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Tushar Patel
Tushar Patel
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Can Project Management Keep Pace With Agile Development?

Agile development poses special project management challenges; here's how to stay ahead of the game.

It’s official: financial organizations like Capital One are sold on the benefits of agile software development. In fact, 85% of Capital One’s software is now delivered through agile development, to the tune of approximately 400 product releases a month, with dramatically expedited delivery times and an unprecedented level of on-target products: 95 percent met expectations on the first release, according to company sources.

Yet, as much as developers (and business leaders) love agile development, it poses some major challenges to project management, which relies heavily on the planning and forecasting that many agile developers happily bypass in practice. With agile adoption rates rising from 24% in 2010 to more than 40% in 2013, it’s critical for companies to get a handle on how to successfully manage agile projects.

The question is: Can traditional Project Management Offices (PMOs) keep up with the rapid pace that agile development sets? The good news is that by thinking a bit differently about how to approach agile -- and using some smart portfolio-management-style tools -- PMOs can not only keep pace but manage at the speed of agile development. Here are a few tips.

Portfolio-level prioritization is critical: Since more than half of all companies use a blend of agile and traditional waterfall approaches to development, gaining accurate visibility into product pipelines and development timelines can be tricky. The key is to get a holistic, portfolio-level view of all development projects -- agile and traditional -- by translating agile terms into metrics that are understandable to the rest of the business.

This is an area in which the latest agile portfolio management solutions really excel. They identify metrics that are common to both types of development projects, essentially allowing PMOs and stakeholders to compare apples to apples. By allowing PMOs and business leaders to analyze maintenance efforts versus new product development, track costs, manage resources, and provide dashboards and reports for agile and traditional projects alike, it’s simpler to keep everyone on the same page with regard to project status, needs, and progress.

Find ways to build in predictability: For all of agile's charms, answering the (very valid) questions coming from sales, the C-suite, and customers -- about when software releases will be ready for market and which features they’ll contain -- is not its strong suit. Because agile development is iterative and teams don’t typically spend time building out the long-term schedules and plans traditional development relies on, PMOs need to find other ways to establish predictability around releases and accurately forecast future capacity and needs.

In this scenario, timely reports can go a long way toward helping all parties feel more comfortable with the timing of delivery for projects and features. Reporting elements could include what elements new software releases are expected to include and what progress has been made toward these targets. Consistent reporting capabilities that are part of new agile portfolio management tools can help standardize project data in one central location, so PMOs and executives can again compare apples to apples through configurable reports and dashboards.

Leverage standardized project management to ensure business alignment: When PMOs aren’t in a position to compare agile and traditional projects side-by-side through standardized prioritization, dashboards, and reporting, it can be nearly impossible to keep development activities aligned with business strategy.

Putting standardized portfolio governance practices into place helps keep everyone aligned with and accountable to the same organizational priorities -- reducing the risk of rogue projects distracting development teams. Taking a proactive approach to requests can help prioritize new features and bugs by putting them into a “pre-backlog,” so that only prioritized work moves into developers’ workflows at the appropriate time.

Portfolio management solutions and tactics also establish a “single source of truth” for development teams, PMOs, and business stakeholders to steer by. With a common set of metrics, dashboards, and reports, it’s easier for everyone to stay aligned with business priorities and overarching strategy.

While agile development may be taking over traditional approaches, it’s rewarding to see that solid project management, with a few new tools and approaches, is more than equal to the task of keeping teams, budgets, timelines, and expectations on track, no matter what development approach is used.

By taking a cue from the best-practices of portfolio management and applying them to your agile teams and portfolio, your organization can achieve the best of both worlds, resulting in more innovation, better resource efficiency, and increased competitive advantage for your company.

Tushar Patel is currently Vice President of Marketing at Innotas, the leader in hosted Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Application Portfolio Management (APM) solutions for ITmanagement. Prior to Innotas, he was Senior Director of Product ... View Full Bio

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