The Agile Pyramid: Aligning the Corporate Strategy With Agility

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Summary:
Agile software engineering and agile project management have become more mainstream in recent years with great success. But the benefits from agility should not have to stop there. Instead of initiating a project and letting the team run with it, progress reporting, planning and estimating should translate through all the channels, back to the corporate strategy. That way, executive management or the PMO can continuously balance the vision of the organization. This article will present these concepts for agile portfolio management.

Agile software engineering and agile project management have become more mainstream in recent years with great success. But the benefits from agility should not have to stop there. Instead of initiating a project and letting the team run with it, progress reporting, planning and estimating should translate through all the channels, back to the corporate strategy. That way, executive management or the PMO can continuously balance the vision of the organization. This article will present these concepts for agile portfolio management.

Origins of Agile Software Development
The popularity of agile software engineering has been constantly increasing over the past decade. This was especially true after the formation and creation of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 which gave the agile movement a boost and foundation. This manifesto describes the core values of agile software engineering from a methodology-neutral perspective. That means the level of agility of existing or future methodologies can be determined by comparing them against these core values. Agile {sidebar id=1} software methodologies provide the foundation of the agile pyramid (see Figure 1), which we will discuss throughout this article.

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Figure 1: Agile Foundation - Agile Software Development

The motivations for agile software engineering however root in the need to build software systems alongside ever-changing business environments and date back to the 1970's. As a matter of fact, many authors of the manifesto had worked with object-oriented software engineering and the Smalltalk TM programming language many years before agility was formalized. These technologies led to methodologies like Scrum and eXtreme Programming, and it is not surprising that these industry leaders eventually initiated this manifesto.

Just to be clear, the ground-breaking concepts and technologies in the past were a reaction to the need of building more flexible IT systems. That led to technologies which enabled agility in the first place. Without going too much into the history, what is important is the fact that agile software engineering eventually brought us to where the business wanted project teams to be decades ago.

Building software in shorter and more frequent intervals, inviting feedback, adapting to change, and gaining better insight into projects, were among many other possible motivations. Until a few years ago, we did not had the diversity in technologies to accommodate this request.

The Need for Agile Project Management
What is surprising, though, is that the project management principles acquired decades ago are still applied today even when the underlying software engineering has changed to become agile. Even though agile software engineering had changed fundamentally how teams build software, the project management style stayed the same. How could a traditional project manager successfully lead an agile project?

That is quite a mismatch. For example, it is nearly impossible to plan a long-term project from the start to finish when the software engineering process invites and embraces change. With agile software engineering, it seems unnatural to plan tasks and activities in break-down structures and hand out work-orders.

As a reaction to this mismatch, industry leaders made an attempt similar to the agile manifesto. The Declaration of Interdependence  for agile-adaptive management was released. The declaration highlights six core practices: value, teams, customers, individuals, uncertainty, and context. While each practice was identified as a contributor for success, it is the sum of all six and their interdependence which makes them complete. Because agile project management coordinates activities for agile development, it occupies the second layer in the pyramid (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Agile-Adaptive Management

Since the release of the Declaration of Interdependence in 2005, the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) and its local chapters foster a community of agile project managers and duplicate

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