Agile and Portfolio Management

puzzle-pieces_blank_cropped_smallIn my new role, we are looking at using agile methods for both project and portfolio management.  We have to look closely at the pieces to put together the puzzle.

To better understand Agile, let’s look at it’s origins.  The Agile Manifesto says:

“Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

I write about:

balancing consulting practices with project management to

imagine perfect outcomes and a perfect journey to get there

that leaves the organization and its people better than we found them.

So, when I read the Agile Manifesto, it says to me that:

  • A way to find a perfect journey to a perfect outcome is to focus on the people and how they will work together more than on the processes and tools.  The perfect journey is the interactions that produce ideas and results, not a perfectly followed process.
  • Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation because a team working one step at a time can better express what it understands via a working product than a complete document.  We often complete documents to lock things down and drive out risk.  Opportunities for growth come from trying things and learning from them.  I think documentation is important, it just has to be in step with product building, not way out in front of it.
  • Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation because it values seeking what can go right over what can go wrong.  Collaboration leads to a commitment to leave an organization better as a result of our efforts.  The contract focuses on a commitment to do something for consideration from someone.  It protects against risk, but can drive out opportunities it if becomes the focus.  The focus needs to be on how people collaborate to improve the organization.
  • Responding to change is more important than following a plan because the plan is only a tool that helps you know when things are changing.  I think you have to have a plan that covers all the steps in your perfect journey to the perfect outcome.  But, you also have to understand that part of a perfect journey is recognizing its unpredictability and learning to respond to discovery.

I think that Agile will be useful applied to portfolio management as well as software development.  The PMI standard for portfolio management says that ‘portfolio management is a framework that provides the means to translate the organizational strategy into a portfolio of strategic and operational initiatives.  It manages the actualization of those initiatives through the use of organizational resources.’

Agile suggests that the organizational resources are its people.  People pursue the organization’s desired strategic (perfect) outcomes by working together and with its customers to discover the best mix of opportunities for improvement.  These opportunities are pursued incrementally so that each completed step delivers progress toward the objectives and a clearer understanding of the next step.

I like the mix of Agile, portfolio management, and the other side of risk.  Writing about it gets me a little closer to using it productively.  Let me know if you think it all fits together.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013, Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

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The IKEA Effect – Projects Made with Love

Maybe the secret ingredient to project success is love.  After all, isn’t anything made with love more special to the maker and the receiver?  Maybe someone should do a study on this.  Wait, someone did!

The Ikea Effect says “labor enhances affection for its results.”  A recent study at Harvard written about by Michael Norton in Harvard Business Review found that people undervalue products that they don’t contribute to, and tend to overvalue – fall in love with – those on which they have labored. This study builds on marketing research from the 1950’s on cake mixes.  Housewives resisted instant cake mixes because they were too easy.  They were concerned that their labor to make the cake would be undervalued.  On the other hand, when the cake mixes were changed slightly requiring the cook to add an egg, adoption rose dramatically.  More labor = more love.ikea cake

The more recent study looked at IKEA furniture and Build-a-Bears.  Laypeople assemblers of bookcases and teddy bears tended to value the products of their labor higher than they valued more expertly crafted versions.

Another finding, to temper the thought that labor leads unconditionally to love, was that the work had to be completed for the IKEA Effect to take hold.  Partially finished work was not valued the same way.  You have to be able to step back from what you did, look proudly at it, and say “I did that.”  Kind of like I do when I finish each blog post.

There must be a lesson in here for our projects.  Continue reading

Perfect Presentation

On Tuesday, I presented on “The Other Side of Risk” to my friends at PMI Olympia – our local chapter of the Project Management Institute.  Lots of familiar faces – well, not lots, but enough – showed up to hear what I had to say.  I told them that a perfect outcome for me would be if they left with some new ideas and I learned something.  So, I think it went perfectly.Presenting

I rambled on a bit trying to cover too much ground.  As I worked on my presentation over the couple of weeks preceding the big night, I kept refining it so it had a clearer theme.  Since it was about “The Other Side of Risk” an obvious theme would be to find opportunities during risk management.  I probably could have filled a comfortable 50 minute presentation with just that topic.  That was part of the presentation, but I seem to always go for more.  I got into different ways to present the idea of perfect outcomes and a perfect journey to get there.  I added ways to understand perfection in a useful way, define perfect outcomes, turn risks into opportunities for perfect outcomes, and define perfect journeys to perfect outcomes so that the scope of the project includes all the stuff you need to do to get to perfect outcomes, not just deliver a product. Continue reading

