- A range of various “blockers” often hinder Project Portfolio Management activities. The blockers include technical impediments, human-resource-related issues, or logistics misalignments.
- While some PPM blockers are impossible to avoid, most can at least be minimized using proper strategies and tactics.
Project Portfolio Management is not always a smooth ride, any professional of the discipline can tell you that much. Among the long list of frustrating problems and issues that may come in the way of successful completion of a project or that may prevent a portfolio from delivering the expected business benefits are what we’ll call “PPM blockers”.
A blocker is simply a factor, whether internal or external, that prevents the PPM process from moving forward or that blocks a task from being performed successfully. It’s anything that halts progress towards the objective you’ve set for your portfolio of projects.
Project Portfolio Management blockers are more severe than the “impediments” or “bottlenecks” that delay or minimize the effectiveness of action without thwarting it completely. While the list of potential blockers is virtually endless, as different organizations with different projects will face different challenges and difficulties, this post strives to provide an overview of the most common blockers in Project Portfolio Management.
Project Portfolio Management Blocker #1: Technical
System bugs and crashes. Machinery malfunction or downtime. Power blackouts. Team inability to handle new, advanced technology or to meet the technical requirements of a project. Here are just a few of the technical blockers that might prevent the completion of a project.
Technical blockers are particularly frequent in projects that involve the development of software or physical goods, but they might actually bring to a halt any kind of project (consider the case of an all-out IT system failure).
Implementing a structured process to guide innovation and new product development activities can, to some extent, help to minimize or at least anticipate such blockers. For example, thorough product reviews and quality control checks at key project milestones, prototypes, Proof-of-Concepts and mock-ups can help to detect structural flaws ahead of time. The Agile development process typically also helps prevent last-minute nasty surprises. However, there’s no eliminating the risk altogether in project portfolio management.
Project Portfolio Management Blocker #2: People and Communication
Project portfolio management blockers can also be people. We’re not talking ill-intentioned individuals that’ll deliberately sabotage a project (although this might happen too), but rather people that’ll slow the pace of work or even halt it for reasons beyond their control. This may be because someone was onboarded too late and is struggling to catch up, or because that person wasn’t properly brought up to speed. This may simply be because this individual is not the right person for the project. In addition to harming the project itself, such blockers can be detrimental to the whole workplace atmosphere and impact other initiatives. Hence the importance of careful and insightful team building strategies and of employee onboarding and support programs.
PPM blockers also include what we may call people-related blockers. For example overburdened teams working on multiple high-priority projects at the same time: they won’t be able to set aside the time that your project needs and deserves, and they might eventually experience burnout. Another example is communication blockers, either because of interpersonal incompatibility, or because of information silos between teams that don’t speak the same language, or because of subpar information and communication technology systems (which can be fatal in the context of remote working).
It is therefore of critical importance to make sure your business offers great employee experience, conducive working conditions, and efficient, easy-to-use tool sets.
Project Portfolio Management Blocker #3: Logistical
Even when all the relevant material and human conditions seem to be met, an in-flight project may be halted because of logistical blockers. Among them are project dependencies — that is, logical relationships between activities that prevent a task from starting until the previous one is finished. A textbook example is that of construction projects: when building a facility, you need to install the water pipes and the electrical system into the walls before you paint them and proceed with the outfitting. This means that any hiccup or delay in the wiring phase will block work on any subsequent phase and may bring the whole project to a standstill. At the level of a portfolio, it is quite frequent for multiple projects to share common resources, which introduces a risk of resource conflicts.
It is not always possible to avoid Project Portfolio Management blockers altogether, because of the causal relationships between some activities and projects. However, adopting such methods as Critical Chain Project Management can help to anticipate and minimize the impact of PPM blockers.