How to Choose a PPM Tool

Selecting the right PPM tool for your organization is a significant step towards aligning your project portfolio to the business strategy, and it doesn't come without challenges and risks. This article lays out a path to make objective and solid decisions to choose the software solution that matches your company's actual needs.

Do you need a PPM tool?

Let's start at the beginning and figure out whether you need a Project, Program, and Portfolio management tool. To do so, first assess your company's pain points.
Does your organization need to?:

  • Exercise greater control of the overall performance of the project portfolio.
  • Base decisions on data, not intuition.
  • Manage resources better.
  • Align the business strategy to portfolio management.

If you answered yes to one or more of these options, you likely need a PPM tool. Notice that none of the options were directly related to project management itself but instead to the top of the pyramid: program and portfolio management.

Is your company ready for PPM?

Once you've decided you need a PPM tool, ask yourself whether your company is prepared to embrace it. It's common to doubt whether the business's current culture and processes are adequate if your company has never used a tool like this before.

In the article PPM Maturity Level: What Is It and Next Steps Towards Growth, we analyze why being aware of your company's readiness to implement a PPM tool is essential and how you can use the tool to increase it gradually.

Project Portfolio Management Maturity refers to how receptive your company is to execute a project, program, and portfolio management strategy. You can assess this by applying a formal maturity model assessment or using our PMO & Organization Self-Assessment to give yourself a rating and recommendations based on your answers.

The resulting report will help you determine the maturity of your organization in 3 key areas: organization, talent, and conditions.


Probably, the major decision when choosing any software product is related to the features required.

Start by making a list of features that your business needs before researching all vendors out there. Once this is done, go and enrich your list with ideas you may not have thought about before.

In the process of elaborating this requirement matrix, make sure you get PMO members, directors, and project managers involved. If they don't have the opportunity to express their needs from the outset, chances are they are going to resist at some point during implementation. For more on this, read the eBook 7 Reasons organizations resist adopting a PPM tool and how to deal with them

Once you have your requirement matrix completed, weigh the features against the value they add to the business. For example, consultancy companies usually require strong resource and revenue control, whereas businesses going through a transformation process will likely require a strategic alignment system.

We have created a PPM Tools Comparison Template to help you gather, compare and score different vendors. You can also create a template here:

After filling this out, you will receive an Excel file in your inbox with a detailed set of functionalities for you to assess.

Scalability: The ability to grow along with your business

As we discussed in the PPM Maturity section, it’s entirely possible you don't need all the features every tool has to offer. But you don't want to limit yourself for the foreseeable future either.

Choose a tool that will allow your company to grow without causing a maintenance overhead

The balance between simplicity and scalability can be tricky. On the one hand, you want to have future needs covered, and on the other, you don't want to implement an oversized PPM tool that’s hard to maintain. A practical way to tackle this puzzle is to plan three years ahead, adding the features you realistically foresee your company using within that period, leaving aside those whose value is unclear.

Example of a three-year requirement plan

  • First-year: project registry, purchases control, time reporting.
  • Second-year: risk and issue management, time estimates, resource management.
  • Third-year: ERP integration, strategic alignment.

See how we purposely left out revenue management: it would be great to have it at some point, but not before we've achieved our three-year goals.

Under a feature scalability point of view, consider tools that offer all you will need in the three-year plan, and move all other features to the "nice-to-have" section.

Connectivity with your existing software

A critical factor in successful PPM implementation is whether the tool can be integrated with your existing software stack. For example, with your CRM or ERP.

A PPM tool must seamlessly connect to other applications, avoiding double data entry, human errors, and, more importantly, providing comprehensive information to project and business managers without them having to jump from one system to the other.

Make sure the candidates in your list also provide an open API (Application Program Interface) that will allow you to integrate with virtually anything at a low development cost. Most tools have connectors ready to integrate with popular software packages out there.

Complexity: the hidden cost of PPM tools

There is usually a trade-off between the tool's range of features and deployment complexity.

Think of it as two distant ends: you could probably manage any company just using spreadsheets and a large workforce, which is a 100% flexible solution, or you could use a product tailored for your particular sector.

PPM solutions have traditionally been very demanding in implementation and deployment efforts, requiring several months to gather requirements, configure the tool, and train users. Therein lies the risk.

