Agile and Portfolio Management

puzzle-pieces_blank_cropped_smallIn my new role, we are looking at using agile methods for both project and portfolio management.  We have to look closely at the pieces to put together the puzzle.

To better understand Agile, let’s look at it’s origins.  The Agile Manifesto says:

“Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

I write about:

balancing consulting practices with project management to

imagine perfect outcomes and a perfect journey to get there

that leaves the organization and its people better than we found them.

So, when I read the Agile Manifesto, it says to me that:

  • A way to find a perfect journey to a perfect outcome is to focus on the people and how they will work together more than on the processes and tools.  The perfect journey is the interactions that produce ideas and results, not a perfectly followed process.
  • Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation because a team working one step at a time can better express what it understands via a working product than a complete document.  We often complete documents to lock things down and drive out risk.  Opportunities for growth come from trying things and learning from them.  I think documentation is important, it just has to be in step with product building, not way out in front of it.
  • Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiation because it values seeking what can go right over what can go wrong.  Collaboration leads to a commitment to leave an organization better as a result of our efforts.  The contract focuses on a commitment to do something for consideration from someone.  It protects against risk, but can drive out opportunities it if becomes the focus.  The focus needs to be on how people collaborate to improve the organization.
  • Responding to change is more important than following a plan because the plan is only a tool that helps you know when things are changing.  I think you have to have a plan that covers all the steps in your perfect journey to the perfect outcome.  But, you also have to understand that part of a perfect journey is recognizing its unpredictability and learning to respond to discovery.

I think that Agile will be useful applied to portfolio management as well as software development.  The PMI standard for portfolio management says that ‘portfolio management is a framework that provides the means to translate the organizational strategy into a portfolio of strategic and operational initiatives.  It manages the actualization of those initiatives through the use of organizational resources.’

Agile suggests that the organizational resources are its people.  People pursue the organization’s desired strategic (perfect) outcomes by working together and with its customers to discover the best mix of opportunities for improvement.  These opportunities are pursued incrementally so that each completed step delivers progress toward the objectives and a clearer understanding of the next step.

I like the mix of Agile, portfolio management, and the other side of risk.  Writing about it gets me a little closer to using it productively.  Let me know if you think it all fits together.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013, Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

Positive Psychology and Perfect Project Outcomes

Finding the other side of risk – opportunities for perfect outcomes – isn’t done in lieu of finding risks; it’s the complement.  Science tells us that this is true and necessary.happiness

I’m getting ready again to present “The Other Side of Risk.”  Each time I do it’s a journey to a better understanding of what I’m trying to say.  This journey stumbled across the concept of “positive psychology.”  It’s reinforcement for the importance of seeking perfect outcomes and a perfect journey so that our projects leave our organizations better than we found them.

In my presentation, I talk a little about Appreciate Inquiry or AI.  AI is a technique of organizational planning and change that emphasizes finding and building on organizational strengths to promote positive growth.  In AI, the organization enquires into its strengths to: Continue reading

Pull is Better Than Push

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how organizations change.  The bottom line seems to be that successful change comes from people pulling it in.  You can’t push change in.  Do our projects focus on push or pull?

PullI’m part of planning for a project where thousands of people will have to change how they do their work.  The old system is about 30 years old.  The change will require thousands of people to redo 30 years of process and system connections to unplug the old and plug in the new.  How will they get ready to do this?

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Project Management Patience

In my new role I feel a sense of urgency to get things moving.  I think this is common for project managers.  We are brought in to make a difference and we are excited about that.  But patience is important, too.

I’ve blogged about patience before in June and December.  In those posts I advised project managers to be patient so that they build partnerships; and understand and build the capacity and commitment of their team.  Then, I was still a crusty consultant advising others on their projects.  Shortly after the second post, I accepted a job that requires me to help a very large organization come together in support of organization-wide business and systems transformation.  Can I take my own advice?  I’m trying.

skaters-001

To reinforce my patience, I looked for updates from my consulting guru, Peter Block, on the Internet.  Peter’s books and classes have shaped my approach to what I do. Peter recently posted a video that helped.

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Moving from Planning to Doing on Your Project

I’m almost three weeks into a new job.  This job requires me to build stronger relationships between a complex business environment and its IT providers.  No one has had this same job for this business before, so I’m figuring out how to do it.  Among many startup considerations, it requires me to consider how much to read vs. how much to act.  I’m looking back to old advice and advisors for wisdom.

waiting for the right timeEarly in my career I was lucky enough to participate in a 12 week leadership and management training in the US Air Force called Squadron Officers School.  About a thousand junior officers (I was one in 1977)  gathered at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama for intensive physical, military, and management training.  Among many memories and takeaways I retained was a small foldout card with a few management models we had learned about.  One was the read/act model.  It illustrated the need to build strengths to both read and act; and to judge and balance the need for reading and action in any new situation.  I did a little Google research on Read/Act and found only one website.  It gives me the impression that the concept was developed at SOS.  Here’s the link. This site is more involved than the core concept I remember.  What I remember is that many officers err toward action with bad results, so we needed to build our read skills.  If we tend to be readers (like me), then we need to work on balancing reading with acting.  It’s situational and intuitive.  I’m in a new situation. Continue reading

