The book is divided into 9 chapters and a handsome appendix to understand when to use agile and when not based on answering four simple questions.
When I talk about portfolio management, I always use four key questions, which need to be answered and drives portfolio management:
- Are we doing the right things?
- Are we doing things the right way?
- Are we getting things done well?
- Are we getting the business benefits?
In this book the authors uses three objectives:
- Select the right projects;
- Maximizing the portfolio’s throughput of project completions;
- Optimizing the portfolio’s reliability of project completions.
These objectives are related to the first three questions and that already give one of my observations regarding this book. I miss the benefits part. Fantastic that we can improve the throughput of our projects but if we don’t get the business benefits from them you could ask yourself what have we done wrong? But that’s not the scope of this book.
Selecting the right projects is based on the following steps: Project identification, project validation, project prioritization, project selection and project politicking (political wheeling and dealing). In the selection process the authors show, using the Theory of Constraints, that we have to look at the throughput per constraint unit and the investment, as well as the relation with the strategy. ROI on itself is not enough.
Maximizing portfolio throughput is about the number of project completions that can be achieved over a given period of time. The authors offer five techniques for maximizing the throughput using elements of Critical Chain, Agile and Lean:
- Project staggering (build the portfolio around the exposed constraint);
- Focused, single-task execution. Multi-tasking will slow down execution enormously;
- Elimination of task- or sprint-level commitments;
- Lean process value stream analysis;
- Ultimate Scrum (single piece flow in a pull system, the fewest possible open tasks, the shortest possible flow time and lead-time (thus no sprints).
For optimizing the portfolio reliability you get again five techniques. Three of them are already introduced: Single-task, elimination of lower-level commitments, and software enabled lean processes. Two new techniques are added: portfolio-buffering and buffer balancing. Schedule buffers and or budget buffers are being used in the more traditional incremental and waterfall approaches and scope buffers in the agile approach. Showing each project’s buffer status in a fever chart gives the opportunity to compare all projects (agile, waterfall, incremental).
Fight the zealotry is the next chapter. “one-size-fits-all” will not work. You get five examples to support you in your quest for a deliberate, practical, best-tool-for-the-job approach. E.g. “What if the scope is actually well defined and likely to remain stable? What if the customer has no desirement features?” A scope buffer will not work.
Overcoming obstacles describes eight obstacles and what you can do about them. E.g. convincing stakeholders that staggering their project for a late start will actually result in an earlier finish.
In the last chapter you get a recommended sequence of technique adoption and the characteristics of an ideal large-scale pilot.
Conclusion: The book offers a lot food for thought, brings agile, lean and critical chain project management together and is worthwhile reading. A pity the authors are not using one of the portfolio management frameworks (Axelos or PMI) and integrate their techniques within these frameworks. The lack of benefits management I already mentioned.