Creatures that slow down portfolio delivery and how to kill them

Drawing: FreshTown Graphics
Proud to see that the PM World Journal published the article that Marisa Silva and myself wrote.
It started with a simple post from Marisa Silva on LinkedIn about a few project creatures. I replied and added a few more, as other people on LinkedIn did too. Reading all those comments, I suggested that the two of us could write an article about this topic.


Many organizations struggle to finish their projects on time, on budget, and within scope. If you look into their portfolios, one of the first things to notice is the huge number of projects. I remember an organization with more than 600 projects. It was firefighting all over the place. Problems in one project were solved by resources from other projects and as a result the problem project is not at risk anymore (but delayed) and by using resources from other projects, these projects are now at risk too. And this approach was continuously repeated. Furthermore, the portfolio had independent projects delivering the same benefits (on paper) or delivering the same output. 100 percent resource utilization in optima forma and as a result a ‘traffic jam’ in the portfolio pipeline. After rationalization the final portfolio contained less than 100 projects and all of a sudden it was possible to finish projects and deliver benefits.
Portfolio management helps to solve these kinds of problems. Portfolio Management supports management by answering the following four questions:
  1. Are we doing the right projects?
  2. Are we doing projects the right way?
  3. Are we getting projects done well?
  4. Are we getting the business benefits?
In this article we want to focus on these questions by visualizing projects as specific creatures with their own behavior. For example, a pet project is a project that can be seen as a ‘pet’ or personal favorite from a senior manager and is not contributing to the organization’s strategy. This is not the right project (question 1) but by running this project you are absorbing scarce resources and change budget. The sooner this project is killed the better.
For each project creature you get one or more examples to understand the creature, to which question it relates, who must act, and how to kill the project creature or transform the creature into a project that fits in the portfolio.
The following project creatures are discussed:
  1. Pet project
  2. Watermelon project 
  3. Mushroom project
  4. Submarine project
  5. Cockroach project
  6. Ghost project
  7. Zombie project
  8. Tsunami project
  9. Pufferfish project
  10. Holy cow project
  11. Peacock project
  12. White Elephant project
  13. Prambanan project
  14. Groundhog Day project
  15. The Fake Nose project
  16. Octopus project
  17. The Elephant in the Room project
  18. The Unicorn project
To download the complete article: Silva, M. and Portman, H. (2019). Creatures that slow down portfolio delivery and how to kill them; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue IX, October: pmwj86-Oct2019-Silva-Portman-creatures-that-slow-portfolio-delivery v1.1
Please let me know if you are aware of other creatures in your organization?

Agendashift, a new tree in the agile forest

logo_loresI thought I now covered all agile ways of working but I failed (again). I found a new one. This time it’s Agendashift. A 21st century modern engagement model (developed by Mike Burrows) that is needs-based, outcome-oriented, continuous and open to help organizations grow wholeheartedness.

The model Agendashift does:

  • Help the change agent structure their engagement with their client organisation and its staff
  • help the client organization engage its staff meaningfully in change-related work
  • Help the transforming parts of the organization engage constructively with the rest of the organization, so that both will thrive.

overview 16x10

Agendashift is based on five principles:

  1. Start with needs
  2. Agree on outcomes
  3. Keep the agenda for change visible
  4. Manage options, testing assumptions
  5. organize for clarity of intent, speed of decision-making, and alignment of impact (mutual accountability).

in Agendashift we see five activities:

  1. Discovery (where we would like to go: remember the future, 5W, True North, 15-minute FOTO, Clean language)
  2. Exploration (prospecting for opportunities: 15-minute FOTO, Clean language, Cynefin)
  3. Mapping (plans & priorities visualized: (User) Story mapping, reverse STATIK, impact mapping, X-matrix)
  4. Elaborating (framing actions, testing our thinking: hypothesis-based change, Lean Startup, A3, Cynefin)
  5. Operation (change as real work: Lean Startup, Kanban, Scrum).

On the Agendashift website you can find more details, set-ups of workshops, templates, books, et cetera.

In my bird’s eye view in the agile forest I added Agileshift in the Culture-targeted box.

Agile (50 shades of gray Clarity User Society, 191105) v1.0

See my bird’s eye view blog for the complete article.

AgilePM building block approach

logoHappy to see that the Agile Business Consortium copied one of my blogs on their site. In this article I propose a way to reduce the AgilePM documentation by using a building block approach.

Have a look at the Agile Business Consortium for the blog.

Project name (AgilePM building blocks 2019xxxx) v1.0For the complete article see my blog

SAFe 5.0 brief preview

In the beginning of 2020, a new version of SAFe will be available. It’s, as usual, fully backward compatible with SAfe 4.6, allowing a smooth migration.

