5 Takeaways: Strategic PPM Management for Products, not Projects

Author: Matt Muldoon

The Gartner PPM Summit is the annual event that brings together top project and portfolio management leaders from all over the world. Last week we were fortunate enough to partake in the activities and leaving the event left us with a lot to think about and digest. If you have not attended this event, suffice it to say the content is motivating and enlightening. Hearing from analysts with dozens of years of experience working with PPM leaders, learning from companies that are at the forefront of change, and being a part of the solution that drives that change was invigorating. After immersing in three days of sessions and sharing experiences at the booth, I walked away with a lot of ideas, but thought I would share a few of the highlights. Here is a rundown of my top five takeaways from the Summit:

1. Hot Topic: All About “Agile”

Agile Portfolio Management was the hottest topic, hands down, and from what we learned after the Summit, and from what we had talked about on the floor, agile still means different things to different people. Once upon a time, the word “agile” connoted software developers testing and adjusting for product release. What uncovers the value within today’s digitally-transformative portfolios is creating clear guardrails to manage all kinds of portfolios and project types, including agile workflows, from the top-down. That means having control and governance without trying to overlay principles from waterfall disciplines artificially on top of these super-agile workgroups.

While portfolio leaders have been talking about incorporating agile principles for a long time now, it is picking up momentum in the market and it was enlightening to hear how prevalent it is now becoming in practice. I was lucky enough to present to almost 600 people about how we’re working to get this right. In a product role myself, I have a lot of experience with Agile processes and working with agile teams. Alongside me for the discussion was our customer from the Riverstone Group, Tom Dougherty, who discussed his experience using KeyedIn, and how they have been able to take the same agile principles that have long benefited project execution and apply them at the portfolio level. We quipped about ways we were able to do this and shared best practices for driving acceptance internally, especially with resistant players. We heard a lot more about agile portfolio management throughout the event and had great response when we described agile portfolio management as managing a product rather than a project.

2. Balancing Agile and Waterfall Approaches in PPM

Among the many conversations around agile we heard a common theme of managing multiple methodologies within the same portfolio. Contrary to many opinions, agile and waterfall projects can live together and provide a balanced approach to PPM. It is possible to gain oversight of “pockets” of project work around the organization – some in Jira or TFS, some in spreadsheets, some in a traditional tool – and bring them together into portfolios. Once you’ve gained a single source of the truth, you can make sense of what’s happening at the portfolio level. That means enabling teams to manage risk better and respond promptly to the demands of strategic change.

One of the tracks at the conference, “Cultural Change: Shape Your Culture for Continuous Change” covered this principle in detail. It was comforting to hear many organizations are focusing on change management and preparing for change in ways that allow for culture to accept it. I have seen many times this part of implementations go south because the organization just wasn’t equipped to handle the change, even if the change was for the better.

3. AI and Machine Learning for Project Portfolio Managers

The future PPM solution will help thousands of people forecast, analyze and manage for crucial success factors like resource capacity and intake governance. Those discussing AI and predictive analytics as they relate to PPM are also clear on one key factor: People will benefit from machines, not be replaced by them. Especially for those in the thick of transferring activities from “project management” to “product management,” these AI-enabled tools can create best practices you can incorporate directly into the project workflow; on whatever spectrum of the pure agile-to-waterfall-continuum it falls.

One of the hottest topics in this area was the democratizing of portfolio reporting and analytics – while not having your blood run cold thinking about rogue project teams running PMO-level reports and releasing them without your knowledge to business partners! With the right AI gatekeepers running automatically on your reporting function in KIP, this scenario won’t be a problem.

4. The Authority and Willingness to Say “No”

“When you’re protecting margins and managing risk on nearly every level of the portfolio it’s as easy as riding a bike: But for most of us, that particular bike is on fire, the surrounding landscape is on fire and, oops, guess what, the PPM manager is on fire, too!” (courtesy of my colleague, Shawn Dickerson.)

Shawn went on to explain about the difference between agile and adaptive PPM—and why the intake phase is where this must all start—and stay—to enable value up and down the program array. The power of “no” – during intake, during governance and during execution stages, is the only way to ensure you’ve prioritized a dynamic backlog while adjusting to business needs. Becoming the “policeman” of the portfolio won’t work unless you’ve created a culture where you can use data and facts to underscore your every decision, even if that means kicking management’s pet project to the curb.

KeyedIn Projects gets high marks among our customers for 1) showing them how to build governance guardrails at intake and beyond and 2) providing reports and analytics that use bottom-line data to justify the decisions they make to accept or turn down a project.

5. Resource Constraints and the PPM Capacity Crunch

There were many discussions about the crucial issue of changing project delivery to product delivery—and making sure your resource capacity planning methodology aligns with this new imperative. Building in resiliency in your resource management discipline was covered by KIP client, Tom Dougherty from The Riverstone Group. Tom said that they had to step back and uncover the endemic ways that old-school processes were hobbling the switch from agile/adaptive workflows to more product-centric types of workflows. The imperative is to educate executives about the new processes and how they can contribute to fostering a culture of change.

Trying to track the benefits of digital change using the product-based workstream at Riverstone meant understanding how the new business paradigms are built into the tool. “To enable strategy, whatever agile or waterfall iterations, we must possess measurable gateways to show everyone involved where the metrics are centralized for value and for progress in a way that everyone can benefit.” The idea that resource capacity is a cornerstone for portfolio success is covered in our blog, Five Impacts the PM Evolution Has on Resource Management.


It was another great event and as I walked out of the Gartner Program and Portfolio Management Summit, I could hear the hum of transformation among the animated conversations subside; the lights and sounds of videos from the booths dim; and the energy of Washington, D.C. itself shift back to business as usual. But let’s not let the progress end there. To get access to the questions raised during our presentation and how we address the challenges, you can watch the video recording.