is your project set up for failure or success?

How do the excellent Projects Portfolio Steering Committees lead their projects to success?

While several studies tell us that the number of failing projects does not decrease significantly, when projects do fail, should the blame always be placed on the project manager? Is he or she really the source of the problem?

It seems that the reason why "better" project management cannot resolve all problems is that it acts mainly on the 3 parameters of the triple constraint for the project: budget, schedule and content.

However, projects which we can consider as successes according to these 3 criteria may in fact be failures because the business value that they generate does not match the expectations.

In other words, the project manager acts to control the costs, the timeline and the delivery of the agreed contents with the required quality. But if the "bad" project has been selected or if the revenue or benefits forecasts are not reachable, aren’t we facing a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) issue which is the responsibility of the steering committee rather than the project manager?

the Projects Portfolio Steering Committee determines the value of the project

Indeed, the steering committee holds the control levers which define if the project is going to produce something of value for the business and what that value will be. The Steering Committee is responsible for taking the company or the organization from an initial idea to a deliverable produced by the project.

You can read more about "The advantages of project portfolio management according to PMI" here.

What are the main key roles of the projects Portfolio steering committee?

  • to articulate from the very start the desired results expected by the business, in a clear, precise, specific and unequivocal way.
  • to define what "success" means for the project and how we shall measure this success? On what criteria? Financial objectives, expected benefits, return on investment, efficiency of the project (costs, delays, quality, satisfaction of the customers and of the team)?
  • to make sure that all activities required to reach the expected benefits are systematically planned and tracked otherwise they will not occur
  • to give the green light for the project only when the business case is totally clear, understandable and demonstrates that this project is really worthwhile (see Six methods for prioritising projects with Prince2).
  • to choose the best project manager for the project to manage the project’s contents by approving the changes, reduction or increase requests which will allow to deliver in time and for the approved budget a maximized project value for the business
  • to understand the gaps between expected and produced value and the progress of the project during its life cycle and to take into account changes in the business context to confirm continuation, reorient or stop the project 
  • to ensure every committee member has a good understanding of the role of the committee and his own role in this steering committee

now, you have a choice

Continue to focus on the management of the costs and highlight the deficiencies in project management skills and competencies at your company while ignoring the impact of failing portfolio governance. Or, on the contrary, take the decision to improve the competence of your steering committee and build the organizational capacity to select and manage the "good" projects.

I also recommend reading "Eliminating the Reasons Organizations Choose the Wrong Projects" and "Selecting the Right Projects Requires the Right Approach"


Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at