Part 4:
Taking the Complexity Out of Portfolio Operations

What is the most complex activity you can think of? Running a city? Planning an Olympics? Sending people to Mars? Some activities are complex technically, others managerially; some are both. 

Lean Portfolio Operations and the Power of Simplicity

Where would you put Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) on this scale? Managing the organization’s IT investment in a way that creates sustainable speed, learning, quality, and customer awareness.  While you probably wouldn’t see it as the most complex problem we face today, chances are you’d view it as dauntingly complex.

Similar to Conway’s Law, if you conceive the problem to be highly complex, that’s what your solution is likely to look like.  But that is the exact opposite of what we want to achieve with the Operations side of Lean Portfolio Management. Just as the name suggests, it needs to be lean, fast, and adaptable. Simplicity is our friend. 

Here, we distill Lean Portfolio Operations into its fundamental activities. Otherwise, we are liable to invent another slow, complex, inscrutable solution of the past and be no better off. 

Fundamentals of Lean Portfolio Management Operations

What do the activities of Lean Portfolio Operations look like when we boil them down?

  1. Maintain a flow of qualified initiatives for consideration
  2. Match budget to initiatives and prioritize allocations  
  3. Monitor progress of the portfolio initiatives and adapt investment when needed
  4. Provide execution guidance and facilitate operational excellence

That’s just four activities. Some would say it’s only three and that the fourth is not a portfolio management responsibility at all.  Our view is that portfolio management cannot exist as a detached function that leaves it to others to make sure all goes smoothly. 

Read the other insights in this series on Lean Portfolio Management:

From Foundation to LPM Operation Principles

If we account for these four activities we’ll be in pretty good shape provided that we also apply the following six principles:

  1. Limit work-in-progress
    • Ensure that the process does not become hopelessly jammed.
  2. Collaborate and apply systems thinking
    • Apply live, collaborative prioritization and review decisioning that bring together business and IT stakeholders with processes that combat ritual.
  3. Deal effectively with uncertainty
    • Don’t demand to know more than what analysis can provide early on, creating an illusion of control.  Learn how to make decisions quickly with the right collaborative input, knowing that you will take opportunities to review and adapt. This principle is supported by the last few principles:
  4. Make results visible
    • Not through slow, wait-inducing document compilation and circulation, but through real-time rollups of decomposable metrics.
  5. Work on cadence
    • Give all the moving parts the opportunity for alignment and reset when needed.
  6. Delegate decision making
    • Move at speed and make better decisions. Review KPIs along the projected path, overall operational status and risks, and any environmental shifts.   

These six principles will help you accomplish the four activities at the speed, accuracy, and quality required by the market. You learn by implementing the four activities, together, in a smaller area first (per the start-up steps described in article three in this series). Then, learn from doing and scale-out.

Maximizing the Value of Lean Portfolio Operations

Four activities and six principles. What we said about the essence of Lean Portfolio Management as a whole article one in this series applies similarly here to Lean Portfolio Operations: While there are plenty of mechanics and a few challenges beneath the surface of the four activities just mentioned, if you grasped those and the six principles needed to accomplish them, then you have grasped the essence of Lean Portfolio Operations.

These simplicities will serve you well as you move into action. They will help you sort out which actions are valuable and which are ritual. What’s important and what’s waste. They will help you stay the course and find your unique route. And, they are the foundation of what we use at SDLC Partners to guide clients to streamlined, effective, and scalable Lean Portfolio Management.

That’s the power of simplicity.
The next article in this series takes a closer look at
individual activities. 

Diver Deeper into LPM with SDLC Partners

The path to deal successfully with complexity is to understand the fundamentals that underlie them; those fundamentals that describe the essence of what Lean Portfolio Operations is trying to accomplish.  It’s that anchoring understanding that will help you establish, navigate, and orchestrate multiple activities that represent LPO in motion. Let’s connect and see where simplicity could accelerate your organization’s value delivery.

Art Moore
Art Moore

Arthur “Art” Moore leads the Process Optimization and Design Thinking Solutions teams for SDLC Partners. His career spans software development, practice management, methodology development, training and strategic consulting, in...

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