Power and Politics in Project Portfolios

Lähde: Moonsoft Oy
Quinton van Eeden

Mega-projects and project portfolios always involve the intersection of risk, democracy and power. Although project portfolio management (PPM) refers to a set of processes and practices which manages a group of projects and programmes to the achieve strategic business objectives[1], power and politics inevitably exert an undue influence on the PPM process often resulting in the “survival of the unfittest”[2].

One of the core reasons for this, is the lack of, and adherence to, an institutionalised Decision Quality framework[3] within organisations, resulting in subjective factors sometimes unduly influencing project portfolio investment decisions. Flyvberg[4] refers to and place some of the blame for sub-optimal portfolio investment decision-making, on “the sublimes”.

  • The Technological Sublime refers to the excitement that engineers and technologists get in pushing the envelope for what is possible in “longest– tallest– fastest” type of projects. In an unthinking quest to innovate at all costs, untested bleeding (as opposed to leading) edge technologies and processes are included into project scope and designs often with disastrous effects on project success even if such success is only measured in terms of the traditional iron triangle of quality, cost and duration.
  • The rapture that politicians get from building monuments to themselves and their causes, and from the visibility this generates with the public and media constitutes a Political Sublime according to Flyvberg. The fundamental disconnect between project portfolio investment decisions and the political decisions which often underpin them, is the fact that the duration of the execution and results of a mega-project usually far exceed the typical term of office for a political office bearer or senior decision-maker within the organisation. They are therefore seldom around to be called to account when their grand vision/vanity project overruns on costs and schedule or does not deliver the benefits promised at the time of final investment decision-taking.
  • The Economic Sublime refers to the delight business people and trade unions get from making lots of money and jobs from megaprojects, including for contractors, workers in construction and transportation, consultants, bankers, investors, landowners, lawyers, and developers. The link between mega-projects and actual benefit realisation in the form of increased economic development and societal benefit, is tenuous at best as research has shown.[5]
  • And last but not least, the Aesthetic Sublime describes the pleasure designers and people who love good design get from building and using something very large that is also iconic and beautiful, such as the Burj Khalifa, the Golden Gate bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

These aspects will be explored during a forthcoming presentation by Palisade Corporation at Project Management Days 2018 in Helsinki, during which the use of the DecisionTools suite of risk and decision analysis software will be demonstrated during a presentation titled Optimising the Cost and Value of Project Portfolios. By enabling the achievement of Decision Quality during the project portfolio decision-making process, use of the DecisionTools suite can assist organisations to ensure that “the unfittest does NOT survive”.

 References:

  1. Petit, Y. (2012), Project Portfolios in Dynamic Environments: Organizing for Uncertainty. International Journal of Project Management. 30(5): p. 539-553.
  2. Flyvbjerg, B. (2009), Survival of the Unfittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure gets Built – and What We can Do About It. Oxford Review of Economic Policy. 25(3): p. 344-367.
  3. Spetzler, C., H. Winter, and J. Meyer (2016), Decision Quality: Value Creation from Better Business Decisions John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.
  4. Flybjerg, B. (2017), The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management, Oxford University Press: London, UK.
  5. Ansar, A., et al. (2016), Does Infrastructure Investment Lead to Economic Growth or Economic Fragility? Evidence from China. Oxford Review of Economic Policy. 32(3): p. 360-390.