and lessons not utilised in future programs properly
- Activity durations and dependencies are less reliable
- Harder to mature portfolio interdependency management
- More difficult to optimise resources across Portfolio
- Programs may be aware of potential enterprise constraints (funds, resources, equipment, corporate services, change management, etc) but don’t have a complete picture to mitigate related risks appropriately
Points to consider
- It is often a challenge to find a balance between implementing consistent scheduling practices across all projects in a portfolio and keeping a level of flexibility to support program scheduling.
- Program centric delivery may have portfolio stakeholders (EPMO, portfolio schedulers, etc) but their influence is usually not that critical and a program master scheduler has enough flexibility to implement relevant scheduling practices.
- It is easier for a program to avoid portfolio scheduling requirements if scheduling and schedule reporting tools are not integrated, as it is challenging to control the maturity and quality of each individual schedule without a centralised portfolio scheduling tool.
- Most consulting companies provide scheduling services as a “body shop” to support program centric scheduling. Usually, their scheduling consultants have profound knowledge of essential functions in scheduling tools to support program delivery but have quite limited experience in a portfolio centric environment.
- If a master scheduler moves to another program, it is likely that scheduling practices are going to be revised. Each master scheduler understands “Best scheduling practices” differently. The impact may vary from the rollout of new quality filters to the complete change of a scheduling tool.
- When a scheduler moves from program scheduling to portfolio scheduling, often they consider their portfolio just as a ‘large program’ and try to apply program scheduling practices at a portfolio level.
Program centric delivery defines resources (people, financials, equipment) and materials requirements (skillset and time) and comes up with the solution to secure them. A project plan is usually built based on the assumption that resources will be available when needed. Portfolio prioritisation is usually performed based on strategic priorities and financial limits without taking non-financial constraints into account.
Portfolio centric delivery defines corporate resource norms (skills, productivity), fragments of work (templates) with loaded skills, and portfolio resource and material constraints. Portfolio prioritisation is based on strategic priorities, financial and non-financial limitations.
The most popular scheduling tools (P6, MS Project, Spider, Asta, etc. ) have different features to support Program and Portfolio centric delivery.
Some features could be critical for program delivery but not relevant for portfolio scheduling and the other way around.