Agile Portfolio Management in an Adaptive World – Q&A with the Experts

Author: Lindsey Marymont

Agile Portfolio Management is a hot topic for many PMO leaders today trying to forge forward in a world where things are requiring a high degree of adaptability. In a virtual event this week, the KeyedIn team joined up with a couple of PMO leaders to hear about their stories and how they are navigating these times. Here are some of the questions that came up. 

Can you share any insight on changes or uptake of Agile due to virtual working? -Jason

Tom – I am not sure I have seen an uptake based on remote workload changes.  Yes, more people are working remote based on circumstances and that does require more flexibility. However, the need to be able to adapt and have more agile approach to decision making, operations, and work management is mainly driven by changing requirements and addressing change in a quicker fashion. I believe it is just a coincidence that work is being done remotely. It really is based on the need to address changes quicker. What were annual plans or quarterly reviews are now happening on monthly or weekly basis due to variations in availability of resources (financial and people) and shifting priorities.

How does the Project Manager work with the Agile team, scrum master, ect. -Melissa

Matt - The Project manager provides the direction and the vision for what is expected from the Agile Teams as well as reviewing the outcomes and deciding the "value" and deliverability of the sprint.  Is also one of the key decision makers as to whether the process moves to the next step or stops.

What does a hybrid, agile and waterfall, delivery model look like - In terms of scalability and sustainability? -Rajitha

Tom – A hybrid approach is probably more scalable and sustainable naturally speaking. Waterfall concepts take start and end dates and linked or chain-based activities that need to be done in certain sequences. However, some links in those chains can be tackled in a more ad-hoc basis and may not require dependencies on other items. Being able to quickly rearrange of chain links based on requirements and more pressing needs, incorporates the agile principles.

How fast Project Resources adapt to these transition activities? -William

Matt – It depends on the nature of the portfolio and the adaptability of the team.  Something our consultants are very experienced at evaluating. Change Management is key to this process.

What time horizon and level of granularity do you need for capacity planning to be able to plan and prioritize effectively? -Ruth
Colin – The horizon should normally be set in line with the ramp-up/down time of your Resources, based on the team mix and market skill availability. So, start by deciding the elapsed time for hiring/on-boarding an employee (or letting go), accessing contractor market skills and ramp up/down of partner resource augmentation arrangements. So maybe its 3 months for employees, 6 weeks for Partner augmentation and 4 weeks for a market available contractor.
The granularity level needed is typically Role / Project / Month and the roles need to be set at a sensible market recognized generic role level, perhaps qualified in certain specific areas like Developers where platform skills are key. So typically it’s PM/Scrum Master, BA, “platform” developer, QA Lead, QA etc etc.
In essence it’s all about building just enough resourcing “road” for the future journey to avoid hitting any traffic jams or road works! KeyedIn’s Strategic Resourcing is specifically designed to do this providing visibility of Project Role Demand against available Productive Capacity. This highlights future bumps or troughs in the road to have the conversations in the right time frame to ensure there’s enough resourcing road to drive down the smoothly.

What do you feel is a best practice for Agile for multiple client projects that are services vs. product-based? -Diann

Matt – Ensure your team have the visibility they need at the top and bottom to be able to respond as the projects move through their cycles at different paces and resources move around.

Here is a situation - A remote PM, new to the org and is expected to manage a portfolio of projects via diversified teams (Internal and Vendors). What should be the most effective approach? -Vijay

Matt – Having been in that situation the first thing the PM needs to do is understand the purpose and outcome expected of each project and have the participants explain to them how they have been achieving them. Evaluating the expected outcomes and how they fit in the corporate strategy is key way of getting started.

Thanks Matt, in a process perspective what cadence metrics should take priority?

Matt – At the Agile delivery level the metrics are usually quality and deliverablity of product and team velocity, at the portfolio it is alignment to strategy and overall "value" to the business.

Interested in investment appraisal timelines and when/if benefit forecasts/profiles make sense up at higher level program or portfolio investment level when project delivery mechanisms further down are predominately going to use Agile or 'Service Design' principles. -Hamid
Colin – Typically, outcomes (and therefore business cases and associated benefit forecasts) need to be taken out of the “day to day delivery” as making specific benefit links is difficult and the projects are also transient by nature, often finishing before benefits arise.
Benefits tracking tends to works best at a minimum of Program level as this is the construct that joins together the detailed activities towards a common purpose, outcome or benefit. In the Agile Portfolio world this then isolates it from the execution approach (Agile, Waterfall etc) at the detailed level.

The Program also tends to exists until at a least all “child” projects are completed, it has more senior ownership and closer alignment to Finance and the ongoing business operation. Benefit tracking and measurement is often therefore best done as a Finance responsibility and this works well as they will always be there…even after the Program closes. KeyedIn supports this through allowing KPI aligned benefit forecasts at any level in the hierarchy. This coupled with benefit actuals tracking at any level allows KPI tracking long after the delivery projects have completed and by the designated owner, typically in Finance. 

