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Portfolio Management: Stop Starting, Start Finishing

What Pawel Brodzinski learned from a Kanban Leadership Retreat surprised him. On average, it turns out too many IT projects are being given to too few people. To Brodzinski this means that most projects are undertaken without the full commitment to make them truly worthwhile. Some of these projects, while considered active by management, are effectively sitting still because of the strong demand for technicians to multitask. 

The Single Project Approach

A lecture from Larry Maccherone at Lean Kanban North America confirmed for Brodzinski the effectiveness of a single project approach. Based on input from thousands of agile teams, Maccherone states that the single project approach can lower the overall defect density, while a team size of 5-9 is typically ideal.

The WIP Limit

Yet sticking to one project is easier said than done, especially when abandoning that project is simply not feasible. That is why Brodzinski proposes a WIP limit by simple conversation:               

If we understand that potential projects are options that we can execute, and [that]once we decide to start them it means commitment, we should also understand the consequences. Commitment means that there’s a price to be paid for abandoning an initiative. What’s more, [the]cost isn’t easy to assess. How much would the reputation of a company suffer for letting a client down? How much bad, word of mouth would be triggered?

A WIP limit resonates with the motto of Lean Kanban Central Europe conferences: that of “stop starting, start finishing”. That means that projects should be difficult to start by requiring discussion about operational capabilities. If a unit cannot be properly staffed, be funded while delayed, or if it runs too many risks during operation, then it is not destined to be finished in the first place and should therefore be abandoned.

This brings Brodzinski to the question of project value, one that he believes goes beyond the typical financial concerns. In the outset, if the cost of disappointing a client outweighs the benefits of canceling the project, his verdict is to not start the project.   

The full blog can be read at: http://brodzinski.com/2014/06/portfolio-management.html

About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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