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4 March 2008

Governance, not portfolio management

By Andrew Clifford

Portfolio management is so strongly associated with projects that it can not be applied to other types of portfolio.

Recently I asked whether system governance should be renamed, for example to system portfolio management (see Governance or portfolio management?). I asked readers for their views, and many of you were kind enough to give me comments or vote on my poll.

The results were fairly clear. 50% of the respondents thought we should keep the name "system governance", 33% thought we should use both "system governance" and "system portfolio management", and the remainder thought we should use a different name. Nobody thought that "system portfolio management" was a good name by itself.

We did not get enough votes for these numbers to be conclusive. What was interesting was to read between the lines.

A large number of people turned up at the poll page, but only a few voted. This shows that the vast majority of people have no clear preference.

I got a number of comments which, because I used the term "portfolio management", assumed that the method must be a type of project portfolio management, even though the method was never presented as a project management method. One reader was kind enough to highlight the Project Management Institute's new, broader, standards for portfolio management. But even these broader standards only go as far as including other types of work (such as support work) into the project portfolio. I have to accept that, in IT, "portfolio management" is synonymous with "project portfolio management". (Personally I think that applying the term "portfolio" to projects is misleading - see Projects are NOT investments for why.)

I got a small number of comments that implied that use of the term "governance" is inappropriate, and that it should be reserved for high-level activities such as establishing accountability for budgets. Our system governance method can be applied at both a high level and an everyday level. The concern applies to the using the term "governance" to everyday IT activities.

There are plenty of precedents for applying general words to everyday IT activity. The words analysis, architecture, design, testing and support all existed before they were adopted to describe IT activities. System governance is another everyday activity that sits comfortably alongside systems analysis, system architecture, system design, system testing and system support.

In conclusion, we can not use the term "system portfolio management" for what we do, simply because "portfolio management" is considered synonymous with "project portfolio management". Although I might disagree with this definition, there is not point trying to buck the trend.

We should retain the name "system governance". What we do is definitely a contributor to IT governance as it is generally understood. But, in the same way that we use the prefix "system" to describe many everyday activities (like system design), we can also present system governance as an everyday IT activity that can be applied outside of a broader IT governance initiative. We should use the same name for both the high level (the systems parts of IT governance) and everyday (governance applied to individual systems), because the method is the same for both.

I should stop worrying about the name, and concentrate on promoting the method.

Next: KeePass

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