When the complexity is high, so is the cost.

High-complexity products that require intensive configuration and promise to do anything you can dream of can be intoxicating.

These products reply yes to any question, agree to fulfill any requirement. They are hard to say no to, even when overpriced.

But there is only so much complexity your company's maturity can take and actually need. Let's call it Ability to Consume Features, which is particular to your company and will increase over time, along with its project portfolio maturity level.

The difference between what your company can consume and the features it has signed up for is what we could call Waste.

In this example, PPM Tool One doesn't make it, but the other three offer a set of features that exceed what the company can consume.

Waste (the gray area) can be economically valued by comparing the cost of the solution that reaches the Ability to Consume Features (the blue line). In our example, PPM Tool Two is the solution that covers all the needs. Therefore, the difference in cost of any other more expensive solution will be the economic value of Waste.

The problem with Waste is not only about burning money.

Waste is not something you can get rid of: overcomplexity drags down your team by making processes more complicated than they have to be.

The SaaS (Software as a Service) market has significantly improved over the past few years and offers a better balance between the configuration complexity and ease of use than it used to.

Make sure you have a clear idea of which end you want to find yourself closer to. Generally speaking, the less effort required to get started, the better, even if you have to trade off time to deployment for a few non-critical initial features.


When choosing a software tool, most topics mentioned above can be tackled in a reasonably objective way. But when it comes to usability, it turns out not to be that easy. As a manager, you want to make sure the business requirements are covered and limit the complexity this tool will add to your users’ daily lives.

If your company is replacing PPM tools, you may face change resistance from project managers and team members, resulting in a lack of objectivity in assessing usability. Or maybe the opposite will happen: if they dislike the current tool, anything else will look good.

If you are implementing a PPM tool for the first time, your users will likely compare it with the daily tools they use, which may or may not be comparable. To better assess and compare usability, consider using these techniques on the tools you have short-listed:

  • Blind test: how difficult it is for a project manager or a team member to perform a series of tabulated tasks within the different tools without any training. Measure efficacy [did they accomplish the task?] and efficiency [how much effort did it take?] of each tool.
  • Educated test: Train these users in a task that they will regularly perform, such as creating a progress report or just adding a time entry. Measure efficiency [How many steps it took, how long, how much typing was required] for each tool.

Although user-friendliness sounds like a subjective matter, there are ways to assess usability, which ultimately will impact your organization's productivity.

Contract, commitment, and an easy way out.

Implementing PPM, especially if your company is new to the game, carries a risk: it usually requires a significant percentage of the project members to be on board and collaborate. If they don't, PPM will become a tool for the PMO, not for the business.

Try to minimize the impact of the risk by picking a tool that doesn't demand long commitment periods or represents a significant investment in licenses and services for your company.

Also, trial the product. Request a personalized product demonstration to help you understand how the tool fits your particular needs.


The features stack is probably the most intricate aspect to assess, but not the only one nor the most relevant.

Ensure your company will do better with a project portfolio management tool, that is ready for it, and assess parameters such as simplicity, scalability, and deployment efforts

Within this article, we also provided you with some online tools to help you choose the PPM tool that is right for you.

Lean Portfolio Management: Benefits and challenges

Executive Summary (TL; DR)

Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) improves the way organizations make decisions about project and product development. This method requires a significant mindset change across the whole organization, including among business executives.

  • Planning, funding, and the assessment of processes become more frequent and dynamic.
  • Decisions are decentralized.
  • Portfolio management extends to the entire business, not just the PMO.

In exchange for this effort, LPM aims to free your company from the constraints of the iron triangle of budget, schedule, and scope which can affect quality.

⚠️ Lean Portfolio Management isn’t without controversy, especially in large organizations. One caveat: beware of what experts describe as “the illusion of adopting agile”; often management champions this method while teams sneakily continue using traditional methodologies.

Benefits of Lean Portfolio Management

  1. Time to market (or time to value) improves because versions of your products can be delivered and tested earlier than under traditional predictive methodologies.
  2. Product fit. Because LPM is based on Minimum Viable Product iterations, the final outcome will be a better match to the demand. Also, products or services can be killed before they consume too many resources only to deliver an end result that is already outdated.

