infoTECH Feature

May 16, 2016

How to Make Agile IT Portfolio Management a Success

By Special Guest
Nils Davis, Director of Product Management, Innotas

As many project management offices have experienced, shaving even small amounts of time off valuable IT projects can deliver big returns. So how do you compound that and make it work throughout your organization? Some ideas and principles from “agile” help to make IT Portfolio Management more efficient.

Being agile simply means you are continuously delivering value – whether for a product, project or software development. You can apply agile principles using scrum, but agile in and of itself is not scrum or Kanban which are methodologies for applying agile principles.

Of course, it’s to everyone’s benefit to deliver value continuously and ideally faster. By taking an agile approach, organizations can better achieve that.

How does an agile approach to Portfolio Management work?

To get started with Agile (News - Alert) Portfolio Management, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of the things you want to do. In the context of a project, this is the user stories or epics. In a portfolio, this would be the projects or initiatives themselves.
  2. Define the business value and goals of each. You can use your own metric, similar to a scoring, or more defined metric such as NPV or ROI.
  3. Decompose larger things into smaller, more manageable pieces – which also become easier to forecast and deliver.
  4. Stack rank items according to business value.
  5. Start working through the list, always finishing one thing before moving onto the next. By doing that, you’re always working on the highest value thing, or the few most valuable things, and delivering them before getting to the less important things.
  6. Go back to step 1. Reevaluate your list with each iteration, make any additions or revisions needed, always focus on business value when evaluating, and reorder the list according to the highest value items. Repeat again.

Why Agile?

Unlike its sister method, ‘waterfall,’ agile is by its nature designed to adapt quickly to changes. In a rapidly changing environment, this can be the difference between success and failure; no matter how well the project was executed, if changes in the environment make it the wrong project you shouldn’t work on it any more. This is very important if you are trying to minimize risk and deliver more quality projects. Don’t get me wrong, waterfall planning has a place for projects that don’t have much risk and whose steps are well understood – like building a house in a subdivision, but not building new business software applications.

It’s fairly easy to see how this “agile loop” applies to an individual development project. But how do we apply the same approach to the project portfolio – the set of all the projects you will deliver over the next quarter or year or five years?

Here are the steps:

  1. You figure out the business value of your list of candidate projects
  2. You might do some subdividing of the projects if they are very large
  3. You order the list by business value
  4. You start working on the most important ones first
  5. Review progress often, and re-rank projects if necessary
  6. Repeat from step 1

Of course, you might have multiple teams working on multiple projects at once. But the idea behind agile is that they will be working on the projects that deliver (or preserve) the most business value. And they will be leaving the projects that align less with business value to later (or never). This is Agile Portfolio Management. And it’s different – although related – to agile project management.

Transitioning to Agile Portfolio Management

Agile portfolio management doesn’t happen overnight, so you will need to incorporate where necessary. If your organization is already managing projects using agile methodologies, the next step often is to bring the task data from your agile tool into another tool – like Innotas – that enables you to aggregate management-level information across your projects so you can see and track that status of your portfolio as a whole. That way if your organization is also responsible for waterfall projects, you can manage them in the same system and make decisions based on the portfolio as a whole.

Delivering Continuous Business Value

The key thing to remember about agile is the goal of continuous and frequent delivery of business value, to focus on business value as your key metric, and to embrace change in such a way that you continually deliver more value over time. Agile is an approach, not a methodology per se (although methodologies can be helpful). Also, everyone can use agile – it’s just prioritizing business value delivery over efficiency, and working to deliver that value as fast as possible. It doesn’t matter what methodology you use as long as it aligns with those principles.

And finally, the goal – and what you’ll achieve – is to deliver more value, faster, while being responsive to change. Tools and processes can help you make the transition to this approach more easily.

Key Takeaway

Nils Davis

The difference between success and failure when making your portfolio more agile is your ability to adapt to changing business environments. With this process, you will be able to continuously and frequently deliver business value by focusing on that value as your key metric and analyze your own process so that you can improve your output over time. Most importantly, there is no business that cannot adopt some degree of agile into their portfolio to help transition their company from a first in, first out output schedule to a highly proficient, value producing entity and thrive in the world of accelerated technology and heightened customer expectations.

About the Author: Nils Davis is currently Director of Product Management at Innotas, responsible for mapping and executing changes on resource management features. Nils has over 20 years of experience in project and product management at companies such as Egress, Naehas, Accept, and NetIQ (News - Alert) where he held various leadership roles. Nils is an avid blogger on strategy execution, planning, and innovation.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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