Establishing Project Portfolio Management Practices in Teams Using Azure DevOps

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As you might know, Microsoft has renamed Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) to Azure DevOps Services. VSTS features are now separate services. What was known as “Build and Release” is now called “Azure Pipelines.”

It provides continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) that works with any language, platform, and Cloud. What was “Code” is now “Azure Repos,” and it is unlimited Cloud-hosted private Git and Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) repos.

“Work” became “Azure Boards” for tracking Kanban boards, backlogs, team dashboards, and custom reporting.

“Test” for planned and exploratory testing became “Azure Test Plans;” “Packages” turned into “Azure Artifacts,” which is basically maven, and the NuGet package feeds from public and private sources.

Currently, as a separate service, you can acquire only Azure Pipelines. In the future, you’ll get a way to acquire each service separately, if needed. However, you can access all these services now if you are a VSTS subscriber. You can still use and the old interface if you want. Microsoft has created a separate new domain name for new users.

What Exactly Does Azure DevOps Offer Businesses?

  • Plan smarter, collaborate better and ship faster with a set of modern dev services.
  • Deliver value to your users faster with tools to plan, track, and discuss work.
  • Build, test, and deploy with CI/CD that works with any language, platform, and Cloud.
  • Get unlimited, Cloud-hosted, private Git repos and collaborate to build better code.
  • Test and ship with confidence using manual and exploratory testing tools.
  • Create, host, and share packages with your team.
  • Track work with configurable Kanban boards, interactive backlogs, and powerful planning tools.
  • Access extensions from Slack.
  • Mix and match the tools to best fit your needs. Complement them with your existing tools and hundreds of integrations.
  • Use a common identity to access both Cloud and on-premises resources.
  • Secure your data with multi-layered security and governance technologies, operational practices, and compliance policies like ISO 27001, SOC1, and SOC2 compliance certifications.

Azure DevOps Services provides an integrated, collaborative environment that supports Git, continuous integration, and Agile tools for planning and tracking work. The Cloud provides a scalable and globally available service backed by a 99.9% SLA and available in local data centers around the world.

Azure DevOps Services offers the following added benefits:

  1. Simplified server portfolio management
  2. Immediate access to the latest features by choice
  3. Improved connectivity with remote sites
  4. A transition from “server” mode to “subscription” mode
  5. Full control over scope and scale data
  6. Creation and authentication of users and groups and user access management

N.B. Azure DevOps Services doesn’t support integration with SQL Server Analysis Services to support reporting.

However, it is presented with Azure DevOps Server.

Portfolio Management With Azure DevOps

VSTS, as an Azure DevOps predecessor, raises certain questions concerning its use for “full-grown” portfolio management. In the beginning, the only way to attempt any kind of portfolio management with VSTS was integration with other tools via Microsoft Project integration, which allowed a backlog to be managed as a project file. Later, Microsoft introduced the integration of Project Server, which enabled portfolio management capabilities like visibility. However, it worked exactly as it reads — too complex and time-consuming to maintain. It was especially useless for small and mid-sized businesses.

Thus, small and mid-size companies tried to use just the project management capabilities to manage their portfolio, which could not be either easy for PMOs or exceptionally successful for their business simply because it was not designed for portfolio management. And it really worked only when some third-party integration took place.

Other limitations include:

  • Access to each team backlog must be managed at the area path level.
  • Iteration management becomes more complex if teams are not aligned, with different paths that must be assigned to a team.
  • The user interface becomes unwieldy with many dropdowns having hundreds of repos, builds, releases, etc.
  • All teams must use the same process template: either Scrum, Agile, or CMMI. Note that today all modern PPM tips insist on the idea of allowing the teams to self-organize — the only “must” is that they provided some rollup data for the PMO.
Portfolio Management With Azure DevOps

Even though Azure DevOps has evolved beyond some of the VSTS limitations, the need for Project Server or any other third-party integration using a connector is still obvious. It may finally gain some portfolio management capabilities like cross-project queries and dependency management.

However, it is still not the PPM solution.

One option to get yourself a “real PPM” out of Azure is to have teams create and manage their own “Stories” or PBIs. In this way, the top-level with Epics and Features can reside in a different team project. The downside is that the latter relationship between “Features” and “Stories” are not shown on any “Boards” or “Queries” in the original “Portfolio” project. And if you attempt to manage “Stories” together, this option won’t work.

