Agile impact: Dutch public sector

Door Romée Kuijpers

Highberg (formerly known as BlinkLane) partnered with a major Dutch semi-public sector client for an agile transformation in portfolio management. The project included designing a new process and implementing a strategy over nine months. Despite external challenges, the impact was undeniable, leading to improved workflow, better prioritization, and sustained organizational agility. The client is now empowered to continue the transformation independently.

Agile transformation in the Dutch semi-public sector
Implementing portfolio management for agile teams
Best practices for strategic and operational alignment in portfolio management
Human and culture change in portfolio management transformation
Measuring Return on Investment in portfolio management change projects

One of our clients, a major player in the Dutch semi-public sector, started a transformation to an agile way of working in product and service development. To achieve the intended benefits of this transformation, portfolio management had to be aligned to cope with both agile as well as project ways of execution.

The ask

The ask from the client was to define a new way of their portfolio management process which connects to the execution part of their business. Hereby the client wanted to look at how they manage their priorities and flow of work towards the (agile) teams. The initial ask was two-fold:

  1. Design of the portfolio management
  2. An implementation strategy, driven by the organization. The challenge for the client was that the portfolio management team also had to develop the right content and competencies to guide this change in portfolio management.

Our proposal

Highberg proposed an initial design for portfolio management based on best practices in the market and aligned with the way of working on a strategic and operational level. Next to the design was the definition of an implementation strategy that would validate the design and facilitates an iterative process of continuous improvement.

Positioning the team

We started with two consultants from Highberg for three months, which was extended to approximately nine months for implementation. Focus areas in the team were divided in the following way: one consultant focused mostly on the tactics of portfolio management, and the other consultant focused on the human and culture change needed to make this transformation a success.

Project execution

First phase

The approach from a Highberg perspective is to always co-create with the client. A project team was set up to execute the project, consisting of internal change agents together with the Highberg consultants. For this project, we worked on the design together, which was the first phase over a period of 3 months. A cookbook was created, explaining the structure, processes and artefacts needed for portfolio management. This would be the guide to use and how to approach the new way of working.

Second phase

This was the implementation phase in which we started putting the design into practice. Our responsibility here was to turn the design into reality and learn and improve based on implementation results. We started upskilling the portfolio management team and change agents on this new way of working. Implementation plans were created and within the different domains, the first steps were made in adopting current processes, implementing new tactics and letting go of other practices.

Challenges

The difficulty with portfolio management implementation is that it is a process in between the strategic and delivery routine of any organization. This means changes cannot be made in isolation. During the roll-out of the portfolio management system, we were dependent on the pace of change in both the strategic and delivery processes of the organization. Dependency management and alignment on who does what is important. Both are a challenge because sometimes it affects the speed and things are not always in our own sphere of influence. We have to bring the consequences and impediments of these challenges to the client, to ensure awareness of the impact and ensure decision-making on impediments and risks.

Results

In this case, the Return on Investment of this portfolio management transformation was difficult to measure, due to many different external influences which played a role (e.g. revenue streams impacted by Covid and shortage in the labor market impacting operational results). However, the lasting impact of this specific assignment was irreversible and undeniable. The ability of the organization to adopt changes has changed in a positive manner. There is a better flow of work from portfolio management to the agile teams, better prioritization to ensure a better focus and less work in progress. With this improved, focus lead times should improve and the mean time to validate benefit hypotheses will shorten. There is a lot of support for this new way of working as a result of this project.

Final and major result is the enablement of the client to continue implementing this change without the presence of Highberg.

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