Review Agile Portfolio Management

There are not that many books on agile portfolio management, so I am curious what the book Agile Portfolio Management – A guide to the methodology and its successful implementation “knowledge that sets you apart” written by Klaus Nielsen, offers.

The book is divided into nine chapters, starting with project portfolio management, and ending with case studies on agile portfolio management. In between chapters explaining agility at scale, agile portfolio management, differences between project portfolio management and agile portfolio management, hybrid portfolio management and implementing and tailoring agile portfolio management.

Every chapter starts with the same overview figure. It shows 6 circles representing 6 topics where one or two circles are highlighted. I have no clue what the author wants to express. The first two topics/circles are the first two chapters. The third chapter is the fifth circle. The fourth chapter is the fifth topic/circle. Chapter 6 refers to the third topic/circle, chapter 8 Tailoring agile portfolio management refers to topic/circle 4 Tailoring portfolio management and topic/circle 5 Agile Portfolio management. 

The first chapter Project Portfolio Management explains in detail the financial approach within traditional project portfolio management. Based on PMI’s Standard for Portfolio Management several financial models like PV, NPV, FV, ROI, IRR, PP, DCF, BCF, PI are explained as well as the continuous stages as initiation, planning, execution, optimization and monitoring and control. Set-up of the chapter is somewhat difficult to follow. All the information can be found in 28 sub paragraphs of the last paragraph 1.7. Explanation of a specific financial model or portfolio governance or stakeholder engagement are all separate sub-paragraphs. I miss structure.

The next chapter The reality of Agility@Scale is more a chapter on lean thinking and principles. Important for agile portfolio management but looking at the title I was expecting something different. In this chapter a brief explanation of the Stacey Matrix and the Cynefin Framework, lean thinking and lean portfolio management (using the theories of the Toyota way, Womach, Larman and Vodde, Reinertsen, Poppendiecks, …), continuous planning, and innovation.

Chapter 3 Agile Portfolio Management starts with an explanation of the Agile Manifesto and underlaying principles. The twelve principles are expanded including (portfolio) practices. 

In many paragraphs a table has been used showing Portfolio Life-Cycle Stages (initiation, planning, executing, optimizing, monitoring and controlling), Portfolio Kanban (funnel, review/analyzing, portfolio backlog, implementation, done), Projectized and Recurring. There is no reference in the text or explanation. This table comes back, in exact the same form, multiple times. I would say that only table 3.9 The Portfolio Kanban High-level Overview makes sense. In total 20 times the same table except the title of the table in the field Projectized or Recurring. Even the title is sometimes wrong (same as the previous table). I have no clue and what this says about the quality of the book?

Some paragraphs, e.g., stakeholder analysis is discussed in too much detail (this is not different from PPM stakeholder analysis). Regarding risk management I can make the same remark, there is only a small sub-paragraph regarding a risk burndown chart and risk-based spikes. What I am missing are the real agile portfolio risks. Portfolio risk management is more than the sum of initiative or project related risks. Other topics which are typically Agile portfolio management e.g., portfolio value, portfolio metrics and reporting are lacking details, and the benefits of agile portfolio management is not explained. I have my doubts if a tool-driven portfolio reporting approach is an indication for a medium to high agile maturity. Unclear why the paragraph Exploring EDGE is positioned here, because in the next chapter agile portfolio management frameworks are explained.

Chapter 4 covers several (agile) portfolio management frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, AgilePfM, Nexus, DA (notice that DAD only covers the delivery life cycles), Scrum, XSCALE, Enterprise Scrum, RAGE and the Spotify model. The author mentioned that the latest version of SAFe is 5.0. It’s 5.1 but that is not what bothers me. The description of SAFe talks about the value-stream level (after version 4, it is called large solution). There are now three levels: portfolio, large solution and essential and not team, programme, value stream and portfolio. I would expect that the portfolio level was discussed in more detail, e.g., the portfolio Kanban, portfolio canvas and participatory budgeting. Table 4.3 Levels of SAFe shows the Conformity Rating for LeSS. 5 pages further, we can find table 4.4 Conformity Ratings for LeSS which shows the SAFe key terms! 