Traditional portfolio management tends to be based on long-term planning, leaving little room for manoeuvre between the initial portfolio kick-off and results. The risks are::

  • Outdated outcomes
  • Lack of strategic alignment
  • Approval of low-value initiatives
  • Overly long evaluation cycles
WeCare.much, our fictional healthcare company, runs an intensive slate of projects, both transformational and external: IT, marketing, research and development, facility deployment, product placement.

The company has been managing projects for a long time and outcomes have improved since the start. Project managers are generally satisfied.

Nevertheless, the project portfolio does not seem to deliver the results that business executives expect. More frequently than not, projects are finished within the expected parameters but are too late for the market. The competitive environment is changing too fast.

Despite having a strategic plan, the truth is most projects enter into a ‘dark zone’ with little oversight from the time they are approved up until the outcome is delivered. Meanwhile, new objectives and initiatives compete for scarce resources, creating tension between managers.

The overall result is not chaos, but the company feels that they fall a little further behind in industry rankings every day.

The board decides to adopt Lean Portfolio Management, expecting a more dynamic and agile response.

The framework

Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) is described by Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe ®as a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices and is one of the seven disciplines a business must adopt to become an agile company (shown below). SAFe divides all company activities into two main blocks: execution and strategy.

Lean Portfolio Management falls under strategy and has three dimensions, according to SAFe (© Scaled Agile, Inc)

Lean Portfolio Management responsibilities

You may wonder whether you need to implement all seven core competencies of the lean enterprise to implement LPM.

Read on.

Must haves before starting

Lean Portfolio Management implementation requires:

  1. A directive from the board. The PMO shouldn’t try to implement LPM alone without an explicit mandate. The PMO can advocate for it, but because the changes required are so significant, top-level executives should take the lead.
  2. Business executives' involvement is crucial. LPM involves intensive tracking, evaluation and interaction between business and portfolio managers.

Make sure your company understands and accepts all these needs. Otherwise, lean portfolio management can lead to frustration.

⚠️ Adopting any framework unconditionally may not be the best choice for your organization. Consider cherry-picking what may work best for your team before you fully commit.

You don't necessarily have to have all the seven core competencies fully rooted in your organization to implement LPM. But, as you will see, lean portfolio management is not just a framework or a way to do things differently. It requires a change of mindset, especially in management areas.

Value Stream

The value stream is the sequence of steps used to deliver value to the customer. It contains the people, the systems, and the flow of information involved in delivering that value.

WeCare.much knows that 20-30% of Healthcare Spending is wasted. To reduce this percentage, they have defined the value streams that have the most impact.

This value stream is for ‘Routine admission laboratory testing for general medical patients’.

Value streams become the budget driver that allocate funds to the projects and activities that add more value.
Lean portfolio management defines a SAFe portfolio as a collection of value streams for a specific business domain.


Decentralization is becoming prominent (cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and decentralized applications are good examples). Portfolio management is no exception.
Where ‘lean’ takes advantage of the benefits of decentralization in general, Lean Portfolio Management in particular, takes advantage of the following:

  • Dynamic demand management
  • Decentralized decision-making
  • Self-managed value streams.

⚠️ On the flip side, some organizations experience difficulties in achieving true decentralization. Stakeholders have a hard time giving away control to project teams, regarding them as more focused on their specialism than acquiring knowledge of the client and the industry.

This has led to some companies reverting to centralization and reinforcing their PMOs.

Long-term planning. Epics

LPM is not about improvisation, neither from a business or a portfolio point of view. It requires a solid plan based on the business strategy, typically covering a three-year-long horizon.

Lean Portfolio Management suggests building a backlog based on Epics (high-level user-language description of features), then moving to the live portfolio and its programs.

Organize your portfolio grouping by programs and projects that have commonalities and management synergies.

Themes can help stakeholders to understand how funds and resources are distributed.

Shorter plans

Once you have a three-year plan, break down that strategy into smaller periods, typically years. Then break them down again into quarters.
You can then plan and allocate resources to activities that happen in those quarters.
Each cycle will be individually funded, executed, and assessed.

Strategy must be aligned at every level

Managers of WeCare.much used to agree that all resources in the company were allocated. But few thought resources were working on the tasks that matter.

