Day 33 – Portfolios

Today we looked in more details at where we get our money from.

Initially, we had identified 5 “portfolios” (remember this diagram) –  Front of House; Back of House; External Customers; Lifecycle & Growth; and one portfolio aligned to an existing in-flight project, with a business unit we do a lot of work for.

Over the past few weeks the waters had got muddied – without the regular rhythm of portfolio backlog prioritisations, portfolio showcases and with less than ideal involvement from our business reps – we’d forgotten what a portfolio was, what we were going to do with them and there seemed to be confusion spreading across the floor.  We also told the existing project managers who weren’t in an iteration manager role that they’d be transferred to a role more aligned with managing a single sponsor (a “portfolio”).

Our agenda was simple: Review the initial logic; Take a look at what we had today with in-flight projects + known work in the pipeline; and come up with some kind of happy compromise.

The initial logic:

What’s the smallest number of portfolios possible, where for each we could have a single person who could come to the wall and make a priority call, without having to pick up the phone and go to the CEO for a decision.

When we reviewed the portfolios though, we realised we had many more sponsors and the initial idea no longer stood (although we did agree it’s a valid goal).

Reviewing the current landscape:

We white-boarded out all our current sponsors, across all our current projects in-plan for this financial year (20 in total).  We also took a look at what was coming up (an additional 6 projects on the horizon).

That gave us a list of 10-14 names (depending on whether projects were active / not) with clusters of projects under each.  But the initial intent still rang true – we could call each sponsor and ask for a priority call for work in their projects (what’s the next most important thing for you?); without calling the CEO.  Bonus.

Subsequently, much discussion ensued… We didn’t have answers, but here’s some of the questions we asked:

1. How do we decide the next most important feature in our portfolio?

With 10-14 portfolios to chose from, and effectively 10-14 different buckets of money, it becomes tricky to balance a fair and equitable split of our teams’ capacity across the multiple buckets.

2. Can we squish a couple together to get a smaller total number of portfolios? 

In short, no.  We still needed that one person who could come to the wall and make a priority call without getting on the phone to the CEO.  In each case, we decided we couldn’t squish a couple of sponsors together – they had competing interests and we couldn’t align their motivations (we tried slicing by theme, by product, by technology to try and get some overlaps).

So we consciously compromised on the number of portfolios (too many) to ensure we retained visibility.

We’re hoping that as a few of the carry-in projects drop off, we can drop a couple of portfolios and then it’s a case of maintaining sensibility in future. (How often do we trade off a little madness now on the promise we’ll be better behaved in future?!)

3. How do our sponsors read the wall?

Each portfolio will have a couple of cards alongside it – Sponsor name, + key contacts who have the delegated authority to make priority calls; a list of the multiple projects included in the single portfolio; and some kind of meaningful title.

4. What do the colours mean?

We’ve got 5 coloured cards, which we decided will still reflect the initial portfolios – i.e. where we get our money from.  Although we now have portfolios with different sponsors, there’s a couple of generic areas we work in: Front / Back of House; Lifecycle + Growth (self sponsored); and External customers (where we won a tender, the work will be funded out of that project, but it’s handy to know how many external clients we’re working on).

What’s next?

Wall update, plus the necessary ceremonies to keep it alive.  Et voila, here’s the before and after shots:

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