There are now seven core competencies that enable business agility. Some are reframed and restructured and two new competencies to expand SAFe to encompass the entire enterprise and enable business agility. See the new SAFe big picture.

SAFE50The two new competencies are: Continuous Learning Culture (CLC) and Organizational Agility (OA).

Continuous Learning Culture is based on three dimensions: Learning Organization (shared vision, systems thinking, mental models, team learning, personal mastery), Relentless Improvement (constant sense of danger, optimize the whole, problem solving culture, reflect at key milestones, fact based improvement), and Innovation Culture (innovative people, time & space, go see, experimentation & feedback, pivot without mercy or guilt, innovation riptides).

The three dimensions of Organizational Agility are: Lean-thinking people and agile teams (house of lean, SAfe principles, Agile Manifesto), Lean Business Operations (process time – delay time – process time) and Strategy Agility.

The old competence DevOps and Release on Demand is now called Agile Product Delivery. Here we see Develop on Cadence, Release on Demand, DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. New is Customer Centricity (understand: market research, design: user research) and Design thinking within the Agile Product Delivery competency.

Enterprise’s business teams are now ‘on the train’ and participate in delivering and supporting innovative business solutions. These teams adopt the Lean and Agile values, principles and practices.

A tenth SAFe principle is added: Organize around value. This principle is based on Kotter’s ‘dual operating system’ as described in his book XLR8 – Accelerate. Building strategic agilty for a faster moving world. See my review.

If I look at my bird’s eye view on the agile forest, I have repositioned SAFe to emphasize that SAFe is now covering, within the product-level, the product-targeted as well as the culture-targeted selection.

Birds eye viewSee the Bird’s eye view on the agile forest blog for the complete article.

See the Scaled Agile website for more information on SAFe 5.0

Agile Performance Management: Measure what matters retrospective

Schermafdruk 2019-08-29 12.59.26Friday September 13, I was one of the 40 participants of the second Agile NXT Future Friday conference organized by Xebia in Hilversum, the Netherlands.

It was, similar as the first AGILE NXT Future Friday, perfectly organized, interesting topics, great food, and enough time to network. Four 1.5-hour lively sessions with 20 participants each to facilitate discussion and the final keynote speaker.

The first session Freedom by Restraint: Improving Autonomous Team Performance with boundaries by Riët Broekhuizen gave interesting insights in the four stages of autonomy (self-organizing – operational, self-developing – tactical/operational, self-directing – tactical/strategic and self-initiating – strategic). We started by defining (per table) autonomy. We followed the five steps to build an individual team framework. 9789462154780-480x600Describe for each team if the can decide on corporate identity, workplace, product and/or technology & methods. Look at the maturity of each team (entrepreneurship, resilience, purpose driven, creative, ownership and transparency) and build the individual team framework. Clear frameworks can dramatically improve autonomous team performance. Further reading: De High Performance Organisatie, deel 1 – Leiderschap, strategie, beleid & cultuur by Jan-Dirk den Breejen.

The second session Leadership agility, it’s time to remove the performance roadblocks by Rik de Groot started with a small table discussion regarding roadblocks. As a next step Rik discussed his top 10 of roadblocks and the rationale behind these roadblocks:

  • Conways law
  • A tenuous link between strategy and day-to-day behaviors
  • The idiosyncratic rater effect
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Lack of hope
  • Lack of regular constructive meaningful feedback
  • No respect for individuals and the job they do
  • Missing human support
  • Lack of praise and acknowledgement
  • Value and behaviors mismatch

Based on a real-life case we discussed roadblocks and which micro interventions could make sense using a table with many micro behaviors (leading, supporting, sounding, change-oriented, collaborative, liberate and evaluate results).

The Responsive Organization

Further reading:


The third session Measure the impact of coaching – using methods from data science by Pieter Rijken was a tough one. He started with a view on soccer coaches. How is it possible that after 5 matches the first coaches are already fired and if you look at the results, they are not that different in comparison with the fired coach. If you take an intervention you need to compare against a baseline e.g. no coaching, no intervention and ask if the result is worse, similar or better. Perhaps the results are even worse, and no one notices, or the coaching works and the organization concludes it doesn’t. Rik explained that for scrum teams a simple measurement is the delivery rate (and you probably already have the data). If you plot this data, you find a Poisson distribution (under the assumption that the team is independent, and the delivery rate is constant). By using methods from data science, you can find jumps and, as a coach or scrum master, you could ask what happened, which intervention did I made that could justify the jump et cetera. Rik finished his session with some take a ways (e.g. be patient, beware of time delays in interventions, simple to use measures: delivery rate, support coaches in learning which interventions are effective, and which are not).

