Using scrum to manage the portfolio
For an enterprise-scale department or a small firm that manages a wide range of products, the best way for them to be properly tracked is by establishing a portfolio. Although the term "Portfolio Management" can often smack of old-school, traditional "Waterfall" project governance, it is absolutely possible to eschew portfolio management in the traditional way, and instead to adopt Agile portfolio management using scrum.
Begin by developing a scrum backlog which covers all of the product workstreams and operates in a portfolio scrum team, similar to the normal scrum team, but with a Portfolio Owner (akin to Product Owner) and a Portfolio Master (akin to Scrum Master) to ensure scrum is used to manage the portfolio backlog, following all the standard scrum rituals but on a programme level.
There are a number of benefits to this setup. Once a Product Vision is established which encompasses the entire programme of work, an org structure like this is a way of ensuring focus on that vision and that the right products are being prioritised across the entire portfolio. Having a sprint retrospective for the portfolio team means that progress of each sprint is reviewed across teams, allowing you to assess how the teams are doing, and ensure priorities and customer commitments are being met. Once a velocity for the entire portfolio can be established, it becomes possible to estimate deliveries across multiple teams and flex resources between teams in accordance with demand.
Each scrum team has a Product Owner and a Project Manager and/or Scrum Master. Each scrum team holds its own scrum activities, and then reports to the Portfolio scrum-of-scrums to join the dots between the workstreams.
In addition to participation in the portfolio scrum team, the PMs should be responsible for:
- Short, medium and long term plans for the entire programme of work
- Resource allocation of scrum teams
- Working with Product Managers to funnel projects and work items to teams
- Ensuring projects are vertically sliced in a way that resource can be assigned/withdrawn in an agile manner
Drawing it all together means you can have unified reporting, metrics and demos for presentation to senior stakeholders and you'll be able to consult one place to get info on all products in the portfolio rather than chasing individuals in different teams or across multiple locations.
This approach allows a large pool of resource to be structured into small, fluid (but colocated) scrum teams working in a scrum-of-scrums environment across the entire portfolio of the department's projects.
Colocation is a strong success factor in this kind of setup. If you are joining remote teams into the portfolio, they should be colocated rather than splitting teams with members in different locations.
Teams in a portfolio scrum-of-scrums should have:
- Combined monthly sprint demos where every team in the program presents
- Quarterly release plans defined for each team, as well as the department as a whole
- Shared sprint cycles across teams
A structure like this allows for mobility between teams as well as career progression for individuals, as several individuals can take on Scrum Master roles and teams can become more cross-functional and be exposed to a variety of products within the portfolio.