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Revised project and portfolio management standards get critical review

The Project Management Institute's revised standards for project and portfolio management aren't complete, Gartner says. Find out why PMI disagrees.

Analyst firm Gartner Inc. is taking aim at two recently revised portfolio and project management standards, saying they lack sufficient detail to be useful. But the standards author, the Project Management Institute (PMI), says the critique results from a misunderstanding about the purpose of the standards.

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Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner recently published two notes critiquing -- and largely criticizing -- the two revised standards by the PMI, which provides information to project management professionals around the world and offers project management accreditations.

Late last year, PMI released a second edition of two of its standards, "The Standard for Portfolio Management" and "The Standard for Program Management," per the expectations of the American National Standards Institute. PMI first drafted these standards in 2006 and must update them to maintain accreditation, said Brian Weiss, PMI's vice president of product management.

Project and portfolio management (PPM) remain hot topics in enterprise IT organizations as CIOs and project and portfolio managers struggle to demonstrate an ROI with every project they pursue, as well as improve efficiency in the recessionary environment. Project prioritization is key, and PPM is intended to help organizations determine which investments will bring the greatest payoff and then achieve that value.

Gartner research director Michael Hanford argues that PMI's revisions do not go far enough in explaining how an IT organization can establish its own project and portfolio management program. He is cautioning clients who acquire these publications to review their contents with PPM experts (inside or outside the organization) to identify what in the standards is readily useable and what must be supplemented, and to hold off on sharing it with staff until that review is complete.

"Their portfolio management standard shows a solid understanding of a complex discipline, but I'd say it disappoints with an uneven level of explanations," Hanford said. "In some areas, they go into lots of depth, description and discussion. In others, they sort of skate right through."

For instance, the standard discusses the importance of a portfolio management program, but it does not discuss how to set up portfolios in the first place, Hanford said. That means an organization must decide on its own what goes into the portfolio and how many portfolios there should be by taking an inventory of existing projects and sorting them out.

"They don't even mention setting up portfolios -- they're just there," Hanford said. "If you're going to call something a standard, then I think you have an obligation to be fairly balanced and lay out the whole of the area."

Weiss acknowledged that organizations that use the PMI's project and portfolio management body of knowledge as their main how-to guide could find the standards lacking. "For them, our standards would not be sufficient, so it's definitely not the first time we've had a conversation around our standards and whether they go far enough," Weiss said. "But we make a conscious decision to stop where we do because of who we are and what we represent in the marketplace."

There are varying levels of use of project management.
Brian Weiss
vice president of product managementProject Management Institute
PMI marketing manager Cindy Anderson explained that the organization uses a volunteer consensus process to develop and revise its standards.

"We have thousands of people who participate in the creation of our standards … and their comments are taken into consideration in the development of the final standards," she said. "The resulting standard is the most common practice in most organizations most of the time. It's not necessarily a best practice, or cutting edge, but good practices commonly used most of the time by most of the organizations."

Gartner also looked at PMI's revised program management standard and offered an even more critical review.

Why such a harsh critique? Hanford said he suspects that PMI's efforts to align later research with its project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) has led to some inconsistencies. The PMBOK is PMI's full set of processes generally recognized as good practice.

"The more intellectual property you have, the harder it is to keep it current and introduce new stuff that doesn't conflict with the old stuff," Hanford said. "I think their PMBOK has become a bit of a boat anchor. They're trying to align with it, and it's stretching things out of shape."

Weiss acknowledged that PMI tries to be coherent in all of the information it distributes. "We absolutely want alignment across all of our standards," he said. "The process we took to assure independent thinking across teams ensured us we wouldn't have a narrow view across disciplines, but we want to make sure that things coming out of PMI are consistent with one another."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor

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