Posted by: kerrywills | October 13, 2017

An Agile Portfolio

I attended the Scaled Agile (SAFe) Summit this last week in San Antonio. Generally, I am not a fan of conferences but this one was very beneficial as I focused on sessions regarding agile portfolio management and case studies of companies who have evolved in a scaled agile way. These sessions corroborated some of my thinking over the last two years around how to run an agile portfolio. I believe that there are five key guiding principles to an agile portfolio…

  1. Hub and Spoke Model – Foster a decentralized model of leader-leader management through having guidelines at the Portfolio level but accountability at the Program and Team levels. The Portfolio also provides an aggregation function for key information.
  2. Transparency – Provide transparency of scope, planning, progress and risk across the entire portfolio. This includes the alignment and tracing of scope, financials and progress using the same hierarchy.
  3. Single Sources of Truth– Steward authoritative sources of key information and maintain as “living” documents for portfolio insight and management.
  4. Scope Diligence – Ensure diligence in the inventorying of scope and intake through a prioritized backlog and traced through all stages of delivery.
  5. Delivery Diligence – Aggregate, track and govern delivery of scope through the multiple execution layers to ensure successful delivery of commitments.

The portfolio still has the same functions in an agile model, but operates a little differently using the above guiding principles.

  • Intake and Scope Management – To facilitate the intake, prioritization and tracking of all scope through the lifecycle of delivery and the many delivery levels and constructs
  • Planning and Delivery – To plan a specific body of work, provide transparency and govern  the progress of that work through the delivery lifecycle and delivery structure  (IT and Business)
  • Portfolio Management – To aggregate key portfolio information and provide transparency across delivery


So as the industry evolves into more of an agile model, we need to continue with the key functions of a portfolio but operate using an evolved set of guiding principles.

Posted by: kerrywills | October 6, 2017

Portfolio Management as a hub-and-spoke function

I have managed many programs and in the last few years have focused on managing portfolios of programs. Beyond the size of scope I find that a major difference in managing portfolios is that they are more of a “hub-and-spoke” model than the “centrally manage” model of programs. In programs, there is generally one main roadmap and set of goals which permeates all work and so a centralized management model makes sense. Portfolios tend to be more federated with several roadmaps, several programs and several goals with some interdependencies between them.

Portfolios should have some accountabilities centrally managed (the hub) and some accountabilities federated out to the programs and teams. For example, reporting on overall status, financials and risks should be centralized for major items but each program should also have its own accountability to manage their detailed items. Some functions make more sense to manage centrally such as budgets which can be traded off between programs. On the other hand, having centralized governance over every risk or defect would slow down the delivery.

So I am not sure that there is a “right” answer but we do need to recognize that Portfolios should operate differently than programs and determine the optimal model for aggregation and accountability.

Posted by: kerrywills | September 29, 2017

Creating team rosters

I coach my son’s basketball teams and this year his team only has eight players.  In this league the players must have equal playing time. In past leagues I have seen coaches try to make real-time decisions on who should play each of the eight periods and what always happens is that some kids play 3 in a row and are exhausted while others sit for several periods and don’t play. So this year I decided to create an algorithm to determine the rosters in advance assuming 8, 7 or 6 players in case someone does not come to the game (which we usually do not know until game time). The image below shows the scenario with 8 players (A-H) across 5 positions and 8 periods to get equal playing time without playing too many periods in a row.

We can apply this same type of thinking to our projects where we have a long “game” ahead of us and need to understand how our team will perform through the entire lifecycle and ensure that no one gets burnt out and that each team member is optimized for their skills (i.e. their position). By spending the time up front to understand the project and the team members we can optimize the team and increase the chances of “winning the game” or completing the project.


Posted by: kerrywills | September 22, 2017

Pop culture wisdom

I look for inspiration in many places and have found project management wisdom is abundant in popular culture…

  • Mike Tyson is a planning genius
  • Judge Judy is a leadership expert
  • Vanilla Ice is a PM savant
  • Pokemon Go teaches us how to manage risks
  • Walking Dead is about issue management
  • How to control the Gremlins

These insights will be presented in my next Webinar, on October 25th. You can see the page here and then click to register for it.

Posted by: kerrywills | September 15, 2017

Flowers and weeds

We have a garden in our backyard and two things grow there; flowers and weeds. In thinking about maintaining the garden I realized that I spent almost equal time on both of these items. The flowers need to have plant food, water and sun and so we spend the time nurturing them so they will grow big and beautiful. The weeds seem to grow everywhere and we spend time picking them out because they tend to grow big and crowd out the flowers which could cause them to fade.

Projects seem to operate similar to my garden. As project managers we spend a lot of time nurturing the scope and schedule to ensure that they can be delivered to meet commitments (the flowers). We also spend a lot of time managing risks and issues which could impact these commitments (the weeds). In our planning we need to recognize that we should spend as much time nurturing our flowers as we do in picking the weeds and therefore we can prepare accordingly. Thinking the gardens are only made up of flowers will result in underestimating the risk that the weeds will take over and all we will have is crabgrass!

Older Posts »