Agile Portfolio Management

Recently a colleague emailed me seeking advice for setting up a program management office (PMO) using lean and agile principles.  After replying, I reflected on the fact that his query is pretty common in my practice.  And so, I’ve decided to share my brief reply here. His first email asked for guidance in setting up the PMO.  I replied that, for PMOs, my stance is to use lean and agile thinking in their setup and operation just as you would in project execution.  Projects must compete with one another to deliver in line with corporate strategy and realized business value.

He next emailed asking how he was to sort out the priorities of the hundred or so ideas vying for attention in the portfolio.  My simple reply to this query was that each idea needs a champion who is willing to put in the time and energy to provide him, the portfolio manager, the information needed to determine the value of their idea so that a rational prioritization can be done.  No champion -- no actionable idea.  This criteria tends to reduce the list of actionable ideas considerably.  Next, he needs to understand his organizational constraint on the number of teams his organization can field and sustain effectively to deliver rapidly on the ideas.  This constraint will tell him how many ideas can be executed simultaneously with maximum throughput.

Simple ideas really, but I rarely see these basic concepts well executed in large companies.

My parting bit of advice:  Beware taking on someone else's championing role.  It will come back to bite you.