When failure to plan project portfolios is a good thing


By Dr. Dirk Jungnickel


Abid Mustafa 


Winston Churchill once remarked: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” There are number of other variations of this famous saying, and all of them imply that without proper planning success cannot be achieved.  However, there are situations in the real world, especially in project portfolio management (PPM) where the exact opposite holds true.

Now you may be wondering why professional PPM practitioners would allow this to happen. After all, many of us recognise PPM as an indispensable practice that is essential to aligning the company’s strategy to its performance. Or in other words, PPM practitioners help companies to answer and manage the question: Are we doing the right things? And this goes against the very moral fibre of portfolio managers to intentional plan for the failure of project portfolios.

There are compelling circumstances when PPM practitioners have to face the reality and actually plan for failure, before things can improve. This usually occurs in business environments that are predominantly shaped by a ubiquitous blend of inhibiting factors that include: shareholders and executives interested only in the top line, companies are cash rich and face very little competition, and markets are subsidized by governments.

Emerging markets neatly fit the forgoing description and portfolio managers often interact with executives who sense the need for PPM but have very little faith in the project portfolio methodology.

One may argue that enough has been done to convince the executive team about the benefits and importance of PPM. Others may contend that the language employed to communicate PPM is flawed and requires an executive parlance.

We would like to counter such assertions by stating that a strong PPM benefits argument underpinned by  excellent statistics such as ‘Implementing a PPM tool produces an expected overall return of 255%’ (Forrester Research) or ‘Projects hitting expected ROI are 52% more likely with a PPM tool’ (Aberdeen Group) are likely to fall on deaf ears. The outcome is the same, even if top consultancies are employed to sell the case on the behalf PPM’s proponents. The same set of arguments applies to using lexicons peppered with words and terms that executives can understand and digest. As long as the company is not feeling the financial pinch the executive appetite for PPM remains dormant.


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About the Authors


flag-uaeDirk Jungnickel

Dr. Dirk Jungnickel is an accomplished telecoms specialist whose areas of expertise include:  IT, Operations and project management.  He is currently SVP for Corporate programme management and Risk, and Operational Business intelligence for a leading operator in the MENA region.



flag-uaeAbid Mustafa

Abid Mustafa is a seasoned professional with 18 years’ experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specializing in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programs and projects. Currently, he is working as a director of corporate programs for a leading telecoms operator in the MENA region.  Mr. Mustafa is based in Dubai and can be contacted at [email protected].