Agility AND Governance? Good Portfolio Management Makes It Possible

Shawn Dickerson

There are some things in life that just don’t mix…

Oil and water
Orange juice and toothpaste
Clowns and bedroom closets
LEGOs and feet
Peas and my dinner plate

But what about agility and governance? Can flexibility and responsiveness coexist with quality and process? It’s a question many portfolio leaders are struggling with as the project management office (PMO) tries to respond to the increasing rate of change in business while still maintaining enough control to ensure a quality project is delivered in accordance with company policies and past lessons learned. Here’s the good news: With the right technology in place, it is possible for agility and governance to coexist, and even thrive together. Using portfolio management tools your PMO can drive agility while avoiding the kind of command-and-control governance that slows delivery. Here’s how:

Step 1: Visibility Before you can be agile and responsive to future changes in the market, you have to know what’s happening with your portfolio of projects today. And before you can ensure the proper governance around strategic initiatives, you have to understand the processes that are already in place. With portfolio management tools, your PMO can bring together all of the projects and workflows used throughout your organization into a single system, enabling comprehensive visibility. Best of all, portfolio management software – unlike simple work or project management systems – doesn’t require you to manage projects at the task level (unless you like self-inflicted pain) to get that visibility. As the portfolio leader, you can monitor the big picture – milestones, deliverables, budgets, etc. – without having to get into the weeds.

Step 2: Integration You could argue that this step is actually 1b, because it goes hand in hand with visibility. Bringing together all of the projects and workflows across your portfolio is essential to driving agility, but it’s unrealistic to expect every organization – from software development to IT to finance – to execute in a single system. Different types of work require different methodologies, and command-and-control governance when it comes to project execution is only going to slow delivery, if it’s even accepted at all. Instead, your portfolio management software can integrate with the other task and project management systems being used for day-to-day delivery. Software developers continue to work in Jira or TFS, while their updates regularly flow to the portfolio management system, and vice-versa. The same process holds true for support team’s ITSM software, or the finance team’s accounting system. By keeping those team working in the systems that suit their unique functions, while integrating progress data back to the portfolio management software, you gain agility without the command-and-control governance that can stifle productivity.

Step 3: Reporting Finally, with your portfolio management system drawing data from around the organization and providing broad visibility into the status and progress of portfolio projects, you can begin to glean cross-portfolio insights through a variety of reporting options. This data is essential to balancing agility and governance. While command-and-control governance based on politics or territorial claims (think “that’s just the way we do things here” or “it’s our policy”) is destined to fail, actual portfolio data that shows the productivity gains when proper process is applied, or which highlights the ability to change direction quickly – i.e., agility – when resource assignments or milestones are tracked appropriately, can bring consensus around what’s really best for the organization.

Guardrails, Not Roadblocks
Following these steps, it is possible to leverage portfolio management tools to drive agility while avoiding the kind of command-and-control governance that slows delivery. Gathering the data you need and removing political wrangling from the conversation enables you to create governance policies that act as guardrails instead of roadblocks, ultimately driving teams to their destinations faster and with greater success.