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DEVELOPING A BALANCED PROJECT PORTFOLIO FOR A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE - THE CASE OF SIFE IN SALFORD UK
In the UK, Social enterprises are organisations whose existence is predicated on a social
model where both commercial and charitable sources of income are used to achieve social aims
such as education, the improvement of local communities and the relief of poverty. Such social
enterprises are in essence project based organisations which select, develop and operate projects in
accordance with their internal motivation to achieve social aims and goals. Social Enterprises tend
to be small and are often lacking in managerial skills such as project management, consequently
they often select projects based solely on social need or other arbitarially determined factors and
ignore other important criteria. This approach increases the likelihood of project overload and
unbalanced project portfolio development and may lead, over the longer-term, to strategic failure.
This research uses an expert survey to identify factors used by social enterprise managers to
determine project selection in order to develop the framework for an Analytic Hierarchical Process
approach to help structure decision making. These factors are then utilised to guide a small group of
social enterprise managers from the SIFE social enterprise organisation to score and rank three
specimen projects. These managers proved adept at using this approach and could analyse the
specimen projects effectively, however, they proved less able to select a suitable portfolio of
projects. This research, although small in scale, suggests that social enterprise managers can
improve their selection of suitable projects through clarification of the decision criteria to be used,
but find it considerably more difficult to develop a balanced portfolio of projects.
K. Kane, M. Andreasik4sources in order to carry out projects that createchange in the local community and improveindividual lives in order to increase the socialcapital of the nation (Cheng & Ludlow, 2008;National Audit Office, 2009). In addition togathering grants and gifts to help with theirwork, social enterprises can apply to undertakeprojects with social aims that are funded bycentral government: for example, helpingpeople in a community such as Salford inGreater Manchester to reduce or cease smokingtobacco is funded by Central Government as ameans of improving general public health(Dearden- Phillips & Griffiths, 2011). Suchprojects are advertised by the Government andother funding organisations and are subject tocompetitive tendering by social enterprises andprivate businesses.Having social rather than financial objectivesmeans that the selection of projects in suchorganisations is not based solely, or generally,on financial criteria. Traditional for-profitbusinesses are concerned mostly with selectingprojects from a range of possible opportunitiesusing a ranking of calculated possible financialreturns with the criteria for choice being themaximisation of profit (Ridley-Duff, 2008). Incontrast, social enterprises tend to select on amore eclectic range of criteria (Cheng &Ludlow, 2008). These criteria may includeopportunism (where a project happens to beoffered to the management), political influence(where local politicians or powerful individualsask for their favoured project to be undertaken),attractiveness of the project to the socialenterprise management, and for other non-financial reasons. The lack of clear, centralcriteria for project selection (in essence, thelack of the profit motive), means that socialenterprises can accumulate a range of projectswhich, whilst being worthy in themselves, aresub-optimal in terms of the overallorganisation‟s successful achievement of itssocial mission (Kendall & Rollins, 2003;Levine & Widelman, 2005).Given Governmental and general public supportfor Social Enterprises and the great deal ofsocial problems in a society such as the UK,these organisations face the problem of havingmany project opportunities which cannot becompleted due to their limited resources(Cabinet Office, 2011). Many project tendersare unclear, with uncertain or complex sets ofsuccess criteria and with benefits that are notvisible from the beginning, making it hard forsocial enterprise managers to assess whetherthey should accept or reject such projectproposals. Many projects are offered to socialenterprises by funding bodies with little regardto how these projects will be managed by thesocial enterprise. Accordingly, socialenterprises struggle to choose the appropriateprojects to carry out, and to determine whichwill benefit them and the community theyserve. At the same time these social enterprisesfind it difficult to select projects; they find theyare subject to continuous demands to take onprojects from funding bodies, particularly giventhe present financial problems of centralgovernment which wishes to transfer moresocial activities from the state to socialenterprises (Cabinet Office, 2011).Associated with the problem of projectselection is the issue of portfolio selection, thatis, the selection of projects that are not onlylikely to be successful in themselves but whichare also likely to be successful together andwhich complement rather than conflict witheach other( Martino, 2003; Rad & Levin, 2006;Hunt & Killen, 2008). Social enterprises tend tohave managers who have great enthusiasm fortheir social goals but who have limitedmanagerial skills – particularly in the realm ofproject and portfolio management (CabinetOffice, 2011).SIFE is the case example used in this researchand it is a social enterprise based in Salford,UK. SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) is astudent organization which has the missionstatement: To create sustainable value bysuccessfully empowering and educating thelocal community and students with thenecessary financial end entrepreneurial skillsneeded to improve their standard of living andinspire them to take on real life opportunities(sifesalford.org, 2009). This organization isworking currently on five projects and receivesmany applications from local associations,community centres and groups to help on theirprojects. Due to the lack of project management
Serbian Project Management Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, December 20115tools and techniques to help with the choice ofwhich projects should be accepted and whichwill benefit the organization and community,SIFE, according to its Chief Executive, adoptsprojects randomly and does not assess themadequately enough to determine whether thosethat are accepted are the optimum ones orwhether those that are rejected could be morebeneficial (personal communication). There is alack of understanding of project management insmall social enterprises in general and SIFE isa representative case of this type oforganisation (Cabinet Office, 2011).Project and PortfoliosThe definition of a project is fairly clear: aproject is a sequence of unique, complex, andconnected activities having one goal or purposethat must be completed by a specific time,within budget, and according to specification(Wysocki, 2012); the Project ManagementInstitute states (PMI, 2004) that a project is atemporary endeavour undertaken to create aunique product, service, or result; and forPRINCE2 (OCG, 2005) a project is amanagement environment that is created for thepurpose of delivering one or more businessproducts according to a specified BusinessCase. In essence, a project should have apurpose and is limited by time, budget,resources and specifications. The managementof projects may be a complex business inpractice, but organisations such as the UKAssociation of Project Management (APM) arefairly clear on how they should be managed intheory (APM, 2006). However, most of thesedefinitions rest on the notion of selectingprojects based on clear financial criteria, i.e. thebusiness case; and, in addition, do not provideclear practical evidence of the efficacy of suchapproaches.However, once we group projects into groupsof projects they become programmes andportfolios and definitions and agreement overhow these should be designed and organisedbecomes more problematic (Armstrong,2004;Bridges, 2003). This is, in essence,because agreement on how to define and tomanage a project may be fairly settled butdefining and managing programmes orportfolios of projects is more contentious. Asimple definition is that a project portfolio is acollection of projects that share some commonlink to one another (Wysocki, 2012). Thestatement of common link may mean, forexample, that all the projects in a portfolio mayexist to help local community development oraim to develop new products for a business. Onthe other hand, Miguel (2008) suggests that thenotion of project portfolio derives from theneed to select projects; and it is the case thatmany see portfolio management as a type ofmultiple project management (Levine &Widelman, 2005). Additionally, Cooper (2001)argues that in all project portfolios new projectsneed to be introduced, while existing projectscan be completed, cancelled or suspended. Inother words, given that project portfolios arenot set for all time, but change constantly,adjusting to the current situation and objectivesof the company, a portfolio represents thestrategic choices of the business in projectform.Once we move beyond seeing portfolios assimple collections of projects, we have to tacklethe issue of whether managing such collectionsneed particular skills or approaches. Accordingto Bridges (2003) there is an art to projectportfolio management (PPM), which involvesscrutinizing each potential project, selecting theright mix of projects, and adjusting them astime passes and circumstances unfold.Additionally, Cooper et al., (2001) argues thatportfolio management is a process in whichprojects for the development of products orservices are continually evaluated, selected andprioritized; new projects are introduced andexisting projects might be suspended, cancelled,or de-prioritized. Hunt and Killen, (2008) addthat project portfolio management is a decisionprocess that oversees the resource allocationand ongoing decisions related to a strategicallyoriented portfolio of projects. Wysocki (2012)suggests that Project portfolio managementincludes establishing the investment strategy ofthe portfolio, determining what types of projectscan be incorporated in the portfolio, evaluatingand prioritizing proposed projects, constructinga balanced portfolio that will achieve theinvestment objectives, monitoring the
