As part of the ongoing Agile Portfolio Management Series, Rally held an event in London on Friday, 30 March. Minutes from the Liverpool Street tube station, about 100 business, product and project managers met at the Andaz Hotel to discuss how to bridge the gap between development execution and business strategy. We not only had an impressive line-up of speakers, including Gartner Research Director David Norton, it was obvious that the attendees were passionate about enabling an iterative, flexible and pragmatic approach to aligning their organization’s development teams and their portfolio of projects.

The Reality of Enterprise-Class Agile

Featured Gartner Analyst David Norton kicked off the event with a thought-provoking keynote, “The Reality of Enterprise-Class Agile,” that endorsed aligning business and IT to achieve the highest return for businesses demanding greater application agility and capability. Norton recommended creating feedback loops between development leaders and those who manage project investments so they can collaboratively decide the best course of action for addressing new competitive threats or capitalizing on new market opportunities.

One of my favorite quotes from David’s talk: “If you don’t have a very reactive and responsive portfolio practice, you won’t succeed with Agile.”  He asserted that Enterprise-Class Agile Development is not just project-level Agile practices scaled up, rather it’s about optimizing the entire lifecycle, along with balancing and prioritizing projects based on risk vs. benefit.

Norton advocated implementing Agile practices and Lean principles that are repeatable, predictable and measurable. He concluded with these key points:

  • The trend is for more business-centric methods based on continuous delivery. Waterfall won’t do.
  • Have a clear Agile adoption strategy with defined key KPI.
  • Agile and Lean practices can be adopted gradually.
  • Lean principles and practices apply to all IT functions.
  • Agility requires the business and IT organizations to work together.
  • The IT organization needs to find the balance between formality and agility.
  • At its heart, Agile is about people and requires incentivized change.

Breaking down the Wall Between Strategy & Execution

The benefits of Agile are clear – things are built faster, cheaper, and with higher quality. But, you’re only as Agile as your entire process, not just your development teams. In today’s fiercely competitive markets, businesses must integrate Agile and Lean practices into their portfolio management practices to ensure they are building the right things. I see three warning signs that your strategy is disconnected from your execution:

  • Not understanding why. Watch this video from Simon Sinek on starting with “why.” He discusses how great leaders and great organizations inspire action and are able to repeat their success over and over by knowing and communicating “why” they exist.
  • Water-Scrum-Fall.  Development teams using Scrum for their process are wrapped in heavyweight traditional approaches to planning and release management.
  • Building things that aren’t used — According to the Standish Group Study*, 64% of features/functions in a typical system are rarely or never used. (*as reported by Jim Johnson at XP2002)

David Norton and I chatted about the disconnect between application managers and project portfolio managers, and a host of other Agile-related topics during a lively Q&A session at the London Forum. Here are some highlights:

At the end of last year, we introduced Rally Portfolio Manager, the industry’s first Agile Portfolio Management solution, to provide business leaders with unprecedented visibility into the high-level status of Agile development work. By providing fact-based governance, it empowers business leaders to make informed trade-off decisions and confidently steer their organizations in the most profitable direction. It also highlights resource bottlenecks in your idea-to-delivery value stream and offers real-time program timelines so you can clearly visualize dependencies and adjust to maintain delivery commitments of key strategic goals.

Stay tuned for more news about how Rally Portfolio Manager will continue to provide the necessary feedback loops between business and development at the Gartner PPM & IT Governance Summit on 21 – 23 of May, where Rally will be a Silver sponsor.

Our goal is to continue to offer on-demand Agile educational resources and a community of your peers to share Agile software development and portfolio management questions and solutions. Up next:  Join us on 2 May, 2012 for the next event in our Agile Portfolio Management Series – “PMI-ACP: Adopting Agile into the PMP World.”

Todd Olson is VP of Product at Rally Software. He is a marathon runner and cake baker. Find Todd on Twitter at @tolson.

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