Positive Psychology and Perfect Project Outcomes

Finding the other side of risk – opportunities for perfect outcomes – isn’t done in lieu of finding risks; it’s the complement.  Science tells us that this is true and necessary.happiness

I’m getting ready again to present “The Other Side of Risk.”  Each time I do it’s a journey to a better understanding of what I’m trying to say.  This journey stumbled across the concept of “positive psychology.”  It’s reinforcement for the importance of seeking perfect outcomes and a perfect journey so that our projects leave our organizations better than we found them.

In my presentation, I talk a little about Appreciate Inquiry or AI.  AI is a technique of organizational planning and change that emphasizes finding and building on organizational strengths to promote positive growth.  In AI, the organization enquires into its strengths to: Continue reading

Bring “Wow” to Your Projects

Reading “Leadership Freak” on Monday was reaffirming. Dan Rockwell wrote about leaders who achieve great success by setting a vision, bringing in good people, and getting out of the way.  His primary example was Tony Hsieh at Zappos.  My ideas about imagining perfect outcomes and defining the perfect journey to get there are in line with this advice.zappos

 

 

 

 

 

 

I use “perfect” on purpose even though people are uncomfortable about it.  The audio clip on Dan’s post brings out the importance of this in how Zappos decides how to “wow” their customers.  On projects, we have to decide what it will be like to “wow” ourselves (everyone involved) with our results, and then define the project around that.  Those who have to get it done and will live with the results are the best ones to do it.  This is a way to find what can go right about a project before we focus on what to do and what can go wrong.

Thanks for the reaffirming post, Dan.  Readers, be sure to listen to the audio clip on this post; and check out Dan’s preceding post on how to establish a culture that enables “Wow.”

Thanks for reading.

Do You Want Your Project Manager To Be Like Bobby Knight?

I woke up to NPR this morning and listened to an interview with Bobby Knight, the famous college basketball coach.  The interview discussed his new book “The Power of Negative Thinking.”  To sum it up, Coach Knight said that if you want to win it’s more important to focus on what can go wrong and fix it than to let positive thinking pull you through.  Checking out the book preview on Amazon, I picked out this quote:

bobknight“As I looked ahead to every game and every season, my first thought was always: What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them – and give ourselves a better chance to win?  In effect, how do you eliminate the wasted energy and unnecessary mistakes to build a cohesive and successful team that can play within its strengths?”

Clearly, Bob Knight is a great risk manager.  What I like about his message is that we have to work hard to clearly identify and counteract the risks we face in order to succeed.  We can’t just hope for the best.  When we do risk management, we should really look for risks and take real actions to mitigate them.  We should take specific actions and track specific results to be sure that mitigations are working.  Knight is right about that.

But, I’m having a tough time with the “Power of Negative Thinking” thing. (I have to admit here that I’ve only read 20 pages or so that were available on Amazon’s preview). Maybe it’s how he went about being a great risk manager.  My impression is that Bob Knight was a pretty demanding and uncompromising manager.   In the book, Knight says he had a slogan posted in his locker room saying “This ain’t Burger King.  We’ll do it my way.”    Can we really be successful in endeavors outside of basketball by following the iron willed approach of a coach to win by relentlessly fixing mistakes?  I’m going to ponder this question a bit and see if I learn anything.

Continue reading

Inattentional Blindness and Project Management

Projects are more successful when all the participants – project managers, builders, and clients – find ways to understand and learn from one another.  But, that’s not easy.  Why is that?  Don’t we want to understand and support one another?  We probably do. But, our different perspectives can get in the way.

Most people on a project are looking for different things when they look at the project.  The project manager is looking to define and manage objectives, scope, schedule, budget, and risks.  The other people on the project are looking at what they will be creating or what they will have when the project is completed.  They see what interests them.  And, they see what they are directed to look for.  Science backs up my assertion.

Listening to NPR earlier in the week, I heard a story about the invisible gorilla.  It wasn’t about the 900 pound gorilla that comes to most of our project meetings that we all see but don’t talk about.  (Or, maybe it was…).  It was about a gorilla in plain sight that we don’t see because we are looking for something else.

gorilla Continue reading