5 Steps to Making Portfolio Management Agile

Strategic Portfolio Management
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The PMO is essential to defining and implementing strategy in organizations. They should be leaders, but often they lag behind.

The PMO is the collective term for the space where Portfolio Managers can meet to exchange knowledge, connect strategies, and set a direction for the way projects are run within the portfolios. This means the PMO could be a frontrunner in adapting to change and creating a dynamic culture in the organization and its projects. The ideal scenario is that the PMO uses its expertise and overview to introduce beneficial initiatives for the organization.

In reality, that’s rarely the case. There’s an identity crisis when it comes to the role of the PMO and the value it brings to the organization.

Take, for instance, agile processes. The agile philosophy started in software development but quickly became popular in other areas as the benefits of this way of working became clear: an openness to change, faster turnarounds, and better communication.

It can seem impossible to implement agility and flexibility in a PMO that is dependent on creating reports, forecasting cost, and operating within fixed budgets.

It can seem impossible – but it isn’t. Here’s our quick guide to becoming agile as a PMO.

Step 1: Become Proactive

Agile is known for being not just responsive, but proactive. Methods such as daily stand-ups are employed to continuously monitor progress and identify roadblocks. That’s how the PMO should operate. Agile is not about sticking to the plan no matter what, it’s about identifying what matters most right now. The agile PMO finds ways to take the temperature of projects and departments, so they can take action before the crisis hits.

Agile is not about sticking to the plan no matter what, it’s about identifying what matters most right now.

An action could be removing obstacles or it could be a complete course correction for the entire organization. Constantly evaluating the essential goals and activities for running projects ensures that solutions can be implemented before the consequences of inaction hit.

Step 2: Make a Portfolio Backlog

Most agile teams have a backlog of features and requests that are ready to work on. This means that there is always something to do.

Similarly, the agile PMO should alway know what is coming up. Rather than focusing on specific tasks, the PMO should focus on portfolio epics, or business cases, that provide direction and ambitions for the organizations. Then these epics can be given to teams who break them down into actual work. This ties the epics into what the teams are actually doing.

Similarly, if the portfolio itself is not directly linked to a strategic goal or direction, then each portfolio epic or business case should be. This allows top management to understand what investments are made to support their strategy execution.

Step 3: Set Scope, Not Features

Choosing a direction or portfolio epic to work on isn’t a promise of a certain number of features. A portfolio epic releases a scope, that is, a time frame and a budget for a specific vision. Once the epic is handed over to the teams the teams will then break it down into specific tasks and features. So, the PMO, with strategic input from upper management, sets a direction and provides a budget and a timeframe trusting the teams to deliver. The teams are then free to work in the way that suits them ensuring flexibility in your organization.  This means that the PMO can be agile – even if a specific team is not!

Step 4: Use more tools

Gone are the days of trying to find the perfect tool.

Most tools cater specifically to one way of working or a certain methodology.

There’s no such thing as “One tool to rule them all.”

Choosing one tool and only sticking to that, carries the risk that the tool will either satisfy agile teams or traditional teams – but not both. Allowing for multiple tools that work together  gives freedom and flexibility in the organization – and better results.

The agile PMO finds ways to aggregate the necessary information and data from the teams. This is where portfolio epics become especially valuable as they provide a point of comparison between the projects. The PMO can manage the investments in the same way, while tasks can be planned and carried out in more than one tool.

Step 5: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It’s the job of the PMO to be a place of vision, a place where ideas can be screened and matured into epics. This means that the PMO is the one place where there is an overview across all projects and portfolios. This creates the possibility for spotting synergy and supporting collaboration across the organization, e.g., ensuring that the same feature isn’t developed multiple times across portfolios, but is developed once and then implemented consistently.

Doing this well means having strong communication, not just top-down, but also bottom-up. The successful PMO knows what’s going on, constantly collecting data and keeping an open channel for all kinds of communication. In some companies, the PMO even becomes a translator ensuring that agile lingo can be understood everywhere – including the board room.

The PMO has the overview that gives value to teams by recognizing patterns, removing roadblocks, and streamlining the vision of the organization.

The successful PMO knows what’s going on, constantly collecting data and keeping an open channel for all kinds of communication.

Will following these steps make you agile? Maybe not quite, but it’s the first step towards becoming a more flexible and proactive organization. The main goal for the PMO should always be to streamline strategy and the work actually done by teams.

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