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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Project Management Patience

In my new role I feel a sense of urgency to get things moving.  I think this is common for project managers.  We are brought in to make a difference and we are excited about that.  But patience is important, too.

I’ve blogged about patience before in June and December.  In those posts I advised project managers to be patient so that they build partnerships; and understand and build the capacity and commitment of their team.  Then, I was still a crusty consultant advising others on their projects.  Shortly after the second post, I accepted a job that requires me to help a very large organization come together in support of organization-wide business and systems transformation.  Can I take my own advice?  I’m trying.

skaters-001

To reinforce my patience, I looked for updates from my consulting guru, Peter Block, on the Internet.  Peter’s books and classes have shaped my approach to what I do. Peter recently posted a video that helped.

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Who’s the Quarterback on Your Project?

“The Buck Stops Here” – plaque on President Harry Truman’s desk.

Watching the national championship college football game earlier this month (for my international readers, that’s American football, not soccer), I saw a great example of the need for clear roles and responsibilities among decision makers.

Football, perhaps more than any other, is a sport where complex relationships require clear roles and responsibilities.  11 offensive players line up against 11 defensive players.  On each play, several players may call out plays.  Key players have responsibilities to read what is going on and then shout instructions.  From a fan’s perspective, it seems to go pretty well and it’s fun to watch players adjust based on calls from the quarterback, the center, or the middle linebacker.  But, sometimes it doesn’t go well.

alabama QA fightAlabama was leading Notre Dame 42 to 14 near the end of the game. You’d think the Alabama players would be relaxed.  Alabama had the ball, lined up, and quarterback and the center started calling signals.  The quarterback was suddenly very annoyed.  He stood up and jumped around behind the line yelling instructions.  He was angry.  The players looked confused.  The result was a delay of game penalty. The center stood up, the quarterback screamed something in his face, and the center gave his quarterback a shove.  All this from a team with an insurmountable lead about to win the national championship.  The TV commentators, shaking off their surprise, explained that the coach and quarterback were both known for being intense perfectionists.  Clearly, it paid off in their performance.  Just as clearly, we can note that a team striving for high performance can suffer if the leaders get confused about their roles and responsibilities.

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If Project Managers Ran the Presidential Debates

As a project manager, I find the presidential debates disturbing.  If I were going to hire one of the candidates to manage the challenging project of reforming any of the major issues we have to solve in the next four years, I couldn’t make the decision based on the debates.  In fact, there isn’t much the candidates are saying or posting now that is useful for that decision.

We need to see which candidate will be best able to bring out and deliver creative solutions.  Our issues have risks with probability too high and impacts too great.  Our future leaders have to be able to deal with this.  They have to see a path forward, be willing to compromise if necessary, and get things done.  I want the presidential debates to show me who can be the best at collaborating to get things done, not who can be the biggest A&*H@!#.

Looking only at their past experience and track records, I think I could vote for either one.

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Tuning Your Project Steering Committee

Imagine a bicycle wheel perfectly tuned and spinning without wobble or wasted motion.  Each spoke is adjusted to balance and support every other spoke.  This is the foundation of a fast and safe trip on a bicycle.  If a wheel is out of tune, energy is lost to friction, the rider becomes less stable as the bicycle picks up speed, and vibrations threaten bearings, brakes, and safety.  The risk of a trip ending crash goes up.

Imagine a project steering committee.  Each person at the table is important to the project’s success by way of their support within and outside the project.  Imagine each person at the table sharing a common vision, understanding one another’s perspective, and trusting one another.  Each person may not always agree with the others, but each is committed to the project’s success.  They are able to set direction, discuss issues, make decisions, commit resources, and communicate supportively to the organization and project stakeholders.

Imagine your project steering committee.  Are they in tune with a common vision, understanding of one another’s perspectives, and mutual trust?   If not, your project may feel wobbly, unstable, overheated by friction, and unresponsive when you need to change speed or direction.  It may be time to tune the wheels. 

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