Enterprise Agility – The Big Picture (14a): On Agile Portfolio Management and the Legacy Mindset

Note: In the post Enterprise Agility: The Big Picture, we introduced an overview graphic intended to capture the essence of enterprise agility in a single slide. In a series of continuing post (see the Big Picture Category on this blog ) we have been working our way from the bottom (stories, iterations and the like) to the top where the enterprise vision and portfolio management resides. In this post, we’ll start a miniseries to describe the last big icon to the left – Agile Portfolio Management.


The Big Picture 14 - Agile Portfolio

A Particularly Relevant Case Study

Recently, while researching this topic for another purpose, I ran across an excellent case study from DTE Energy called: Establishing an Agile Portfolio to Align IT Investments with Business Needs. The article was written by Joseph Thomas and Stephen Baker and presented at Agile 2008. Unfortunately, I did not attend this presentation while I was at Agile 2008, but I found the whitepaper published in the proceedings. It appears to be available at http://submissions.agile2008.org/files/CD-ThomasBaker-EstablishAgilePortfolio-Paper.pdf and I highly recommend it for those readers of this blog that have
product or asset portfolios
(and you know who you are).

Here was the introductory “grabber” for me:

“Those who implement agile software development and agile project management in a traditional corporate environment may encounter legacy corporate and IT processes that reflect legacy mindsets and cultures- These remnant processes, mindsets, and cultures represent opportunities to improve the systemic value that agile approaches are capable of enabling.”

This is a reminder that team agility does not automatically engender enterprise agility and in most all cases, the team is just the beginning. The article is surely relevant to the enterprise perspective, because when it comes to scale, DTE Energy is right “up there”:

“DTE Energy, a Fortune 300 is a diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy related businesses and services nationwide with $9 billion in annual revenue and 11,000 employees. DTE Energy’s Information Technology Services (ITS) organization, now consisting of over 900 people, provides leadership, oversight, delivery, and support on all aspects of information technology (IT) across the enterprise.”

Illustrating the maturity of thought reflected in the article, DTE Energy’s IT teams have been implementing and extending agile practices in their enterprise since 1998, moving through CMM levels II and III via agile practices. They have almost a decade of agile adoption upon which to build their ongoing learning. As reflected in the case study, DTE also illustrates Kaizen Thinking (continuous thirst for improvement) that is the hallmark of top enterprise agilists. Evidently it is just this thirst that drives the agile initiative ever upward until it hits the level of portfolio planning and decision making at DTE.

The Transformation Starts on the Ground

The title of the article, along with the maturity of DTE’s agile implementation efforts, also reflects the fact that building the agile enterprise is a “ground up” exercise. The primary work must start with the development teams themselves. They build all the code. If they aren’t agile, no one is. Thereafter, dealing with many of the challenges at the corporate level, (with the Project Management Office (PMO) often being the control room of the mother ship) is likely to be a significant challenge that must be addressed. For it is there that projects and programs are initially formed, budgets and resources are determined, governance is established and longer term (and not particularly agile) external commitments are typically made. If not successfully transformed, many of the potential benefits of the agile enterprise – time to market, productivity and quality, ROI, revenue and profitability growth – may be heavily mitigated.

However, this next set of enterprise challenges is most easily addressed after the teams have first demonstrated  the substantive productivity and quality improvements of the methods. That way, they’ll be standing on their accomplishments and can serve as an object lesson in what agile could do, if only unfettered.

But for readers of this blog series now is a later time and it’s time we addressed the big “portfolio” icon on the top left of the Big Picture

Legacy Mindsets Can Hinder Potential Enterprise Benefits

DTE’s whitepaper starts with a discussion of the various legacy mindsets that can inhibit achievement of the full benefits of the agile enterprise. These include: “widget engineering”, “control through data”, “order taker mentality” and more. This is an important underpinning for the enterprise transformation we are driving, because one can’t recognize solutions to a problem if one does not understand the problem. These mindsets must be understood and addressed before much agile progress can be made at the portfolio level.

We’ll discuss these legacy mindsets, and more from our own experiences, in the next post.

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