What agile project portfolio management looks like

Agile project portfolio management: Not a buzzword, but an integral part of large companies.

The "IT Project Portfolio Management" conference was held in Berlin at the end of June. Rarely has there been a time when I took away such a clear message after the end of the two days. To be sure, there were more than 20 presentations and workshops that discussed a variety of experiences and projects. But each presentation and discussions brought forth the same important insight: Companies and their project portfolios must become more agile.

Agile project management at the company level

Agile processes for managing individual projects have become a fixture in project management. For most large companies, it is simply a question of volume: at some, only 10 - 15% of projects are organized using agile processes, while many others already manage more than 50% of their projects in this way. Of strategic relevance however is the question of what agile project portfolio management can look like at the company level. The following design options can be considered from CS' point of view:

  • No full planning of budgets and resources (especially with regard to the now immi-nent annual budgets)
  • Smaller but more frequent adjustments to portfolios
  • Transfer of "Design-to-Budget" approach to project portfolio management: fewer details for project specifications, instead budgets are allocated to specific themes, initiatives or "products" (the latter also, and especially, in the IT area)
  • At the forefront are the respective benefits, i.e. which budgets are allocated to the various target benefits? This can be done using business cases, which are then used as a basis for prioritizing the budgets
  •  A consideration of dependencies not (just) in the projects but rather more considera-tion of the dependencies between the projects: how are these dependencies included in prioritization and decision-making preparations?
  • More focus on communication and information exchange between projects

Agile companies need the right employees

Surprisingly, virtually all presentations ended up emphasizing the same point: additional employee skills will be required in the not so distant future. They include new innovation- and project-relevant qualifications, such as "Data Scientists" who derive business models and business contacts from big data information inventories. But most of all, agile companies need employees that have been socialized in a highly-responsive environment. It is one reason why large companies including Daimler and Microsoft invest in start-ups, namely to "inject" their employees into their own workforce. Without these external 'disturbances', the company's own corporate culture would not be able to respond as quickly to new meta skills such as radical customer focus or the permanent and constructive scrutiny of business models. The example "internal crowd-funding" illustrates the combination of both worlds: a certain portion of the e.g. IT budget is virtually distributed among the employees. They can assign their own budgets to projects of their choice, and thus generate the portfolio that is most promising from their own point of view. Very valuable information.

Agile is the new normal

It is not just projects that are agile. In the future, the focus will be on making project portfolio management more agile at the company level, and in turn empower those employees in the company who will implement the agile transformation.

PS: Does this have you thinking about what might be in store for your own PPM? Benefit from the largest free PM benchmarking process undertaken by the Technical Universities Berlin and Darmstadt; there is still time to register for the 7th MPM study at www.multiprojectmanagement.org.