To refer to LeSS Huge for the agile portfolio aspects is not correct in my opinion. LeSS Huge is there if we need more than 8-10 teams to develop and maintain one product. Finally, the Spotify Model is explained. A pity the author didn’t discuss the Spotify Rhythm model with company beliefs, company, functional and market bets boards which is more related to agile portfolio management.

Chapter 5 compares Project Portfolio Management and Agile Portfolio Management. In chapter 1 it is stated that MoP is long overdue and the PMI’s Standard for Portfolio Management lifecycle is used to structure chapter 1. In chapter 5, it is stated that MoP is one of the best Project Portfolio Management standards and MoP is used to build comparison tables with Agile Portfolio Management (high level, key activities, roles, and documentation). Why no consistency throughout the book? I missed a paragraph explaining the Obeya room concept as an agile portfolio management artifact to replace the portfolio dashboard. 

I don’t believe that you can use the Stacey matrix, Cynefin model or the PRINCE2 Agile Agilometer to choose between project portfolio management or agile portfolio management. This only works if all your projects are the same (e.g., simple) and I guess you will have simple as well as complicated or complex projects in your portfolio.

The next chapter talks about hybrid portfolio management. Too short if you ask me. For me hybrid portfolio management is something you need when you have to select, prioritize and allocate initiatives to permanent agile teams responsible for the development and maintenance of specific products and services and/or to one-off temporary projects, to deliver your portfolio’s objectives. Resource management is two-fold. Individual resource capacity management for the temporary projects and up and down scaling of permanent agile teams. Et cetera. The author combines project portfolio management with agile portfolio management resulting in 6 different flavors: standard PPM stage-gate in combination with agile ways of working between the gates, with agile teams (each team is handled as a project), with projects using temporary and agile teams, with an agile framework or agile portfolio management with plan-based projects or with a combination of projects and agile teams.

Chapter 7 focusses on the implementation of agile portfolio management by describing the top 10 challenges and suggested actions for implementing agile portfolio management:

  • Defining large-scale agile framework concepts and terms
  • Comparing and contrasting large-scale agile frameworks
  • Readiness and appetite for large-scale agile frameworks
  • Balancing organizational structure and large-scale agile frameworks
  • Top-down versus bottom-up implementation of large-scale agile frameworks
  • Over-emphasis on 100% framework adherence over value
  • Lack of evidence-based use of large-scale agile frameworks
  • Maintaining developer autonomy in large-scale agile frameworks
  • Misalignment between customer processes and large-scale agile frameworks
  • Ensure people and process issues do not steal the show.

How to and the importance of tailoring agile portfolio management is the next chapter. The intro, before paragraph 8.1, is eight pages long, without empty or white lines! A bit of tailoring could make it more readable. Is the author now talking about tailoring the agile portfolio (selection or adjustment of initiatives) or tailoring the agile portfolio framework itself? What makes an agile portfolio different from a portfolio? Next a three-step tailoring process is discussed (initially tailoring based on the organization, tailoring based upon the content of the actual portfolio, and continuous tailoring of the portfolio).

The last chapter shows nine (brief) case studies on some degree of agile portfolio management. 

Too much traditional PPM theory, instead of agile portfolio management theory. And the case studies offer not enough practical aspects. Sometimes I review books and it’s clear that these books are self-published. This book with unbalanced chapters and paragraphs, inconsistency, the issues with the figures, blurred figures, misspelled names, typos, and wrong numbers, gives me the same impression but it isn’t. I would have expected more from the author’s publisher to improve the quality. Sorry to say, but I can’t recommend this book.

To order Agile Portfolio Management: bol.com

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