Role of single-project management in achieving portfolio
Miia Martinsuo*, Pa ¨ivi Lehtonen
Helsinki University of Technology, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, P.O. Box 5500, FI-02015 TKK, Finland
Received 29 November 2005; received in revised form 17 February 2006; accepted 13 April 2006
This paper examines how single-project management contributes to project portfolio management efficiency. Earlier research has sug-
gested that single-project management may be related to project portfolio-level success, but empirical evidence has been scarce. A ques-
tionnaire survey with 279 firms verifies the hypothesized role of information availability, goal setting and systematic decision making in
achieving portfolio management efficiency. The results reveal a mediating and direct role of project management efficiency but reject the
hypothesized link between reaching project goals and portfolio management efficiency. The results imply that understanding of portfolio-
level issues needs to be considered as part of project managers’ capabilities and not only a top management concern.
? 2006 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Project portfolio management; Managing programmes; Managing projects; Implementing strategy; Efficiency
Not only one but several, even dozens or hundreds of
projects are typically going on at the same time within a
firm. This multi-project setting has been examined in a
fairly independent stream of literature, often titled as ‘‘pro-
ject portfolio management’’ [1–3]. Project portfolio is a
group of projects that share and compete for the same
resources and are carried out under the sponsorship or
management of an organization [1,4]. Project portfolio
management can be considered a dynamic decision process,
where a list of active projects is constantly updated and
Project portfolio management literature encourages
evaluating, prioritizing, and selecting projects based on
strategy [6–11,29]. According to portfolio management
principles, organizational resources should be allocated to
projects in line with strategy [12,13]. Development pro-
cesses should take into account the existence of different
types of projects and their different requirements [14–17].
Furthermore, portfolio (or multi-project) management
requires sharing of resources, components or platforms
across a multitude of projects during project implementa-
tion [18–21]. A majority of portfolio management studies
are prospective in nature, i.e. they suggest good practices
for project portfolio management. The actual efficiency of
project portfolio management has, so far, been a rare topic
Holistic, strategy-based portfolio management method-
ologies and practices suggest that portfolio-level decisions
should be enacted at single-project level or through
development process [1,5,22–24]. How do these single-
project level actions eventually contribute to portfolio
management efficiency? Fricke and Shenhar  have iden-
tified factors in the single-project–multi-project interface,
relevant to efficiency at both levels. Cooper et al.
[5,22,23,26,27] have conducted survey-based studies linking
the single-project and portfolio management practices to
company level performance indicators. Some other studies
link project portfolio management with single-project level
0263-7863/$30.00 ? 2006 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved.
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International Journal of Project Management 25 (2007) 56–65
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF
outcomes . These different studies provide initial evi-
dence on the potential linkage between single-project man-
agement and portfolio management efficiency.
This paper focuses on that linkage. Our research ques-
tion is: how is single-project management related to project
portfolio management efficiency. Our interest is to identify
how project managers, at the single-project level, can con-
tribute towards wider business benefits in the entire project
2. Portfolio management efficiency
Portfolio management efficiency as such has not been
reported in the literature. However, indications of its con-
cept and relevance are evident both in portfolio manage-
ment and single-project management studies.
Portfolio management studies refer to the objectives of
the portfolio, and the necessity to align projects with those
objectives [3,29]. An interview study by Cooper et al. 
with 35 companies identified that the objective of project
portfolio management was to maximize the value of the
portfolio in terms of company objectives, to achieve a bal-
ance of projects in terms of strategically important param-
eters, or to ensure strategic direction of projects. Efficiency
of project portfolio management, therefore, could be deter-
mined by estimating the degree to which the portfolio ful-
fills its objectives: strategic alignment, balance across
projects, and value maximization. In this study, portfolio
management efficiency concerns organizational members’
estimate of the degree to which the projects together, as a
portfolio, succeed in fulfilling the portfolio objectives.
Some latter studies [2,23,26,27] have examined the
reaching of the above portfolio objectives. They have
found some supporting evidence concerning the link
between portfolio-level results and business-level perfor-
mance, and product level performance indicators.
From single-project management viewpoint, many stud-
ies indicate that project goals and benefit expectations are
expanding from single-project level to the portfolio level.
In theoretical analyses, project management research is
increasingly linking projects with each other and the wider
business context [21,30–32]. Some empirical studies have
raised benefits to customer, other stakeholders, performing
organization and future as important success criteria in
projects, besides reaching of the dominantly used scope–
cost–time goals [33–37]. Many of such benefit expectations
can be reached only if multiple mutually supportive pro-
jects reach their goals.
Although many studies touch upon the relationship
between single-project and multi-project level performance,
none examine it holistically in the context of different kinds
of projects and industries. Although Fricke and Shenhar’s
 multiple-case study indicates how single-project level
success factors may contribute at the portfolio level, their
study is qualitative in nature and limited to engineering
projects in manufacturing support environment. Studies
by Cooper et al. [2,23,26,27] are limited to product devel-
opment, and they do not specifically look into single-pro-
ject management. Of the single-project management
studies, none examine whether and how the benefits are
actually reached at the portfolio level.
Earlier studies encourage further research in a larger
sample of different companies and different types of pro-
jects [31,32,38] to verify the link between single-project
management and portfolio management efficiency.
3. Single-project management and portfolio management
Earlier research has suggested that some single-project
level factors are related to and possibly contribute to port-
folio management efficiency. Table 1 summarizes some of
these empirical studies.
In the qualitative, case-based studies [21,25,39,42], the
focus has been on portfolio management as understood in
efficiency and its contributing project-management factors
has been very exploratory. For example the necessity for
clear goals in terms of scope, schedule, costs or resources,
sharing of information, top management support and a
Single-project management factors and empirical research on them, related to portfolio management efficiency
Empirical evidence Single-project management factors
by project type
Artto and Dietrich 
Cooper et al. [2,22,24,26,27]
Dietrich and Lehtonen 
Elonen and Artto 
Engwall and Jerbrant 
Fricke and Shenhar 
Milosevic and Patanakul 
Payne and Turner 
x means that some empirical evidence has been identified in the study. (x) means that a similar type of concept has been used by the authors, or that
evidence is weak.
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