The Value of a Strong IT Service Portfolio (and how to build one)

If you ask a company’s Project Management Office, or PMO, to produce a Project Portfolio (essentially a list of all significant projects currently underway) most of them will be able to so. Ask those same companies to produce an IT Service Portfolio and you may not have as much luck. Historically, we haven’t done a fantastic job stressing the importance of maintaining an IT Service Portfolio. As a result, many organizations keep them poorly organized – or don’t have them at all. If your organization falls into one of the latter two camps, here’s a rundown of what you’re missing out on, and (because it would be cruel to leave it there) some tips on how to start building an IT Service Portfolio or improve the one you have.

First thing’s first. Let’s define an IT Service Portfolio.

An IT Service Portfolio is the complete list of services that are managed by a service provider. The service portfolio is used to manage the entire lifecycle of all services, and includes three categories: service pipeline (proposed or in development); service catalog (live or available for deployment); and retired services.

So, why is it important to have one?

Projects alone don’t always tell the complete story, at least from a customer’s perspective. An IT Service Portfolio can serve as an extremely helpful tool in promoting strategic discussions, decision making, and long-term planning. It can also answer three important customer questions:

// What services are under serious consideration or in development?
// What services do we currently offer to customers?
// What do we no longer offer and why?

A Project Portfolio, in contrast, can only answer one question: What projects are we planning or are currently underway? It doesn’t give customers an understanding of the outcomes they will receive as a result of these projects (the ability to more quickly process customers’ transactions online, for example).

The good news is, if you currently maintain a Project Portfolio, you have the makings of what will become your IT Service Portfolio. Here are three tips to ensure the transformation is successful.

Agree on what to capture.

This is likely going to be the most difficult piece, as you’ll need to get agreement on which information makes the cut, understanding the more you capture, the more you’ll have to maintain going forward. A good way to strike a balance here is to start with the end in mind, and from there come up with a list of decisions you’d like to be able to make (be able to better manage resources and prepare for upcoming changes, provide a list of upcoming services to prospective or current customers, understand where our capabilities and gaps are, etc.).

When your list is settled, begin parsing out which relevant information already exists, and how best to obtain what doesn’t. You’ll likely pull information from your Project Portfolio, Customer Lists, and Application Lists for this. Wherever you find it, you’ll then populate the portfolio with it – and of course make sure it’s periodically updated.

NOTE: Projects and services are fundamentally different. Thus, you may have many projects in support of a single service – or multiple services that underpin or support a single project. Your first order of business is understanding the different between the two and making sure you can map one to the other (here’s a short read on what makes something a service).

Build on what you currently offer.

Trying to capture everything at once can be daunting – don’t do it. Customers care most about what they are currently using, so it’s usually most helpful to start with your service catalog (one of three pieces of the service portfolio). There are a number of detailed articles and Service Catalog workshops that can help you with that piece, so I won’t get into too much detail on that here. But it is a good first step and one you can build on to populate the pipeline and retired sections of the portfolio.

Going through the exercise of building a solid service catalog will also get your teams in agreement on what constitutes a Service, which can be a difficult concept for folks to digest for the first time. Get it out of the way with your catalog, so you can more easily add Services to your pipeline and list of retired services.

Keep your portfolio current.

This is a critical step. Leadership will be using the information in your portfolio to make critical decisions (what to keep, what to cut, etc.), so accuracy is hugely important. That doesn’t mean it has to be overly time consuming to maintain, though. Look for ways to automate the information and save your Portfolio Manager as much time as possible. Also, be sure to get feedback on ways to improve the information captured and/or shared along the way.

Version one of your service portfolio may be an Excel spreadsheet - and that’s ok.  However, over time, you’ll want to look for ways to better communicate this information. An excellent option is an online portal that can be viewed by everyone in real time. There are some robust IT Service Management tools out there that can help you maintain, improve, and wow your customers – but you must have a good process in place first.

In IT Service Portfolio