Further reading:


In the fourth session Agile Performance Management – next level by Theo Gerrits insights and practical knowledge how to optimize efficiency and measuring the value of agile was in the spotlights. What to measure was discussed in groups by using the following general steps:

  • What is value in your organization (value: customer, business, knowledge, risk, laws & regulations, public image)?
  • Understand your value chain (value stream mapping, organize around value streams, avoid “silo’s”
  • Which possibilities to monitor value creation?
  • Choose viable metrics. Keep it simple and seek balance (max 3-4 metrics)
  • Have an opinion and take action always (performance dialogs). If you are satisfied with the measurements: what should you do to maintain them. If you are not satisfied: what could be the (root) cause/reason, what solutions, choose and watch out what happens.9780321579362-480x600

Agile Performance Management is similar with regular meaningful conversations while responding to changes. Further reading: Succeeding With Agile: Software Development Using Scrum by Mike Cohn

9789026337512-480x600During the last session of the day, the Keynote, Maarten van der Weijden gave his personal story about his illness, his relationship with his father, the way towards his golden Olympic medal and the two swim eleven-cities tours to raise money for cancer charities. He spoke with passion about the value of metrics in delivering top performance, personal leadership and innovation. Further reading: Beter Maarten van der Weijden.

On the way out everybody received a tapeline as a token of appreciation for attending this session about Agile performance management: Measure what matters. This second future Friday was again a success with new insights, new thoughts and new contacts. I recommend this event when you want to take the next step in your Agile journey. The content is next level and you can bring it the next day into practice.

I am looking forward to the next AGILE NXT Future Friday, November 22, 2019.


Review: A Guide to Assurance of Agile Delivery

agile-coverThis guide (2017) is a result of the working group of the Association for Project Management’s Assurance Special Interest group (APM’s Assurance SIG).

The guide addresses assurance in relation to the areas that are considered the fundamental aspects (and key differences form traditional waterfall approach) of agile project management and assurance.

Like the other book I reviewed (Agile Governance and Audit), this book too focusses on temporary project organizations using an agile way of delivery (compare PRINCE2 Agile, AgilePM, DAD, PMI Agile where we have agile teams using e.g. Scrum) and not on organizations using e.g. SAFe, LeSS or Nexus. The four areas described, are (each in a separate chapter):

  • Approaching reviews in an agile way provides guidance on how to plan and conduct reviews. It starts with early engagement to obtain an understanding how the organization applies agile project management, what methodologies, (reporting) tools and approaches it employs. A Terms of Reference (ToR) focusing on the specifics of an agile way of working, the planning of the review and the the output.
  • Environments focus on the agile ways of working and the physical working environment. You get ten general health indicators to assess an agile team. Furthermore, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the whitboards/walls the, preferably co-located, teams are using to understand their Kanbans.
  • Governance starts with an overview of generic governance topics that are applicable too for agile projects. On top of this you get some additional characteristics of agile projects that you, as an assessor, should keep in mind. E.g. the agile approach and terminology, the way the backlog is managed, the agile specific roles like an agile team, a product owner and a scrum master and their behaviors.
  • Risk management mechanisms are probably leaner than for traditional projects. Incremental and iterative delivery with regular client feedback reduces the chance to deliver the wrong product. An overview of specific risks for agile projects and how to cope with them is provided.

At the end of the book you get checklists for the four areas (approaching review, environments, governance and risk checklists) and references to further reading including links to National audit Office and HM Government documents and several agile related sites.

Conclusion: This easy to read book focusses, as stated, on temporary projects with an agile delivery team. I would say it’s a good starting point, and it helps to get an understanding how to perform an assessment on agile projects.

To order: A Guide to Assurance of Agile Delivery


50 shades of gray between agile and waterfall

50 shades (article picture horizontal)This article, published in Kwartalnik Project Management Institute Poland Chapter Wrzesień 2019 nr 26, is an updated version of the 50 shades of gray between agile and waterfall story I presented during the last NTPM 2019 conference in Gdańsk, Poland. Of course, an article cannot replace the pictures, sound tracks, movies and interactions I used, but it gives an impression of my message.

In this article I focus on five perspectives, namely the project manager, leadership, organizations, teams and culture. For each perspective I look into the traditional and agile view and what’s in between.

To download the magazine including my article and many more (mostly in Polish and some in English): Strefa-PMI-26-2019 (50 shades article Henny)

To visit the PMI Poland Chapter site: