Article - Reverse-Engineering iPhone's Project Portfolio Selection: The "Joker" Project Example

"Yes, portfolio management is great,

but what about the proverbial gut feel?"

An attendee of my Project Portfolio Management

workshop at a large German conglomerate


Sometimes there comes a proposal across the steering committee's table that scores very low across almost all of the scoring criteria and yet the key decision makers feel that this is a very important and valuable initiative that can become the next breakthrough project that would generate millions if not billions of dollars for their company.

Let me use a somewhat “fantasy” scenario to illustrate this concept. The work on the first iPhone started in Apple in 2004. I don’t know whether Apple used a portfolio scoring model to assess its project ideas.  If they had one, I wouldn’t know what variables exactly they use in it. So, let us make two not-too-far-fetched assumptions:

  1. Apple does use a portfolio scoring model
  2. Apple’s scoring algorithm is not too dissimilar with other hi-tech product companies

If we continue our logical line of thinking, then it is safe to expand the second point and assume that their imaginary scoring model included parameters like:

  • Financial value,
  • Competitive advantage,
  • Technical risk,
  • Commercialization risk,
  • Technical feasibility and
  • Time to market

Let us try to pretend that we are in the same room with Steve Jobs where he just proposed to embark on creating something called a “smart phone”. What would the assessment of this proposal look like in 2004?