The Top Five Basics for Managing Agile PPM

Author: Henry Bennett
In May a research firm released a project portfolio management (PPM) market forecast for 2016 to 2024. The reason that I am not covering their report in detail is because after reading it, I was mostly overcome with a sense of déjà vu. They also wouldn’t send it to me without a sales call included in the deal, so don’t say I didn’t warn you not to click!

Back to business: We all know the PPM landscape is changing—and Keyed In is changing with it -- with new releases of our award-winning, highly-reviewed software. This report, however, focused on what the software markets seem to need instead on what I think every PPM needs: A firm handle on the basics of solid PPM. As agile project management (PM) and IT-based, fail-first PM strategies abound, these basics often get lost in the shuffle. Keeping these key areas in mind will help PPMs supply not just functional enterprise-wide PM—but PM that delivers both foundational and innovative benefits.

As I was writing this post, I found the agenda for Gartner’s upcoming PPM and IT Governance Summit next month. The way that they structured the Summit and the tracks they chose to include further solidified my view that getting back to the basics will serve us all well as we navigate the brave new world of agile portfolio management.

1) Managing demand in line with current/changing resources. Project portfolio managers and their directors agree—nothing matters more than keeping a firm grip on the reins of project demand. This gets tougher as processes get more iterative and as project sponsors fade away when faced with too much change, too quickly. Or with a woeful lack of metrics to measure success.

We have found that aligning metrics for resource usage and scoring them against current and proposed demand helps focus everyone’s attention on what needs to get done, first. Even if you are working on a set of “transformational” projects, aligning their demand profiles against your resources should always be the first step. And, if you have the right tools, you can embed a ratio that works for your resources/demand and warns you when you are in or approaching the yellow state.

2) Becoming a people-first project office. Turnaround time for most projects in an agile portfolio is getting shorter. That’s why a high-functioning PPMO must deliver a change management dimension to nearly every project phase. As detail-oriented project scientists, many first-level project managers might concentrate solely on deliverables and their deadlines. However, as a PPM, it’s your job to get them the tools they need to manage the changes that their project brings. From user groups to beta testing, how will people react? To avoid risk, we need to plan for these outcomes across the entire enterprise.

3) Great governance comes first, followed by rigorous resource management planning, solid reporting and, of course, using the right PPM tools. One of the tracks at the Gartner Summit calls these elements, “mechanics” and promises to examine why “what worked in the highly centralized structure of the past 20 years is now beginning to morph as technology moves more deeply into product lines and business units”. Getting governance right becomes increasingly important to an enterprise PPMO whose tendrils reach deep into an organization’s functions. Everyone can go faster if you install the proper guardrails.

4) Decision support at all levels. From product launches to process re-engineering, IT implementation to internal transformation, as well as delivering services and solutions to customers, organizations must have the right data to make decisions about resource management; monitor granular progress; and quantify success in a business-relevant manner. Decision support at only a few levels won’t work.

Many organizations fall down in their project management approach by either investing in an operational tool, which supports everyday delivery and execution but provides limited reporting capability, or by focusing on the strategic platform that provides a powerful executive dashboard but places significant additional burden on the project team to gather data for better decisions. Most companies at a fairly mature level of project management can benefit from a tool that provides both for better control of the strategic direction of the entire portfolio—right down to the implementation level.

5) Strategy-led portfolio managers gain the respect of company leadership by developing clusters of projects that meet business goals effectively—and they can prove it. If you don’t have a firm grasp on what your company’s strategic needs are; if your business development officers aren’t your best friends already; having the right tool can help get you there.

Such a tool includes reporting functions that measure top-line deliverables so you can talk intelligently about your company’s short- and long-term strategic goals as they apply to the projects on deck—and the projects most likely to come. They empower you as a business partner who knows how to measure strategic impetus across many projects and apply solid resource management to get it all done. You can also gain a firm grasp on long-term demand issues that are specific to your company, avoiding the potential they have to derail your entire portfolio.