After adopting Lean Portfolio Management, long-term plans were broken down into more manageable activities. Resource and funding allocation for those activities turned out not only to be more manageable but also more accurate.

Also, outcomes are more closely assessed to ensure they bring the expected value to the company.

We now have the funding and governance mechanisms to supply a consistent set of resources to activities.

Daily management is based on activities that are consistently driven by the strategy.


Funding must match the planning schedule.

We discussed how planning is divided into long, medium, and short-term plans. Budgeting must match each of those plans with three-year, one-year, and quarterly funding budgets.

Value streams are budgeted, then projects and activities are funded, allocating the resources and money required to carry out the piece of work that will deliver the highest value.

Minimum Viable Product

For each outcome, Lean Portfolio Management suggests using the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, which is the cornerstone of any lean-approach.

An MVP is a version of a new product that allows your team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

This concept limits upfront commitments seen in the traditional predictive models and focuses on allocating resources to develop a Minimum viable product.

Once the MVP is available, you will need to evaluate the outcome and verify if it matches the hypothesis. You can then decide whether that project is worth pursuing, pivoting, or killing altogether.

Pivot, persist or kill

One of the most complex decisions takes place during the MVP evaluation process. Companies struggle at this stage since it is human nature to persist rather than admit we were wrong.

To perform an objective evaluation, it is crucial to have a clear hypothesis and straightforward criteria of what is expected from the MVP before the MVP is built. So the team can match expectations with results in a dispassionate fashion.

Pay special attention to:
• Whether the MVP meets the initial criteria. Is the value delivered as expected?
• Make sure the team appreciate what the sunk cost is but disregard it in decision-making.

The sunk cost must be ignored as a parameter in pivot/persist decisions.

Opportunity assessment (spontaneous initiatives)

The opportunity assessment process tells us whether unplanned initiatives may have more value than others currently being developed.
Lean portfolio management should explore those ideas, explain them to the business managers, and give them the tools to prioritize (or even replace) current initiatives with those that add more value to the company.

Agility is achieved when a company reacts to the competitive environment within its strategy guidelines

To ensure the balance between these initiatives and the long-term plan, there is the concept of budget guardrails, which will ensure that:
• the strategic vision is adequately funded
• capacity is allocated in the most efficient possible way
• new initiatives are assessed before being approved

Meetings, meetings

As we have stressed, Lean Portfolio Management stands out because its requirement for frequent and efficient communication between teams.

One of the main tools is quarterly demand-delivery meetings.
These meetings seek to achieve two main goals:

  • The demand – usually enterprise managers – explains what is needed and why it is needed.
  • Delivery managers and portfolio managers assess whether they have the capacity or if there are any roadblocks to execution.

Waterfall-based projects within a Lean Portfolio Management organization

Can we have waterfall projects within a Lean Portfolio Management approach? Of course!

When we run projects with a well-known sequence of activities, waterfall-based projects make sense and coexist with agile-based projects.

Deep connection between the parts

There is a deep, intimate connection between the enterprise and its finances with portfolio management.

We shouldn’t expect to have perfect knowledge or predict everything that will happen until we reach our objective. We need to have enough information and detail to iterate and re-evaluate along the process.

In the same way, we don't need to have a fixed budget. We need a budget for the entire vision and then evaluate the financial needs that we have as we go.

This is why it is essential to have business managers that understand the financials to prioritize what's more important and what can be done with the available funds.

Similarly, the resources at our disposal can be allocated more dynamically. Managers don't need to allocate entire departments to a single function anymore. Instead, they will be allocating resources to those projects at the moment in time when they are more necessary.

⚠️ Caveats and challenges

We’ve pointed out some of the arguments against implementing SAFe's Lean Portfolio Management to give you the whole picture. To sum up these are::
• It is designed as a one-size-fits-all.
• Very consultant-dependent and certification-eager.
• Not used in big software organizations (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, etc.)
• Stressful for stakeholders and teams, who find their ways around.
• In practice, an absence of the customer's voice
• Against Agile Manifesto's first tenet: "Individual and Interactions over Processes and Tools."