K. Kane, M. Andreasik6performance of the portfolio, and adjusting thecontents of the portfolio in order to achieve thedesired results.Thus the selection of projects represents a keymanagerial activity that rises above theindividual assessment of a project into a morecomplex judgement of how a collection ofprojects contribute to organisational successand how such individual projects may interactand react with each other within theorganisation and its strategy (Cooper, Edgett &Kleinschmidt, 2001; Gray & Larson, 2002).The decisions made regarding project portfoliosmust take into consideration the strategicimperatives of the organisation as well asoperational demands. This implies that projectswhich do not correspond to the mission andobjectives of the organization should not beincluded in its portfolio. According to Miguel(2008), if the projects do not correspond withthe business strategy and capabilities, there is arisk that projects will be delivered ineffectivelyso the requirement must be that projectportfolio management should lead toacquisition of only those projects, which willmaximize the value, balance and strategicposition of the company (Morris & Pinto,2007).Selecting appropriate projects for a portfolio isconsequentially more difficult than selectingindividual projects on the basis of theirprobability of success (Morris & Pinto, 2007).There are few projects that guarantee highrewards with high probability of success(Cooper et al., 2001); in general, risk andreward are inversely related where high rewardsare generally associated with lower chances ofsuccess and a high chance of success normallybrings less reward. In a balanced projectportfolio, projects that guarantee success withlow rewards can be matched against thoseprojects which are more risky but moreprofitable. It is not an easy task to build abalanced project portfolio nor are there anyclear and agreed guidelines on achieving such abalance (Levine & Widelman, 2005). Kendalland Rollins, (2003) argue that there must be acorrect mix of projects balancing the supplyside of organization with its market side - suchbalance would ensure that a business would beable to deal with environmental changes withgreater robustness than the organisation withoutsuch balance. In addition to the notion of abalanced portfolio of projects making anorganisation more stable in turbulent times,there is also the notion that a balanced portfoliowould ensure an optimum utility of resourcesand people (Bridges, 2003).2. RESEARCH DESIGNGiven the problems social enterprises have withboth selection of projects and with thedevelopment of their portfolio of projects, thisresearch aims to determine whether the use of amore structured approach to project selectionmay help social enterprise managers inoptimising project selection and in developingan effective portfolio of such projects.The approach selected for this work is a form ofAnalytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) which is amethod of structuring and organising complexdecisions by way of identifying a frameworkfor understanding the elements in a problemusing the knowledge of a group of expertsinvolved in the decision making process (AlKhalil, 2002; Saaty, 2001; Mota et al., 2009). Inthis study, once the decision framework iscreated it was used to guide the scoring andranking of a group of three specimen projectsby social enterprise managers selected fromSIFE, a social organisation based in SalfordUK. The scores and ranks of the managers werederived using the decision framework and werethen reviewed. Consequently, the managerswere brought together as a group in order tocompare results. They were then asked to selecttwo of the three specimen projects on the basisthat they were to constitute a suitable pair in aportfolio of projects. In this way it was hopedthat the social enterprise managers would beable to improve on their managing of bothproject selection and in portfolio development.3. RESULTSThe project management problem faced bysocial enterprise managers and addressed bythis research is, in essence, how to improve theselection of social projects and to achieve theportfolio benefits which would come from a
Serbian Project Management Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, December 20117better matching of projects within theirorganisations. For a manager operating outsideof commercial business, the lack of the profitmotive as a guide to selecting projects meansthat many projects are adopted due to fairlyarbitrary reasons and there is a lack of clarityand rationality, leading to project failure andsub-optimal operation.The Analytic Hierarchical Process (AHP)approach to decision making suggests thatoptimal decision making requires clear criteriafor selecting one decision option over another(Al-Harbi, 2001). This research study appliesthis notion to the decisions required in selectingone project amongst many possible projects foradoption by a social enterprise – given thatfinancial returns are not the sole or key factor-means generating or