There is an abundance of material (training, certifications, books, articles, websites, etc.) available for Scrum Masters and Product Owners; there is markedly less for lean or agile portfolio managers. Unfortunately, it is arguable that confusion at the very top of the organization will only promote a continued state of disarray downstream no matter how agile our teams or teams of teams are. To that end, here are twelve common antipatterns associated with lean/agile portfolio management that, when properly addressed and resolved, will leave us in a radically more productive state and much more able to help transform our organizations into agile technology companies better suited to perform in the age of digital disruption.
Part 1: 4 Strategic Alignment and Funding Antipatterns
Strategic Alignment Antipatterns
Failing to connect and align initiatives to approved business strategies and goals
Failing to identify value streams (in their current states)
Connect and Align Initiatives to Approved Business Strategies and Goals
When an organization’s vision and mission statements are clearly defined and well crafted, they will inform every other action taken within the organization. Using its vision and mission statements, the organization then needs to establish clearly defined organizational/business goals (the what) for the upcoming year. These organizational/business strategies are the “hows” that flow from the goals. All products, value streams, and portfolios should be connected to and informed by the organization’s goals and strategies. If they are not, then the organization is not aligned internally and this will be reflected in the disparate activities undertaken by subdivisions of the organization. In order for an organization to truly align itself internally, it needs to develop and communicate its vision, mission, goals, and strategies and then use them as guideposts to determine if individual initiatives are aligned with them. If they are, great! If not, then a proposed initiative should be ruthlessly abandoned.
Identify Value Streams
How does your organization make money or realize its non-profit goals? What are the products and services that generate and deliver this value? What are the steps to get from concept to cash or from initiation to realization? Identifying these value streams is a cornerstone of effective lean/agile portfolio management. It is imperative for lean/agile portfolio managers to understand how their organization makes money, delivers value, and/or realizes its non-profit goals. Initiatives that do not align with or support existing value streams should be examined carefully and skeptically. Likewise, initiatives seeking to create new value streams that do not align with the organization’s goals and strategies should also be scrutinized and likely abandoned. However, lean/agile portfolio managers cannot begin to do that until they understand what the organization’s value streams are and how they operate.
Failing to fund value streams and their component development capabilities (programs and teams), not projects
Failing to decentralize decision-making and funding beyond the executive and portfolio management levels
Fund Value Streams, Not Projects
This is, perhaps, the hardest of all the lean/agile portfolio management antipatterns to overcome. A value stream is the process employed by an organization to make money, deliver value, and/or realize its non-profit goals. As such, these value streams require funding as revenue or value generators. Once allocated, this value stream budget is then used to fund the value stream’s component programs and teams.
Notice that nowhere in the preceding paragraph was there any mention of funding projects. Once an organization has undertaken the shift from project funding to value stream funding, then work simply becomes a backlog of work items that are prioritized, decomposed, and worked at each appropriate level of the organization before being delivered back upstream. The fundamental shift is to fund long-lived product development capacity (e.g., teams and teams of teams) and not each temporary work effort.
Decentralize Decision-Making and Funding
One of the immediate tangible benefits of funding value streams (and their component teams and teams of teams) is the decentralization of decision-making down into the levels of the organization where the in-depth technical and business knowledge resides. Long-term decision, strategic decisions, and decisions involving large economies of scale are still made centrally at the executive level of the organization. However, decisions better suited to levels below the C-suite or the Agile PMO are migrated down to their appropriate levels. This allows teams and teams of teams to make decisions within their respective local contexts without requiring or engaging in lengthy or cumbersome oversight by the executive level of the organization. This promotes local autonomy for teams and teams of team that contributes to better performance and faster, more informed decision making.