Foundational Elements for Agile PPM: A Phased Approach – Part 1

Author: Lindsey Marymont

One of the common concerns about implementing Agile in project and portfolio management (PPM) is the impression that it requires broad, sweeping and instantaneous change in order to be successful. We’re here to tell you that isn’t the case and even more so, not recommended. There are multiple ways that your organization can apply aspects of an Agile methodology without simply leaping into the deep end of the Agile pool.

In Part One, we will address some of the smaller steps you can take to set a firm foundation for implementing Agile in your organization. In Part Two, we will explore how those small steps translate into bigger moves toward Agile transformation.

Agile Portfolio Management is based on the concepts of Agile methodology created by software developers applied to the portfolio level of projects. Just as developers needed a way to deliver products to market faster without hindering innovation during development and production, project managers and PMO leaders need a way to deliver projects at a faster pace and with the same, or better quality. The method was developed to be value-driven and customer-centric.  Innovation meant better products and faster delivery meant happier customers.

In portfolio management, “Agile” breaks down management and delivery into short bursts of activity while continuously adapting. Rather than relying on inflexible, long-range plans with a series of set tasks and processes, Agile projects are completed iteratively. PMOs then have continuous opportunities to gather data, track progress and improve and refine deliverables. This results in better resource usage, better project selection, faster delivery and, ultimately, more satisfied customers. All of this is especially important in times of change and potential business disruption allowing the business to adapt to changes and persevere to continue delivering the most important work at any given time.

In reading this definition, you might already be concerned about applying an entirely new methodology to your organization at one time. Rather, by taking a methodical approach to implementing Agile in your organization, you can enjoy many of the benefits without creating the undue stress and strain that is commonly associated with change management. Let’s look at some of the ways that your organization can build the foundation for a phased approach to Agile Portfolio Management. 

Practice Customer-Obsession

This Agile principle from the Agile Portfolio Management Manifesto is listed first because it is the easiest to address and begin implementing without a lot of pushback or change management efforts. In fact, if you have to fight to implement this particular change, your organization has other concerns to address first. After all, who can argue with the idea that the customer is the most important asset to the organization? If you refer back to the foundation of the original Agile Manifesto — software development — the methodology was created to bring the best customer experience possible to the end user. Practicing customer obsession is applicable regardless of the customer; sometimes the “customer” of the PMO is an internal team or stakeholder. Once you have identified who the customer is, and how the business benefits from the output of the project, other business goals, like revenue and brand value, are the natural consequences. So, begin with a focus on customer success.

Track Your Progress and Outcomes

Measure results at all phases of project management so there is a clear understanding of progress both internally and externally. Agile relies heavily on data in order to make swift changes on the fly. Even if your business is not able to be iterative and change quickly in its project delivery process, it can still utilize data to make better decisions about resources, tasking, project selection and backlog development.

Understand Your Decision Criteria

As noted above, you want to measure progress and outcomes at all times while managing projects, even if you aren’t using the data to make changes on the fly. However, the data you gather needs to be presented via clear reporting. Show your stakeholders why the information you have gathered is important. Present them information that helps them make the best decision for the PMO, the company and the customer. As an added benefit, even if you don’t use reporting to speed up your delivery now, getting in the habit will make it easier if you shift into a more iterative approach later. 

Prioritize Visibility

In order to really be successful in Agile Portfolio Management, the whole team will need visibility into project work, status of projects, and insight into resource utilization. Getting a single source of truth can easily be achieved with a software or centralized place to store information, but however you decide to share and collaborate on information, ensure you have  comprehensive data and the ability generate reports. With this information , your PMO will be able to move faster, make better decisions and be a better steward of your resources. It helps to eliminate cumbersome spreadsheets and time-consuming meetings in favor of up-to-the-minute data that can be accessed anytime. 

Centralize All of Your Projects and Portfolios

As referenced earlier, Agile is most successful at the Portfolio level – meaning some projects will still be best managed in a traditional fashion. Another step your organization can take to phase in Agile Portfolio Management is to centralize all projects and portfolios regardless of methodology. All information about resources, progress, tasking and outcomes will be in one central location which is beneficial whether you are using Agile’s sprint-based approach or Waterfall’s liner trajectory. By centralizing, your PMO can also begin assessing which portfolios are best served by shifting to Agile and which are better left in their existing management methodology. Best of all, centralization allows the PMO to manage multiple types of portfolios under one umbrella. No lost deliverables, no underutilized resources.

Implementing Agile does not have to happen in one giant change management project. By creating the right foundation and phasing in Agile processes and principles over time, your organization can enjoy the benefits of the methodology without the disruption that comes with larger change management initiatives. Watch for Part Two of Foundational Elements for Agile PPM Success: A Phased Approach, where we will discuss how these smaller changes translate into the next phase of Agile transformation.