uncovering the set offactors that should be considered.In order to develop an agreed set of criteria forproject selection, a survey was conducted withsocial enterprise project managers recruitedfrom local social enterprises, who were asked toscore on a scale of 0 to 5 a list of possiblecriteria that they might find helpful in assessingprojects: 0 represented the criteria as having norelevance at all, and 5 as the criteria havinggreat relevance with 1 to 4 representing theintermediate levels of relevance. The list of 18criteria was developed by the research team byreviewing literature on project selection.Twelve social enterprise managers respondedand scored the list. The responses were summedand averaged to arrive at an average score percriteria. The criteria were then ranked in orderwith the highest score ranked first down to thecriteria which received no score from the socialenterprise project managers.List of social enterprise project selection criteria – scored and ranked.The top five criteria were identified and thenused to guide decision making by fourmanagers from the SIFE social enterprise whohad not been part of the process of generatingthe list of criteria or scoring the criteria.4. PROJECT CASE SCORING ANDPORTFOLIO SELECTIONIn order to test whether the structuredcategories of project selection criteria that weredeveloped in the first stage of this researchwere useful, coherent and useable by socialenterprise managers, three synthetic specimenproject cases were developed. These were titledCase A, Case B and Case C. Each of the caseswas carefully designed in order to present to thesocial enterprise managers a differing profilekeyed around the five categories of payback,risk, social return, total budget and financialstanding. Thus, for example, Case C was asynthetic specimen project that suggests SIFEPosition Criteria Rating Average1 Financial stability (of an external organization) 4.52 Payback (time needed to recover the investment) 4.253 Social Return on Investment (Value in £) 4.24 Risks Analysis (Number of risks and their probability/impact) 45 Budget (The size of the total project budget) 3.756 Volunteers (number required) 3.677 Profit (generated for the organization) 3.28 Sustainability of the impact 39 Impact (the number of people impacted and scope) 2.8810 Feasibility of implementation 2.7511 Learning benefits (for the organization and volunteers) 2.512 Time (Duration of the project and hours required) 2.213 Cost (obtained by the organization) 214 Security of the project 215 Training and Support (Available to volunteers from external organization) 1.516 Prospect to hand down the project 117 Partners (Number of partners involved) 018 Net Present Value (NPV) 0
K. Kane, M. Andreasik8would offer training to people in thecommunity, this would have a duration of 3years; from an organisation with low debt; itwould have a £15,000 social return; a budget of£20000 and risk analysis were scored asmedium. Case A, in contrast, was the deliveryof training to a difficult to access and handleyouth group, with a two year duration; for afinancially weak organisation; with a greaterthan 3 year payback, a low budget and highrisk; however, social returns were consequentlymuch higher than for project C.It can be seen that the three projects werecarefully structured so that the profiles of eachwas different with Case A scoring lower thanCase B and Case C in terms of an overallassessment using the five criteria for projectselection determined earlier. If each project wascorrectly scored, project A would come out asthe lowest, with C the highest and B in thesecond place. Given the opportunity to selectonly two projects, the natural selection wouldbe Project B and C. However, the socialenterprise managers were informed that theselection of projects was limited to two of thethree and that they should select on the basis ofdeveloping a balanced portfolio.In terms of designing these synthetic specimenprojects, care had been taken to ensure that thetwo projects B and C were high scoring but notcomplementary given that they were additivewithin the five selection criteria – e.g. they havesimilar levels of risk but rewards were alsosimilarly low. With project A and C, the caseswere designed so that they would be balancedwith complementary project selection criteria sothat the high risk of project A would balancethe lower risks of project C; and the high socialreturns of project A would balance the lowerreturns of C.SIFE social enterprise manager project scoresAll four of the social enterprise managersscored the three projects fairly similarly. Whenthey were asked to select two projects from A,B and C, they opted for the two projects withthe highest scores, that is, project B and projectC and then ignored the portfolio advantageswhich would have accrued from the selection ofthe more complementary project A and C.A discussion of the results and scoresdetermined by the social enterprise managers‟assessment of the three specimen projects,indicated that they were happy with thestructuring and scoring process. Given that theSIFE managers had not used any explicitcriteria for project selection in the past, thisrequirement to use a structured set of criteriawas