AgileCraft Introduces The Lean Portfolio Manifesto: A Conversation Starter

Posted by Steve Elliott on Nov 28, 2018 2:07:17 PM

As agilists, one of our primary drivers is to continuously improve the outcomes of our work. This often means stepping back, taking a critical look at the impact our way of working has on our outcomes, and participating in an inspired, passionate debate about ways to improve them. Every now and then, when engaged in debates of this nature, you stumble upon something monumentally huge: a critical problem or set of related problems that, if solved, can help hundreds of thousands of people be better at what they do. That’s when it’s time for your crew to buckle down, flex those brain muscles, and figure out how to communicate the message in a digestible, clear way that will maximize its value to and impact on the market, and ultimately, future customers.

An example of this is a little document called the Agile Manifesto. As legend has it, the manifesto was developed during a short break from a working meeting of Extreme Programming developers and thinkers, after a day of brainstorming. This concise set of four simple points changed the direction of how modern products are developed, with the result of fundamentally and exponentially changing the way that people transformed business for the digital age.  And most importantly, it was a way to start a conversation about radically new ways of working.

Here at AgileCraft, we find ourselves in a similar time and predicament. Agile has exploded beyond being simply a new way of developing software -- it’s given birth to DevOps, been scaled to the enterprise, and extended itself as a practice even into the business parts of the organization. Now, the tricky part is trying to connect all of these. Teams have the Agile Manifesto as their guiding practice, but what about the folks managing the portfolios?

Time and again, we’ve seen teams and programs that are jamming like well-oiled agile machines, but when it comes to driving vision from the portfolio level, leaders fall into traditional PMO habits. It just doesn’t make a lick of sense to have old-fashioned PPM practices in place when you have teams executing with agility. At the end of the day, it results in misalignment, and just slows everyone down. When you’ve spent all this time and energy transforming at the program and team levels, why stop there? Leaders need to embrace lean agility at the portfolio level in order to truly reap the value only lean transformation can deliver. The honest truth - and there’s no shame here - most folks can’t seem to get started because they just have no idea what the rules of engagement are. 

The answer is simple: leaders need straightforward guidance at the portfolio level that aligns with lean/agile ways of working at the lower levels of scale. We know this because as we have engaged with more and more customers struggling with this precise predicament, the gap became clear very quickly to our team of Solutions Architects, and a pattern began to emerge. Most customers needed more help than just implementing a tool: they needed us to help implement a mindset that really defied logic in a traditional PMO.

Inspired by the Agile Manifesto and interpreted by AgileCraft’s Solutions Architects team, this Lean Portfolio Manifesto is, at its essence, a re-organization of existing principles and thought drawn from many sources, all of which lend themselves directly to a lean portfolio way of working. From Denning and Hamel’s Hacking Management, to industry groups such as Technology Business Management (TBM) and Beyond Budgeting, to wider business transformation contexts like Holacracy or New Ways of Working, the manifesto can be boiled down into this introduction and these four simple points: 

We are uncovering better ways of delivering valuable business outcomes by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

1- Hypothesis Driven Investment Over Full Business Case Funding

Combining two fundamental elements of the agile mindset, you utilize smaller batch sizes with minimal cost and investment in experiments, while taking an economic viewpoint in decision making.

2 - Rolling Outcomes Roadmap Over Predictive Milestones

With predictable flow and a prioritized portfolio backlog, you can demonstrate when a given feature or capability can be delivered and stay aligned with market and customer capacity to receive and respond to change. 

3 - Continuous Engagement Over Gated Reviews

Improved availability of actionable data means decision makers from all levels are continuously engaged and can make smaller course corrections as needed. 

4 - Value Enablement Team Over Project Management Office

No longer tasked with completing the budget process or auditing spend limits, this team is instead tasked with supporting and improving business-impacting metrics such as flow of value to customers, responsiveness to change, team engagement, etc.


While we don’t claim any particular ownership to the concept of Lean Portfolio Management, we do believe it's important, and about time, to provide a long-needed context that will enable conversations to find ways around entrenched positions we often find with lean practices. The hope is that creating this structure will help inspire conversations that will incorporate learning and better outcomes for everyone struggling to create transparency within organizations of all levels of scaled agile maturity, regardless of framework. 

At AgileCraft, we bring hands-on, first-person perspective as a result of our ongoing extensive customer field visits. We examine their problems and figure out not only how to make changes in our product to help fix the issues they observe, we also try to create “big thinking” in these arenas that serve the greater lean/agile community. We focus on not only alleviating problems by developing new platform features, but by creating guidance at higher levels that solve larger issues. This purpose is what gave way to the development of a Lean Portfolio Manifesto, and the Lean Portfolio Playbook that is available only in AgileCraft.

What do you think of this manifesto relative to your experience with Lean Portfolio Management? Would you amend it or add supporting principles, as the Agile Manifesto has? Let us know in the comments below, or stop by agilecraft.com/lpm to see what all the fuss is about. 

Topics: Digital transformation, lean agile, enterprise agile, agile at scale, portfolio-management, lean, lean portfolio