If portfolio management is knowledge work, what tools do we need?

Knowledge Work and IT Support

Just read “Rethinking Knowledge Work” in the McKinsey Quarterly (full article here). It nicely categorizes knowledge work in a 2×2 framework where level of interdependence  (individual or group) is plotted against complexity of the task (routine or judgement). Then the article maps IT support practice and options on this job framework, to suggest better tool support for the four quadrants. In their view, structured IT tooling (with fixed data formats and strict workflow) is currently limited to the Transaction quadrant, where the others mostly rely on unstructured, free access tools. The burden of interpreting and collating data into the right information at the right time then falls fully on the knowledge worker.

When I read this article, I tried to plot innovation portfolio management in this 2×2 framework. It occurred to me that the main decision-making cycle is firmly in the top-right quadrant: it is about  judgement by a cross-functional team.

Portfolio management as collaborative decision-making

In the decision-making process, tools should hence focus making sure all relevant data is presented in a meaningful way. By supporting exploration of the underlying data, the assumptions, and the options embedded in the portfolio. By allowing exploration of alternative portfolio compositions and scenarios, and clearly visualizing their impact. By linking the decision alternatives to strategic and financial goals and constraints.

What else do we need in portfolio management IT?

Having said this, some aspects of the innovation portfolio management process fall nicely in the other 3 categories:

  • transactional: the (semi)automatic collection of status updates from running projects;
  • integrated: the scheduling of the portfolio reviews and the joint execution of portfolio decisions;
  • expert: the expert analysis of external market and technology trends, the expert assessment of individual project assumptions.

All in all, this article offered me a fresh perspective of tool support requirements, and it confirmed my experience that portfolio management tooling must be exploratory and yet offer workflow support. Have a look at how we implemented this in our FLIGHTMAP portfolio management suite.


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