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Project Portfolio Management Goes Agile

I have co-led the development team responsible for the writing of the first edition of PMI’s “The Standard for Portfolio Management”, first published in 2006. Its second edition was published in December 2008. The standard, as most standards on processes, explains how the process works (or should work). It does not explain how to put it together and implement it. So you have to look somewhere else for that.

Part of my work involves coaching organisations in implementing and improving their portfolio management processes. I religiously buy and read most of what is published on the subject in English or French. More than often, I had to conclude that the book or article I just read, I could have written myself… and done only a half-job doing so. Most of the literature on the subject I have seen up to now, talked a lot about mathematical scoring models, tools and techniques, addressing mostly the mechanics of the process. It never addressed the soul of the process, the humans, and how to deal with the main challenge of portfolio management in this area, namely: “How do we get a whole organisation to live a common vision and be truly aligned and willing to make it happen through project work”. Most of the books, that have been published, focus on best practices and techniques and do not discuss behavioural aspects as a key issue…..up to now! 

I have talked a lot about Agile/Lean project management in this blog, often explaining that it was addressing human aspects of project management very well. The Agile/Lean community has recently entered the portfolio management arena with two pretty good books, in that context.

The first book, published less that a year ago, is “Agile Portfolio Management” by Jochen Krebs (, Microsoft Press, 2009 (ISBN-10: 0735625670). It gives a good introduction to Agile project management and then goes on to explain how portfolio management works and how to implement such a process. For me, a major contribution of this book is really how the author explains what can go wrong trying to do portfolio management using traditional project management techniques. This leads the author to redefine the three variables of the “Iron triangle” of traditional project management , Quality-Time-Cost, into a new set of three variables, Quality-Progress-Team Morale,  taking into account the importance of dealing with humans, their expectations and their perceptions. Jochen Krebs goes farther than philosophising on the subject; he provides metrics and explains how to measure, monitor and act upon all three variables. The first chapter of the book is titled “Motivations”, which tells of the importance the author gives the human aspects of portfolio management. Later on, he also gives a good view of the various portfolios interacting in an organisation (Project, Resource, Asset). He finishes the book explaining how you can extend the SCRUM technique from project to portfolio management.

The second book still smells of fresh ink, since it was published a few days ahead of schedule on August 19, 2009. This is “Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects” by product development guru Johanna Rothman (, Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2009 (ISBN-10: 1934356298). This is Johanna’s third book. Her first two, “Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management” (ISBN-10: 0976694026) and “Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management” (ISBN-10: 0978739248) are real gems and won prizes for their quality and usefulness. I do not hesitate to say that “Manage It” is one of the best books around for giving practical advice to project managers. Her last book, as her two others, is full of real life examples and little case studies that support the principles, concepts and techniques offered. “Manage Your Project Portfolio” is really a very complete “How-to” book on how to set up and manage your project portfolio. As Jochen Krebs’ book, this book addresses human aspects very well, including a very nice chapter dedicated to collaboration work in a portfolio management context (chapter 6). The chapter on metrics and measurement is also straight to the point (Chapter 10). Johanna’s top-notch practical advices and examples are found all over the place up to the last page, with a great last chapter titled “Start Somewhere…But Start”, one of the best things to do when it is time to go forward with taking charge of your portfolio of projects. A very inspiring book!

I do believe these are two books that, at last, give a more complete view of what is at stake when dealing with project portfolio management and will really help organisations move forward faster with implementing and improving this key business issue of the 21st century, the Project Age.

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