Project-Portfolio Snail

A typical Project Portfolio environment echoes the “fractal” form of the common garden snail’s shell.

A small organisation may only have ad-hoc projects managed independently, and a large corporation portfolio of projects is subdivided into “sub-portfolios “, each of which is managed as a portfolio in its own right. The same applies to program and project levels.

A definition of each fractal level is required for effective communication, but applied definitions are soft and vary between organisations and government bodies. The boundaries between levels are arbitrary and determined individually as well.

Two organizations carrying out similar projects may have significant differences between levels (or even the presence of levels), but the overall nesting from large to small is constant: groups of projects always consist of many interrelated tasks performed by project resources. What would fall under the definition of a project in one organization may be a program or even a portfolio in another.

Also, companies may use different delivery methods or even develop their terminology but the ‘fractally increasing’ principle applies.

Also, companies may use different delivery methods or even develop their terminology but the ‘fractally increasing’ principle applies.

The current establishment of a project management discipline relies solely on experiential records and opinions rather than a sound logical or theoretical foundation. Ideally, there is a need for a universally accepted and testable set of fundamental principles in project management. These principles would serve as a common reference point for a set of ‘generally acceptable practices,’ aiming to facilitate the creation of successful products. ‘Project-Portfolio Snail’ is one such principle.

A program-centric portfolio has many types of ‘snails’ that look the same but are not. It is challenging to mature such a portfolio as project people in the same portfolio don’t speak the same language. 

Even within a project, the language barrier may not be recognised. Project people move between organisations and even industries, and it is usually assumed that team members can easily speak the same PM language. They can’t, and they don’t understand that they can’t!

It is easy to recognise a gap for a new term. However, when a common project management term, like ‘stream’, has a slightly different meaning, it is incorrectly assumed that the whole team applies the term in the same way.

It is better to assume that a project team don’t have a common language. It opens an opportunity for PMOs to develop custom-made training where project management terminology is clarified and made mandatory for project stakeholders, from a project coordinator to an executive team, to attend.

Alex Lyaschenko

PMO | Portfolio Planning & Delivery | PMP | P3O Practitioner | AgilePM Practitioner | Six Sigma