Simplifying Portfolio Management

Simplifying Portfolio Management

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I read a wonderful article the other day that surrounded some specific techniques for portfolio management.

Here’s a link to the article:

I immediately thought of the SAFe guidance for portfolios and just really enjoyed the simplicity and practicality of the approaches in the article.

For example, the article diagram illustrates visually how an organization is moving portfolio items from Idea…to Live or “Cash”. Clearly it’s a Kanban approach, but I don’t believe there is exhaustive analysis (business cases, etc.) for each idea. The board simply radiates the portfolio and each item moves forward based on (1) it’s on merit and (2) the organization determining that it has value.

I think that’s probably the wrong question. Yes, all of us in technology seem to really enjoy the complexity. But I also think we constantly look for a “process” to handle all of the thinking for us.

To augment the above reference, I want to explore a few additional thoughts or recommendations for your portfolio planning:

  • Run lots of experiments – you’ll want to build time into your portfolio Epics for experimentation and discovery. This could include internal experimentations (prototyping and architectural investigations) and external experiments with your customers.
  • Considering your legacy – I often feel that organizations are too respectful (or fearful) of their legacy products. Yes, you want to factor your history into your portfolio, but you also want to boldly go where your future value resides.
  • Team engagement – this is a key that SAFe often misses, you want to get your teams involved in your portfolio estimation & planning as soon as possible. And in this case, I actually mean your teams and not a small sub-set of architects or designers.
  • Threads for UX and Architectural look-ahead – again SAFe does talk about architectural and other forms of look-ahead runway. But the reality in my experience is that organizations don’t do a good enough job here of allowing these specialists (AND their teams) to engage in forward-looking thinking, o
  • Avoiding the wig-out factor – very often organizations get overly concerned about costs at the portfolio level. They need to remember that this is when their teams know the least – so of course the estimates will be large and scary. But you have to avoid “wigging out” and simply allow the teams to explore your high priority Epics.
  • Measure value – don’t simply pull together an ROI “statement”. Be prepared to measure your ROI or value assumptions post-deployment. There are many tools and techniques available to measure actual value, so contrast it against your projections and learn from your mistakes.

Perhaps the title should be “Engaging your teams in your Portfolio’s!” From my perspective, it’s the missing link in many of the scaling framework and a common mistake that many make.

At the end of the day, your estimates and evaluations need to be derived from the folks who will be doing the work. The common excuses surround not wanting to interrupt them and not want to waste their time.

From my perspective, I’d rather “waste their time” in portfolio analysis and being part of organizational decision-making than asking them to build things that they don’t understand. And the practice of visual and collaborative portfolio planning is inclusive of the teams and effective in proper organizational alignment.

Stay agile my friends,


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