Continuous Improvement: Essential to Leveraging Agile Portfolio Management
Continuous improvement is a concept that people apply in their careers all the time. You read books and articles (like this one) to advance your knowledge. You attend conferences to expand your network and discover new trends. You increase your overall performance and effectiveness in your daily work to ensure you advance your career goals. And, if you’re part of the C-suite, you strive to grow the abilities of your organization.
Continuous improvement helps you create an exceptional end-product for all who benefit from your output and your time. It raises the question: What can the concept of continuous improvement do for a process like project and portfolio management? For your portfolio or project managers (PMs)? For your customers and stakeholders?
When looking at project and portfolio management, the concept of product delivery versus project delivery was first introduced by software developers who wanted their end-products to be competitive and customer-focused. Agile’s sprint-like iterative approach provided developers with multiple opportunities to make changes and ensure their end-product met customer demands. What does that have to do with continuous improvement? Each round allowed the team working on the product to pause, examine the product, and then make changes to improve the final deliverable.
The same strategy can be applied to project and portfolio management, and more specifically, to the pursuit of Agile Portfolio Management, which is the process of leveraging Agile principles in top-down portfolio decision-making. Breaking work down into iterative bursts of activity that focus on milestones instead of task lists gives your PMs and their teams multiple opportunities to examine progress and make improvements. Continuous improvement aligns your projects to your business goals — delivering real value to your organization and your customers.
Traditional linear project and portfolio management methods often stifle growth and improvement. The very nature of the linear method cements the process ahead of time to create maximum predictability. Remember, the status quo for PMs is to deliver on time, in scope and under budget — and the pressure to deliver within those parameters is enormous. A single change in strategy can create chaos, which makes everyone working on the project very resistant to deviating from the set path — even if they see an opportunity for improvement.
How to help your project and portfolio managers embrace continuous improvement
How do you practice continuous improvement? And, more importantly, how do you get your project management office (PMO) to embrace the change? It begins, like all things business, at the top. In order to get your PMs to adapt to an Agile, improvement-focused methodology, you must first create an environment that fosters change. After all, your PMs have the “on time, in scope and under budget” mindset to meet expectations set by your organization. If you embrace Agile Portfolio Management from the top down, your PMs will be driven to fulfill new expectations — delivering business value, continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.
You can also support your PM’s new direction (and make their jobs easier) by providing them with data that is actionable. For instance, using a PPM tool that can track the time a product/project request spends in each stage of the approval process can give the team data to identify bottlenecks. And because the PMO is focused on delivering iterative value instead of a linear project, those bottlenecks can be corrected in a timely manner, instead of the end of an 18-month project plan, when no one remembers them anyway. With continuous feedback, the PMO can also actively assess progress and shift focus. They can accurately allocate resources. They can scrap dying deliverables and refill slots with pre-approved projects waiting in the backlog. No wasted effort and no lost value.
Agile methodologies are often touted as the way to transform your organization and improve performance, deliver more value and achieve better business outcomes. According to this survey, four-fifths of businesses and organizations are already embracing it in their operations in some form, and the next great frontier for an Agile mindset is at the portfolio level. If you want to shift to Agile Portfolio Management in your organization, these three guiding principles will help you get started and help move you along on your Agile journey.