Redefining Yourself

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream…”  C.S. Lewis

A constant theme in my work life has been to redefine myself every 4 years or so.  I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s always worked out well.  Maybe it’s why I like project management and consulting.  This work is about redefining things.

cultivating-a-relationship-with-yourselfLast week I started a new job.  I’m not an independent consultant anymore.  Now, I’m an employee of the State of Washington.  Again.  I spent the first 20 years of my career in the public sector serving in the Air Force and working for Washington State.  Those were good years, but I wanted to see more of the working world.  I wanted to know if people in the private sector worked smarter, harder, or more productively.  After 18 years being part of private companies and owning one, it’s apparent to me that people are the same everywhere.  Everyone is willing to work hard for something and others that they believe in. Continue reading

Productive Project Assessment

As my career evolves, I’ve moved from project manager roles to roles where I oversee and assess projects.  I think doing this productively requires balancing cold objectivity with optimism and encouragement.  It also has to balance an independent perspective with collaborative input.  The challenge is ensuring that the assessment identifies strengths and problems, encourages improvement, and doesn’t weigh down the project while requiring accountability.  After all, being assessed is a powerful thing.

Think about it.  Few things cause as powerful an emotional response as being judged.  The coach says “Nice play!  Your footwork is really improving.” You feel great; motivated to get better.  You think about the input and accept the positive encouragement.  The coach says “No, you aren’t paying attention!  You have to learn the play and be in the right place.”  This brings out a more complex response.  You may resist criticism.  You may think about what you were doing right and are mad it wasn’t noticed.  If you are singled out, you may be embarrassed.  If the coach is fair and you respect him, you may more readily accept the comments.  But they can still hurt.

Here’s a lighter hearted example to give you something to think about.  Over the holidays we visited our grandkids.  My five year old granddaughter, Amberly, loves games and role playing.  We were playing catch with an indoor soft Frisbee.  I was admiring how much her ability to catch and throw had improved in the last few months.  Our game had changed in an interesting way, though.  Where it used to be that any throw was a good one, now we tried to make straight catchable throws.  I’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Amby.”  She’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Grampy.”  It got more interesting when Amby decided, out of the blue, to keep score.

Amby measures

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Giving 51% on Your Project

In the last week I spoke with three new project managers.  They were all in organizations that practiced limited or no project management.  Each was frustrated with how hard it is to be a project manager where the boss just wants to get stuff done.  The boss says “we don’t have time to do project management!”  You’re thinking “we don’t have time not to…”  What to do?

lady trampMaybe the answer is to meet halfway.  Meeting halfway can be helpful in marriage and consulting, why not in our projects?

Did this happen to you on your wedding day?  Older married male guests catch you alone, put their arm around your shoulder, and share a nugget of wisdom that will ensure wedded bliss.  It happened to me.  Not all were nuggets of gold, but one was.  Continue reading

Awareness

We’ve been visiting family in Iowa over Thanksgiving.  More eating going on than blogging.  But, inspiration is everywhere.

At Thanksgiving, we recognize what we are thankful for: family and friends, our way of life, things that make us safe or happy, and opportunities for abundance.  So, Thanksgiving could be an exercise in awareness.  By gathering together and recognizing what we have to be thankful for, we become more aware of what we have.  When we focus on this, it makes our lives better and more productive.

As project managers, we have the same need.  We have to be aware of our strengths, our assets, and our opportunities or we can’t make use of them.

I can think of times in my life and observations of others’ where we’ve focused on our problems and lost sight of our strengths.  It makes you unhappy and unproductive.  A good friend and coach described it as “getting into our crummy (we used another word) little box.”  In that box, you only see what is wrong and not what is right.  You focus on problems rather than the things for which you can be thankful.  The problems seem to be overwhelming because they are all you can see in the box.  Awareness is how you get out of the box.

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Five Tool Managers

In the world of leadership blogs encouraging managers to be leaders, I have a tiny niche where I encourage project managers to develop consulting skills.  This week, to balance my tendency to be a non-conformist with how most people look at things, I’ve been thinking I need to put all the leadership, management, and consulting skills into context with one another.  Maybe you will add my little niche idea to the more obvious links between project management and leadership if I can come up with a good sports analogy and a cool managerial model.  So, here’s the “Five Tool Player” model for successful management of projects and organizations.

A superior baseball player is often called a “Five Tool Player.”  This player excels at:

  • Hitting for average
  • Hitting for power
  • Running bases with speed
  • Throwing
  • Fielding

The epitome of five tool players is generally thought to be Willie Mays.  Mays is near the top of all these categories for all time.  Also, Willie Mays’ had an inspiring good natured approach to the game that drew respect and admiration.  Willie put it all together to make his team and his organization more successful.

How do we become the Willie Mays of project managers?  We should aspire to develop five skills as well.  Here’s a picture:

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