Leveraging Agile Principles for Portfolio Management – Guiding Principle #2

Shawn Dickerson

In my last article, I talked about agile work methodologies and how they help organisations improve overall performance and deliver greater value both internally and externally. In order to implement agile methodologies effectively, I presented the first strategy — deliver products, not projects – as the first in a 3-part series to incorporate agile principles to portfolio management. In this article, I’m sharing how to make the execution of agile methodologies easier on your portfolio managers and more effective for your organisation. 

In order to implement an agile product methodology effectively, visibility is critical. One of the key concerns about shifting to Agile project and portfolio management is that the sprint-style deliverables and shifting priorities will make it even harder to do an already difficult job. (It’s also worth noting that visibility is a complaint with more traditional methodologies like waterfall.) That’s why it is important to acknowledge another guiding principle of agile portfolio management: Centralise project and portfolio management, regardless of methodology. 

Principle #2: Centralise project and portfolio management, regardless of methodology
Let’s take a moment to address the sheer amount of details portfolio managers are handling at any given time. They are the hidden heroes that keep the wheels of their organization turning smoothly — which is not an easy feat. In the rapid pace of the digital economy, project and portfolio managers are under constant pressure to deliver more, faster while simultaneously increasing value and customer satisfaction. Last year, Gartner noted that project managers (PMs) are feeling increasing pressure to respond faster and provide better business outcomes. In order to do that, they have to be equipped with the visibility and data needed to make swift, informed decisions. That’s where centralization comes into play. 

Why centralise? 
Centralisation allows your project management office (PMO) to bring all projects, regardless of the specific project type and approval workflow, into a single portfolio, allowing timely and effective decision-making. In order to manage true capacity against demand in an increasingly changing environment, it is critical to centralise project information. This is can be simplified by an agile project and portfolio management tool — not the spreadsheets and endless project meetings of old. Your solution should centralise all projects into a reporting hub that provides broad visibility, comprehensive, timely reporting and rollup to the portfolio level. In a single view, portfolio and project managers know who is involved in a particular project, what tasks are in flight, and whether planned resources are being fully utilised. 

Agile portfolio management solutions benefit organizations in another big way. They enable leaders to be more intentional in their project selection and ensure their decisions align with their business goals but keeping an up to date, rolling backlog for when priorities shift. That reduces risk, maximises the use of resources and supports more sound investment overall. Of course, it also delivers greater business value and customer satisfaction. 

And, as mentioned earlier, an agile portfolio management methodology can encompass traditional waterfall projects, which is helpful for deliverables that need a linear process or hybrid projects that use traditional and agile methods. In this case, and arguably more often than not, agile is best suited at the portfolio level, even if some projects within are traditional. What truly matters is that information is centralized within the PMO and portfolio leaders can collect data on all projects to drive effective decision-making, capacity planning and a project backlog.

That last benefit — backlog — is particularly important because it allows portfolio managers to keep the work pipeline packed with ready-to-run projects that fill in the value-sapping gaps that are so common to non-centralised methodologies. Think about it like this: When projects are siloed and difficult to access, it means that your PMs might have no idea that valuable resources are stagnating installed deliverables instead of flowing into new initiatives. Remember that Gartner article we mentioned a moment ago? A pre-prioritised backlog alleviates those common project management pressures by helping them deliver more value faster.  

Let’s tie this all together. Centralisation is a key part of incorporating agile principles because it allows your PMO to gather all of the constantly moving components common to an agile methodology under one high-visibility umbrella. All those sprints and milestones that can be so intimidating are harnessed into a single view. That’s better for them, better for you and, most importantly, better for your customers. 

In my next article, I’ll talk about the final principle of agile portfolio management: Practice Concepts of Continuous Improvement - and then tie all three together. In the meantime, you can always visit our website to learn more.