At first glance you might think that there couldn’t be two organization transformations with greater difference than the adoption of project portfolio management (PPM) and the transition to agile delivery. After all, when problems occur, the former is often perceived as bureaucracy gone mad whereas the latter is negatively stereotyped as just do it chaos.
Both transformations have a lot more in common than you might think.
Both will fail if fundamental mindset and behavior changes don’t occur. Neither can succeed with just introduction of new practices or tools. The best portfolio prioritization scoring model or the most integrated sprint planning and reporting tool suite will merely provide evidence of dysfunction if behaviors don’t change. The shift for PPM requires staff at all levels to elevate organization strategy over personal pet projects and to recognize that optimizing the whole sometimes requires sub-optimizing a part. Agile requires a similar shift in thinking from centralized decision-making to embracing empowerment and self-organization. But once the right mindset has been cultivated, a parallel introduction of new procedures with appropriate supporting tools can increase the effectiveness of the change.
Both transformations require vigilance and ongoing coaching to ensure that backsliding does not occur. Without this, cargo cult behavior will be seen from both portfolio governance participants and agile teams. Re-emergence of stealth and zombie projects or multi-level decision-making and chronic over commitment and under delivery sprint-after-sprint are clear signs that discipline is lacking.
Top down and bottom up commitment is critical to both. Without the former, it is not possible to overcome political and financial obstacles and skipping the latter will usually be reflected through the reporting coming out of implemented tools as garbage in, garbage out.
You will be forced to evaluate organizational policies and structure beyond the obvious points of impacts. New roles such as portfolio managers, agile coaches and leads will emerge, and performance objectives and incentives will need to shift from individual achievement to portfolio or team achievement.
Finally, both transformations are journeys, not just destinations. No matter how efficient a company’s delivery practices or portfolio management practices get, there’s always room for improvement and instilling a culture of continuous improvement is superior to focusing on a few major changes.