novel to them. They felt that it would beuseful in all social enterprises contingent on itbeing a low cost and easily operated process.However, one of the managers considered thefive criteria overly restrictive and felt that theyshould be extended and adjusted to take intoconsideration the nature of the particular socialenterprise. Another concern was over theavailability of time and information to makeappropriate decisions and whether this wouldbe available in practice given the short timeframes and small projects with which socialenterprises were generally concerned. Thenotion of a balanced portfolio of projects wasnot one that found resonance with the socialenterprise managers and they did not feel it wasa particularly helpful or necessary step for themin their organisation.5. CONCLUSIONThis research was designed as a small casestudy of project selection and portfoliodevelopment in a specialised organisationalProject A Project B Project CManager 1: President of SIFE Salford (PoSS)43 71 72Manager 2: Project Manager (IPM1)55 60 64Manager 3: Volunteering Manager (CVM)34 60 57Manager 4: Project Member/Associate (IPA)52 73 82Total score 184 264 275
Serbian Project Management Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, December 20119form – the social enterprise. Social enterpriserepresents, at least in the UK, a new andgrowing business structure that has both a needfor traditional management tools and techniquessuch as project and portfolio management, butwhich also requires these techniques to beadjusted and developed for the particular needsof the not-for-profit sector.Generalisation of the results of such a smallstudy to all social enterprises or to allorganisations is fraught with the danger ofbuilding too much theory on too small anevidence base. That said, the results of thisstudy do have resonance with the practicalexperience of project management of theparticipants. Project selection can very likely beimproved by having clearly articulated criteriathat relate closely to organisational objectivesand strategies; and the tools of the analytichierarchical process are helpful with this task.In this way, projects may be selected whichhave a clear match against the capabilities andobjectives of the organisation and its managers.At the very least, developing clear criteriaallows managers in these organsations to havemore clarity about their decision making and toallow more discussion of those projects wheremanagers give differing weights to the acceptedcriteria. Hopefully this will allow for better, orat least more transparent, decisions to be made.This research also shows that managers withlittle understanding or experience of moresophisticated project selection methods canbecome competent in their use in a very shorttime-frame and with only a small investment intraining.This study also shows that project portfolioselection is much more problematic as aconcept and as a practical method of improvingthe organisation‟s balancing of projects andtheir profiles of risk and reward. The socialenterprise managers found it difficult to graspthe notion that a set of what seem to beoptimum projects may, once they are broughttogether, be sub-optimal in strategic terms. Themanagers, even when given sytheticallydeveloped project profiles, could not see howprojects need to be matched so that low riskprojects were balanced against high risk andwhere low return projects were matched againsthigh. It is likely that this unwillingness tomanage projects strategically through thedesign of an appropriate porfolio structure isnot uncommon in many commercial as well associal enterprises.More research certainly needs to be undertakenin this area, firstly in the study of projectportfolio selection and balancing and itsrelation with successful project completion andwith organisational strategic goal achievement;and secondly in the training of project and othermanagers in the theory and practice of portfolioselection and management. A larger scaleresearch study could uncover much usefulmaterial in the relatively new discipline ofprojects and portfolios; and more work on thesocial enterprise sector could improve thesuccess and competence of the management inthis sector of growing importance andinfluence.REFERENCESAl Khalil, M. I. (2002). Selecting theappropriate project delivery method usingAHP, International Journal of ProjectManagement, 20, 469-474.Al-S. Al-Harbi, K.M. (2001). Application of theAHP in project management, InternationalJournal of Project Management, 19, 2001,19-27.APM Body of Knowledge, (2006). Associationof Project Management, UK.Armstrong, C. (2004). Project PortfolioSelection methods, University ofWinsconsin-Platteville, USA.Belton, V., & Gear, T. (1983). On ashortcoming of Saatys method of analyticalhierarchy, Omega, 11(3), 228-230.Bridges, N.D. (2003). Portfolio management inpractice, Handbook of Business Strategy,4(1), 65-72.Cabinet Office, Social Enterprise action plan,(2009, April 29). Retrieved fromhttp://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/third_sector/social_enterprise/action_plan.aspx.Cabinet Office, Business Support for socialenterprises. (2011). Cabinet Office, UK.
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