How do you operate in this model if some areas of the organization are moving to agile but others are not. -Randy

Tom – Like many challenges or situations in life, the first thing to address and accept is that there is not just one right way to make things work. Organizations that aren’t willing to accept different teams or groups may have different needs and requirements are more likely to create internal conflict, less productive results, and likely lack of success. One size does not fit all for delivering successful projects, programs, portfolios, or initiatives that may be covering different corporate objectives and strategic goals. Identify the varying needs for the different project types and don’t enforce the same policies or procedures for each project type.

How do you effectively set up a product management framework and processes? How do you go about training people on the concepts? -Cori

Tom – I would emphasize that product management needs to focus on delivering results in shorter timeframes and proving value sooner than later. Don’t build such a big plan to make major projects that will only delivery once a year, but rather smaller chunks that can be delivered more frequently, providing value, and possibly adjusted more often due to more frequent feedback. 

How do you ensure all your portfolio projects are consistently always in line with strategy and lower level projects. The three layers should be in sync. -Ritu
Colin – Work out your strategy and how you measure success – e.g. KPIs. Ensure benefits forecasting is aligned to the KPIs and assign Project attributes that represent the KPI alignment so they can be used as criteria for Portfolio Analysis and also in ongoing Status Reporting. KeyedIn provides a number of features to help with this including Benefit Types to hold the KPIs, Portfolio Analysis based on customer specific criteria and Insights to allow KPI based tracking. Also look out for upcoming features in the next major release of Product Focused Portfolio Management allowing linkage and clear visualization between Products/Strategies/Objectives and KPIs.

How have you managed when business wants a large-scale global cutover to a new platform (have not wanted a gradual transition and iteration) as they want no deterioration in customer experience? -David

Tom – I would say first to identify parts of the process that are working well and relate to the experiences customers are happy with today. Being able to transition good working process to a new platform can be much easier than trying to adjust the process while changing platform or solutions. Our implementation team at KeyedIn is excellent at making the transition from current to new with minimal disruption and without impacting too much change. When you choose to change process and systems is when it can be more of an impact on the customer experience and we need to minimize what is asked of people to achieve the at least the same results.

Do you find that with the use of a solution a PMO team are able to “recognize” the good news of the day in order to motivate in the right direction?  Agile provides for more timely recognition. -Laurie

Matt – Yes, a Project, Portfolio or Corporate level dashboard should highlight the successes as well as any issues. Agile allows the teams to identify and call out successes and value in the process at every stage instead of waiting for waterfall based phase or milestones.

What do you suggest is the best/most rapid way to implement agile process effectively in an inconsistent waterfall organization? -Cat

Tom – Keep it simple and think simple. Don’t try to change the way of thinking and forcing a whole new approach. Find small parts of projects that can be tackled with more of an agile approach. Meaning rather than defining a whole set of given requirements that are defined from start to finish, look for parts of what you are going to deliver that can be isolated, done in smaller pieces and don’t require specific order or dependencies. If there are groups of tasks that can be grouped but not ordered, separate them out and look to deliver value or results more often throughout the project, rather than the big bang approach at the end of a lengthy project.

Is there a standard definition of Value or is that unique to the particular industry or organization? -Nick

Matt – It is quite unique, from cash value, to customer sat to efficiency gains, one of the key things to determine when setting out on any Project, Product or Process.

How can be impacted the project time schedule, final results, etc. when you flip-flop into the programed activities etc.? -William

Matt – Agile allows all participants to identify and contribute to the most valuable activities while cutting out the unnecessary activities. Agile Portfolio Management allows the business to constantly re-evaluate the priorities based on the changing needs (COVID-19 for example) and to "pivot" their focus to respond to changes.

Which large and medium companies in the UK and in Europe are using an Agile PMO model? -Margie

Matt – The analysts such as Gartner show the most medium to large companies are approaching Agile in some form with what they are calling the best in market companies either "mostly" or "fully" invested in Agile. We have customers such as the speakers who are moving actively in that direction and would be happy to share more with you later.

My company has a history of failed adoption of any tool, template etc. This is the biggest blocker to selling in the idea, what key advice would you offer to make sure the tool gets used? -Andrea

Matt – Change Management is a key part of an implementation and we have steps in our standard plan to provide for this. Also often start with a small group and then let them evangelize the product to the rest of the organization.

What is your experience with working with companies that don't have a formal PMO? -Laurie

Matt – Within any business there is a group responsible for "delivery" of the company’s initiatives, they are a PMO and have the same needs as a formal group. Often, they are spread throughout the business, using a tool can help to align their efforts better and to be more efficient.

How do you measure the value of non-quantifiable benefits? -Nuria

Matt – Agree the scale of the subjective measure and be very precise in the definition of each level to try to make sure the subjectivity is mitigated by precision in the measure. 

Are the Project Types an automatic feature or does that have to be loaded after the tool is set up? -Malika

Matt – Project types are a configurable field, inherent to the system. 

Is there an integration between KeyedIn and Jira? -Beth

Matt – There is, it usually needs to be made customer specific as the implementation of Jira is very flexible.