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Portfolio, Program and Project Management in 2018

I saw this LinkedIn post earlier today, and it got me thinking about managing projects and the latest perception of project management.

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Let’s face it – for a few years there, if you were a project manager working in an environment trying to go “Agile” (capital “A” intended), you were received as someone with a crap-load of baggage of enforcing heavy process, red-tape, and a command-and-control mindset. You were seen as a blocker, not an enabler.

Never fear, those of us in the profession did what we do best – we adapted. We learned it wasn’t about following the process, “just checking the box on the project” (and not caring about results), embraced new funding and investment models and began to think in more product (durability and valuable outcomes) vs. project (time-based) terms.

Our soft skills changed to empowering team members, being a servant leader and focusing on adapting project delivery techniques and approaches to best fit how to achieve the desired outcomes. Metrics moved from trying to achieve 100% utilization to understanding how project benefits were being realized (and when that value was being delivered to the customer).

Inspecting and Adapting (as well as continuous improvement) was always a part of our DNA, so we relished in the reinforced energy that retros brought to the scene (the term post-mortem always bugged me) and the learning and growth they provided to teams and organizations.

We did this while still keeping an eye on budgets/costs, maintaining organization and coordination, ensuring timely and helpful communication, and enabling execution.

Over the last three years, I have been very impressed with the Project Management Insititute’s (PMI) continued work with the Agile Alliance in order to ensure that the fundamentals of managing projects are not lost as we are able to work in more iterative and incremental ways, and I’ve been grateful to be a part of some of their efforts.

These fundamentals don’t preclude the #NoEstimates or the #NoProjects movements. I’ve seen teams effectively manage their work/delivery without estimates, and investment streams made up of durable teams vs. project teams. It’s all about adjusting the approach to fit what the team is working with and what they want to achieve.

For those who would like to learn more about how managing projects “fits” with being agile (lowercase A intended), below are a few resources:

  • Since 2013, Agile Alliance has included the Project, Program and Portfolio Management track on their annual Agile20XX conferences to demonstrate how these practices are evolving and enabling agile execution and delivery.
  • PMI and Agile Alliance partnered to create the Agile Practice Guide (Initiative Overview and Link to Publication), which provides practical guidance geared toward project leaders and team members adapting to an agile approach in planning and executing projects. I loved being a reviewer for this publication.
  • PMI recently published research on Achieving Greater Agility: The people and process drivers that accelerate results (link) and the important role that the PMO/project management plays to support organizational agility.

Staying with the agility research for a moment, below are some of the points that resonated with me (all are quotes from Achieving Greater Agility: The people and process drivers that accelerate results (link) and the emphasis is added):

  • PMI classified organizations with high agility as those that establish a cross-functional, collaborative environment, foster an innovative attitude, and use a foundational approach to processes. They choose their program delivery approach based on project characteristics and organizational needs, as well as the ability to minimize risks, control costs, and increase value. They also experience higher revenue growth.
  • Organizations with high agility recognize the value of having some form of project governing body: 94 percent report having a project management office (PMO), an agile work group, or another type of formal governance board, versus 81 percent of organizations with low agility.
  • Organizations will foster the development of adaptive skill sets among the project management workforce. They will leverage processes such as effective risk management, change management, and standardized project, program, and portfolio processes. They will begin to rely on flexibility, adaptability, and open communications—and they will embrace change and empower their employees to work differently. Experiential learning, rapid decision making, and a strong customer focus are all important because agility is about being able to question routines and identify opportunities—and having the right skills, tools, and resources to act.
  • Speed and Strategy need to be considered: These factors are weighed against the pros and cons of each approach—as they relate to the specific project. For example, certain projects are more conducive to an agile approach that allows teams to deliver projects in small increments and adjust rapidly as needed. Other projects require a predictive approach that calls for the bulk of the planning up front, then operates sequentially. Yet other projects benefit from a hybrid approach that combines various life cycles—both predictive and agile—to achieve goals.
  • These processes are consistent with the principles of benefits realization management as well, which helps align projects, programs, and portfolios to the company’s overarching strategy. Regardless of the approach they use, project teams continually evaluate whether they will deliver expected benefits. If not, they exercise agility and adjust their processes and practices accordingly.
  • The goal for organizations, regardless of where they focus, is to design processes that are dynamic and nimble. This approach will assure those who associate “process” with being cumbersome and rigid. Well-crafted processes streamline work, eliminate duplication of effort, identify critical decision points, and provide options to accommodate different business scenarios. The best processes support quality standards and change readiness, and identify continuous process improvements in support of greater agility.

It’s been such a pleasure to watch this profession evolve in my 17-year tenure, and I’m excited to see what other evolutions will occur.

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