For those who want to use separate team projects but add components of portfolio management, the official Microsoft documentation suggests using a widget called “Delivery Plans.” It works more as a graphical query of work items. It is useful when comparing timelines of “User Stories” and PBIs across teams.

However, this life hack does not extend to “Features” and “Epic.”

Portfolio Team Project

It should involve both high-level items to be assigned to a sprint, which goes against normal usage of both, while both “Features” and “Epics” are delivered across many sprints. “Feature Timelines” allows “Features” to span over several sprints, and it may seem like a solid fix for the issue, but it still does not work across team projects. A compromise for these limitations — while they are being worked out by the Azure DevOps product team — is to keep all the work items in a single team project and have “Repos,” “Builds,” “Releases,” and “Artifacts” in separate team projects.

Surrender to the PPM Greatness (and Keep Your Tools)

It is pretty obvious that PPM was created to ease your work processes, not to add to them. And all the rapture from VSTS and newborn Azure DevOps of some of the teams on your payroll do not compensate for the frustration of the others.

So, how do you have your cake and eat it too? Though Azure DevOps:

  • is IT-oriented, designed specifically to cover all needs of specialists and teams working with programming and software creation.
  • has a source code control repository that stores all code, as well as a record of all code changes in a database running SQL Server.
  • can create many reports of code changes for a certain period, lists of errors that do not have test cases, repeating previously passed tests, etc., using SQL Server Reporting Services.
  • has a “Project portal” a site for a project that can be used to track project progress, and monitor work items and documents presented in a project library.
  • provides support for a variety of services that can be used to integrate with third-party applications and project management systems.
  • has a server build that can be used by developers to complete the build of most of the latest versions of software used in the control code.

It is still far from being a complete PPM tool you have? You get a third-party ppm solution that integrates seamlessly into your project management app. And you have plenty of choices. You can go with the “mothership” software such as Project Server plus Planner. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, it might be a bit messy to set up and still need a fair amount of manual data input at every stage.

You can go the other way and check out PPM Express — a SaaS platform that enables organizations (no matter the size of it) with a full portfolio and project visibility by aggregating project-related information across groups, portfolios, and systems. It fits not just Azure and VSTS but also other Microsoft products (Planner, Project Online, Project Server, etc.) and with the best project/progress-tracking tools out there: Jira, Trello, Asana, Primavera, ServiceNow, Plainview, Smartsheet — you name it.

PPM Express offers Azure DevOps users all the tools necessary to govern business at the enterprise level. This is the synchronization of all three sides of the Triple Constraint.

  • If Azure DevOps is created to track and manage the time and quality controls, it alone lacks the ability to provide PMOs and executives with the ability to manage the budget and scope of the projects, which can be gained by involving PPM Express.
  • Unlike Azure DevOps which doesn’t offer a budget tracking feature, PPM Express uses the FluentPro Financials app to budget your projects.
  • The release section allows adding release dates from any task-tracking app you use for your portfolio.
  • Data synchronization by default is not covered in Azure DevOps. It doesn’t track any indicators of portfolio change except the task progress. PPM Express, however, tracks and synchronizes data from multiple connectors previously used to intertwine into one concise picture.
  • And most importantly, the lack of data on baseline and scope leaves executives and PMOs with no ability to make decisions quickly and efficiently, while PPM Express is created to give the management bird’s eye view of the whole portfolio.

PPM Express Unique Benefits

  1. Scales up and down from a 10-person operation to a humongous organization with hundreds of thousands of employees.
  2. Has exactly the tools you need for every stage of your business growth.
  3. Provides the user with true customization options for every single detail in your portfolio.
  4. Creates uniquely transparent, maneuverable, and vibrant portfolio management models.
  5. Provides users with free and competent support from the point of deployment to the point of complete success.

Major benefits of adopting PPM Express include:

  • Better decision-making
  • Risk minimization
  • Leveraging the resources to the maximum
  • A way to prove the value to stakeholders instantly and at every stage
  • Enabling mishap avoidance and success repeating

Adopting PPM Express is an easy way to give your PMOs and executives complete visibility and flexibility. You finally get a modern PPM solution that makes your life easier, not harder.

Also, it gives your teams a chance to foster a collaborative environment where decision-making is never an issue and is always fruitful.

It also minimizes the risks to individual projects regarding business impact, humanely maximizes human resources efficiency, and allows for the repetitive use of the proven successful projects in future initiatives.

Establishing Project Portfolio Management Practices in Teams Using Azure DevOps
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