For more challenging view points read Jeff Gothelf's article, SAFe is not Agile, Marty Cagan's article Revenge of the PMO, or Steve Denning's article, Understanding Fake Agile

Lean Portfolio Management Assessment

To have an independent view as to whether Lean Portfolio Management works for your company, you need to go back to the main goals we pointed out to implement LPM in the first place.

  • Has the time to market improved?
  • Has the market fit improved?

You may also want to assess the cost of implementing LPM.

  • Is there any increase in defects?
  • Has productivity improved?
  • Has employee satisfaction been affected?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the cost?

The answer to these questions will give you the feedback you need to spot areas for improvement. They also help you assess whether Lean Portfolio Management is for you.

How does ITM Platform enable Lean Portfolio Management?

Lean Portfolio Management is not about the set of tools but rather about the processes, mindset, and actions that make it possible. Nevertheless, key aspects require data aggregation, visibility, and transparency that would be hard to attain without the right tools.

These are some of the high-level features you will find helpful:
• Strategy: value-based epic prioritization.
• Portfolio: Initiative global view
• Budgeting and controlling: allocate resources and funds. Control usage.
• Work Management: Plan, assign and follow progress in real time.

Try ITM Platform now and discover how it can help you achieve a streamlined lean portfolio management.


We have covered the most relevant aspects of a Lean Portfolio Management implementation. These are the highlights:

  • LPM can improve your time-to-market and product fit.
  • LPM is demanding. Make sure your organization understands and accepts the challenge.
  • Get the most robust possible sponsorship.
  • LPM is part of a larger framework. Figure out which parts of the big picture you need to implement along with LPM.
  • Understand and work out the flipside. LMP may not be for your organization
  • Map the value streams.
  • Decentralization is king. But hard to achieve.
  • Plan long-term with Epics and organize a streamlined portfolio.
  • Break down long-term plans in quarterly activities.
  • Fund and allocate resources to short-term activities.
  • Develop Minimum viable products.
  • Be objective when evaluating MPV's outcomes, and pivot when necessary.
  • Make room to assess new opportunities and ideas.
  • Set budget guardrails to ensure new ideas fit in the big picture.
  • Encourage demand-delivery managers' interactions.
  • Encourage demand-delivery managers' interactions.
  • Measure the benefits of Lean Portfolio Management to enable a continuous improvement system.

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Strategic alignment: Selecting the most valuable project portfolio for your business

Choosing which projects to invest in is a strategic decision to be taken based on objective data. In this article, we explore the problem of subjectivity and analyze the solution that allows management to make decisions based on a business plan, in a rigorous and transparent way.


The Problem

In businesses where the source of income comes from making projects for clients, it is easy to decide which ones are to be put in place: (usually) those of greater profitability. And in some cases, all, if sufficient resources are available.

However, internal projects, such as those of transformation, tend to not offer such an obvious criterion as their value to the business is less evident and often more subjective to anticipate.

The fact that an expected value is subjective does not mean that its effects are not going to be real. It means that the benefits are hard to predict, and investment decisions can be based on perceptions.

This is a challenge that managing directors have always tried to address. The most used resource as a solution has been that of the "business case", which requires promoters to express the profitability or value contribution of their initiative in measurable terms, either in sales increase or in cost reduction.

The main difficulty presented by the business case is the human factor: a promoter of an initiative that has a strong motivation to give positive figures and show that their idea is profitable. Though it is desirable to have intrapreneurs on your team it is essential to validate their figures through a homogenous and and objective process.

The second difficulty of requesting profitability to internal projects arises from each promoter having limited vision to their area of competence, defending their plot without considering the overall vision. In turn, management considers these business cases as if they had been generated with the same criteria, which is not usually the case. Each promoter applies with different degree of ingenuity the data to the same template.

The issue at hand is knowing when to recognize, in an objective fashion, what initiatives will bring more value to the business when the projects deliver their expected benefits.



The Approach

When it comes to value, it is not always possible to apply a purely financial standard via project profitability based on forecasts in isolation and in comparison of each other.

  • The value contribution of a project to a strategic plan may be broader than profitability, even if the savings or earnings have been realistically calculated. For example, a process automation project can throw modest savings, but positively influence a priority target of customer quality perception.
  • Strategic project planning should not consider initiatives in isolation, as the result of the set may be greater than the sum of the parties. It is common for the result of some projects to enable others, and its set to offer strategic value. This is why program and portfolio management exceeds project management.

