Information systems project portfolio management as a complex adaptive system: The CAPPP framework
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Project portfolio management (PPM) has been subject to very little investigation in information systems (IS) research. This is surprising, given the huge global expenditure on IS, the high levels of failure at the project level in IS, and how IS PPM has not achieved the same benefits associated with a portfolio approach in other disciplines such as finance, new product development and construction. Indeed, problems have been reported with all aspects of IS PPM. Some of these problems arise because existing top-down approaches to IS PPM, with centralised resource allocation and episodic project selection, strategic reviews, and performance management, are often incompatible with the dynamic process of managing complex portfolios of interdependent IS projects in a constantly changing environment. Complex Adaptive Systems theory (CAS) can be used to develop insights about the management of many different types of complex systems comprising interacting entities in dynamic environments. While the application of CAS in IS has proved challenging, this study aims to use analogical reasoning to apply the concepts of CAS theory to IS PPM to identify a framework of practices to enable the four components of IS PPM. These components are (i) project selection, (ii) resource management, (iii) strategic alignment, and (iv) performance management. In order to develop the analogy between CAS and IS PPM, a conceptual framework for IS PPM as a complex adaptive system is created by synthesising the existing literature. This framework consists of agents, the environment, interactions, system- level properties and feedback loops. Taking an interpretive, exploratory approach, the conceptual framework is used to investigate the enactment of IS PPM as a CAS through 30 expert interviews with experienced academics and IS PPM practitioners. 69 CAS based practices and 162 supporting IS PPM practices are identified. These practices are integrated into a single framework known as the Complex Adaptive Systems Project Portfolio Management Practice Framework, or CAPPP Framework. The application of this framework is demonstrated in an illustrative case study examining resource management practices in the IS portfolio of Ireland’s Health Service Executive. As well as demonstrating the use of the CAPPP Framework, the case study also produces a set of recommendations to assist researchers and practitioners in its application and highlights divergences between existing approaches to IS PPM and a CAS based approach. The main theoretical contribution of the study is the conceptual framework for IS PPM as a complex adaptive system. This conceptual framework contributes to the CAS literature by synthesising concepts from a number of frameworks into a single overarching framework. It contributes to the IS PPM literature by conceptualising IS PPM as a CAS and identifying a theoretically grounded framework of practices. It also contributes to IS PPM by evaluating current PPM thinking in IS and highlighting divergences between existing approaches and CAS. The CAPPP framework is an important contribution to the practical application of IS PPM and is intended to help with the day to day management of portfolios of IS projects. While this research suffers from the limitations associated with qualitative research, it was conducted in a rigorous manner and offers many useful insights into the management of portfolios. Finally, the study sets out a comprehensive research agenda for further study.
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