Evidence-Based Portfolio Management In A Nutshell

Evidence-Based Portfolio Management (E-B PfM) applies agile principles to the process of deciding where to invest funds for maximum benefit to the business. Traditional portfolio management tends to focus on activities and outputs, with less consideration given to outcomes that are often poorly defined.

Understanding Evidence-Based Portfolio Management

Annual budgeting processes, for example, restrict the ideation process to the point where ideas falling outside of budgetary constraints are discarded entirely.

When managers are asked to estimate the cost of delivering a solution, these estimates often come attached with several caveats. These caveats are typically ignored in favor of meeting hard, non-negotiable schedules and deadlines.

Ultimately, this results in funding decisions being made by people who are far removed from the actual work. These rather optimistic decisions cause the scope of the work to expand once knowledgeable individuals are recruited, resulting in budget blowouts and delays.

Evidence-Based Portfolio Management applies lean and agile principles to the challenge of deciding where to invest funds for maximum ROI. By enabling businesses to quickly test ideas and rapidly deliver benefits in small increments, E-B PfM avoids the bloated, non-collaborative, and over-specified aspects of traditional portfolio management

Indeed, E-B PfM replaces expensive and inefficient project meetings with direct evidence to continuously evaluate and adapt strategy where necessary.

Principles of Evidence-Based Portfolio Management

The structure, roles, responsibilities, and processes of every organization are different. E-B PfM is thus based on seven general principles that form an agile philosophy. 

This philosophy can be used to determine how the business identifies opportunities and considers which of those opportunities to pursue. It also strongly advocates the role of experimentation in guiding whether to increase, continue, or cease investment in those opportunities.

Following is a look at each of the seven principles:

1 – Separate budgeting for capacity from investing for innovation

An organization that takes on new work must add new teams or enable existing teams to be more effective. E-B PfM recognizes that there will always be more ideas than teams, so proper portfolio management is largely about deciding what not to work on.

2 – Make the best decision based on the evidence available

Evidence is often incomplete and unreliable, but an empirical approach makes allowances for this fact by testing assumptions and seeking better evidence. When making important decisions, the amount of money invested should be proportional to the quality of the evidence.

3 – Invest in improving business impacts using hypotheses; don’t just fund activity

Cost, schedule, and output are three variables that drive traditional portfolio management. But each has little relevance to value. E-B PfM instead equates value with delivering products and services that help customers achieve better outcomes.

4 – Continuously (re)evaluate and (re)order opportunities

As new opportunities are discovered, the relative attractiveness of existing opportunities will fluctuate. This means that the business will need to refine the list of opportunities according to their relative importance and invest accordingly. Relative importance should always be evaluated when new evidence comes to hand.

5 – Minimize avoidable loss

To minimize loss, the business must determine which ideas will not work. Project teams can perform experiments designed to actively prove that certain solutions don’t work, thereby providing direction for future development. For example, a company that is unsure of how a new product feature will be received can run a customer focus-group to gauge initial reaction.

In keeping with agile principles, solution viability should be tested in the simplest, fastest, and most cost-effective way possible.

6 – Let teams pull work as they have capacity

When a business attempts to work on ideas for which it does not have the capacity, it creates a Work In Process (WIP). A high amount of WIP causes a loss of efficiency, project delays, and impedes the flow of work.

By ensuring that teams pull the most valuable opportunity only once they are ready, WIP is reduced. Free to make their own decisions and focus on one opportunity at a time, the motivation and subsequent performance of the project team increases.

7 – Improve status reporting with increased engagement and transparency

Traditionally, portfolio investment is monitored through status reporting that lacks transparency because it is people outside the team that prepare the reports. By replacing this uninformed and subjective approach with E-B PfM, status reports are based on frequent, iterative product deliveries that contain useful, actionable data. 

Updated estimates of unrealized value and measures of current value are two such examples. Both help project teams reliably verify assumptions and allow them to reassess priorities with respect to organizational goals and strategies.

Key takeaways

  • Evidence-Based Portfolio Management is an empirical, principles-based approach to agile portfolio management.
  • Evidence-Based Portfolio Management replaces the rigid and over-specified nature of traditional portfolio management with collaboration, autonomy, and continuous improvement.
  • Evidence-Based Portfolio Management is based on seven principles. These combine to allows management approaches to be adapted to the specific needs of any business.

Read Next: Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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