The strategic management of projects lies in the competence of the management and must be facilitated by the Project Management Office (PMO) to the extent that their objectives are the maximization of value and not only the transversal coordination.

Thus, the strategic planning approach to the composition of the project portfolio should consider two main elements:

  1. A strategic plan that exposes the objectives of the Organization
  2. A list of project proposals (initiatives)

With these two elements, we can prioritize initiatives that will order them from higher to lower value, generating an orderly list of approved projects (portfolio backlog).

Strategic management of project portfolios

A great advantage that offers prioritization of projects by value is that it supports applying resource constraints as a cut-line to its output. If we have a list ordered by value and – for example-a budgetary limitation, we will be able to establish the approval of projects based on those that contribute more value and that are within the available budget.


The Process

Once we have the two main elements (objectives and demand), we can start two classification processes that can run in parallel or go in sequence. What is important is to isolate each other to ensure objectivity and ease of adaptation to the general standard.

Process 1: Prioritization of Objectives

Participants: Board of Directors
Objective: To put some objectives in front of others, with specific weight of each one on the total.

Sometimes strategic plans already specify priorities, but in others they do not give explicit weight by objective. For example, how much more important is "to grow in sales by 20%" than "to increase operating efficiency by 15%"?

There are several techniques that can be employed to achieve a table like the one above. From something as simple as an agreement amongst the Board of Directors to the most sophisticated such as an Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). The latter could be considered more rigourous, though its execution could be simple if you have a Pairwise Comparison Tool, like the one provided by ITM Platform.

This simple table will generate an orderly and quantified list of objectives.

As an added feature, ITM Platform calculates a "consistency ratio" that indicates how logical and objective the prioritization is. In this article, you will find an explanation of how this index is calculated.

It is possible to make different sets of the same objectives through scenarios, and even use different objectives for different programs. The reality is complex and there is not always a single combination or scenario.

Process 2: Contribution of project value to objectives

Participants: The Project committee and promoters

Objective: To determine how much each project contributes to each objective

Ignoring for now the relevance of each objective on the strategic plan, this step will assign a weight to the contribution of each initiative to each objective. This weight will be translated to a number base on 100, but if you use ITM Platform you can also use the comparison by pairs previously used or use a qualitative methodology based on ideograms such as the image (Harvey balls), providing a visual support.

Process 3: Analysis of the optimal selection of the Portfolio

The two previous phases provide the necessary parameters for the system to calculate the value of each project, based on 100 and depending on the value of each objective.

List of initiatives orders by value

If money wasn't a problem, then we would probably carry out all “reasonable" projects. But in a real organization, the resources available are finite and the previous list of initiatives is not enough to make a good selection of project portfolios.

Thus, it is not only enough to select the most valuable projects, but it is also necessary to filter those that fall within the constraints, be it economic, technical and human resources, or temporary.

In this article, we will use the available budget as an example of a main constraint because this is the most frequent case. Imagine that we should select a portfolio of projects that does not exceed $900.000. Taking the previous list into account, the "New Star Product" ($ 1.5 M) exceeds that amount and also provides a similar value to other more economical projects.

So, with the data we have, we choose the combination of projects that are closer to the available budget: a total of $885.400 and a value of 61% accumulated in three projects.

With this selection achieve the given criteria. But note that the efficient central border graph is indicating the selection is not optimal (value/cost) and that there are better combinations: similar value for less money or greater value for the same sum.

And, indeed, with a portfolio of a total of $528.840 we achieved a contribution of value very similar for 35% less in cost.

If you are interested in understanding how the calculation scheme is made,

Download the guide here.


It is possible to apply rigorous standards in the selection of a portfolio of projects, basing the selection on the value they bring to the business strategy.
Key points to consider:

  • A separation of work between the management team that defines and prioritizes objectives, and the teams that analyze the benefits by project.
  • A process sponsored by management requiring rigorous standards when making investment decisions and implementing transparency between teams.
  • An integrative platform that combines information and exposes the results.

If you want to know more about the management of organizations by projects, download the white paper, where you will learn to:
- Connect management of your Organization with that of projects
- Manage portfolio of projects to create competitive advantage
- Agile Portfolio Management


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