Friday, July 15, 2011

Portfolio management and Agile

The Question
Are agile practices, like dynamic backlog, persistent teams, and emergent outcomes really compatible with the more laced up space of portfolio management?

The Answer

Is there more?
With my colleague Alex Walton, we recently had an occasion to address the Central Florida PMI chapter with that question, and to give our perspective on the answer.  I've posted a link to the presentation in the slideshare below (see also: )
We looked at two primary points that are in every portfolio manager's charter:
  1. Drive business value, and
  2. Take measured risks to do so
And we compared these with a few things that agilists really guard:
  1. Maximum decoupling of outcomes from a big bang vision
  2. Flexibility to subordinate cost and schedule to an emergent scope driven by the customer/user
  3. Persistent teams that stress personal accountability and commitment, and engender high cohesion as a consequence of high trust.
Portfolios in the agile space (or perhaps the other way 'round)

Portfolioists (a new word: you read it here first) are all about getting maximum coherence among projects, between projects, and with any legacy system or product they have to support or tie into.  Coherence is a relatively simple concept: get mutual reinforcement; the sum is to be more better than the parts individually. 

Portfolioists want loose coupling among these otherwise coherent projects, and they want the coupling, such as it is, to be a network.  Why? Loose coupling traps bad effects from propagating; in effect, a rip-stop in the overall portfolio.

 Each project--network node--has a feature/functionality onto itself, but it also has relationships with other nodes (projects).  If a project (node) fails, as one must expect given the Standish numbers, then other project should have some capability to fill in. 

Portfolioists have a lever they can push and pull to cause redundant capability to spread among projects.  Thus, given a node failure, the portfolio value proposition presses on.  Agilists may not be too happy about being signed up for such redundancies!

And portfoliosts want to be able to allocate and distribute the assets of the business to effect the biggest bang for the buck.  But of course distribution may not be compatible with persistent teams: so another tension.

Agile in the portfolio space (corollary to the above)

Agilists may be sympathetic to the advantages of coherence, but that takes some of their flexibilty off the table.  So there's a tension to be sure.  However, to be effective in an enterprise environment, agilists have to suck it up a bit and be respectful of legacy requirements and API's or other interfaces already in production.

Agilists buy into loose coupling of projects on the network, so check off on that.

Agilsits are not loose coupling bigots of course.  Their preferred team architecture is about as tightly coupled as you can get.  All together physically in close proximity, an embedded customer/user, and a war room to put all the communication in one place.

To some extent, agilists are going to resist portfolioists who want to move resources around to meet business and risk objectives.  But, agilists are realists (there a lot of ...ists in this post!) and so will support the larger good; after all, it's their business also.

Anyway, here's the presentation for more reading:

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