The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Towards Agile Product and Portfolio Management

Jarno Vähäniitty

Doctoral dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the School of Science for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU1 at the Aalto University School of Science (Espoo, Finland) on the 10th of February 2012 at 12 noon.

Overview in PDF format (ISBN 978-952-60-4506-1)   [5561 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-952-60-4505-4)


Small growing software enterprises are an increasingly important source of innovation and employment. They strive to productize the technologies that enable their key business idea(s), but often offer professional services and custom development projects as well to balance cash flow and share risk. This requires the integration of long-term product and business planning with modern, flexible but controlled approaches to software development promoted by the agile/lean software development movement.

There is still little empirical research on agile software development, and most of the practitioner literature has concentrated on the perspective of a single team in an individual development project, leaving the links to product and portfolio management largely unaddressed. Likewise, existing literature on product and portfolio management essentially views development as an activity that can be planned in advance and then executed according to the plan. This gap in theory is problematic for small software organizations who, in order to remain operationally effective, need to maintain the big picture of the ongoing work of the development staff and align this with the long-term plans of the enterprise.

This dissertation summarizes existing and presents new understanding for linking product and portfolio management with modern development methodologies such as Scrum in the face of the practical realities that may apply to many small software organizations. The research approach taken is that of design science and constructive research. The results are based on both findings from qualitative, participative action research -type case studies and a synthesis of related work based on a systematic review of research and practitioner literature.

As results, we propose a framework that shows how the three key processes that should connect business and development decision-making – product roadmapping, release planning and different levels of portfolio management – can be understood in the context of organizations striving for agile software development. We also present an example of how a product roadmap can be visualized, state that explicit portfolio management is under certain conditions crucial for small organizations as well, and provide guidelines for it.

As proof-of-concept, we present Agilefant (, an open source support tool for managing a portfolio of activities of which some – though not necessarily all – are planned and managed using backlogs with hierarchical work item structures. We propose that this provides transparency to business priorities while still enabling just-in-time elaboration required by agile software development.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 6 publications:

  1. Jarno Vähäniitty. 2005. A tentative framework for connecting long-term business and product planning with iterative & incremental software product development. In: Kevin Sullivan (editor). Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop on Economics-Driven Software Engineering Research (EDSER 2005) in conjunction with the 27th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2005). St. Louis, Missouri, USA. 15 May 2005. New York, NY, USA. ACM. ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, volume 30, number 4, 4 pages. ISBN 1-59593-118-X.
  2. Jarno Vähäniitty. 2003. Key decisions in strategic new product development for small software product businesses. In: Proceedings of the 29th EUROMICRO Conference "New Waves in System Architecture" (EUROMICRO 2003). Belek - Antalya, Turkey. 1-6 September 2003. Los Alamitos, California, USA. IEEE Computer Society. Pages 375-383. ISBN 0-7695-1996-2.
  3. Jarno Vähäniitty, Casper Lassenius, Kristian Rautiainen, and Pasi Pekkanen. 2009. Long-term planning of development efforts by roadmapping – a model and experiences from small software companies. In: Juan E. Guerrero (editor). Proceedings of the 35th EUROMICRO Conference on Software Engineering and Advanced Applications (EUROMICRO-SEAA 2009). Patras, Greece. 27-29 August 2009. Los Alamitos, California, USA. IEEE Computer Society. Pages 300-305. ISBN 978-0-7695-3784-9.
  4. J. Vähäniitty, K. Rautiainen, and C. Lassenius. 2010. Small software organizations need explicit project portfolio management. IBM Journal of Research and Development, volume 54, number 2, Issue on Business Value through Software Development, paper 1, 12 pages.
  5. Jarno Vähäniitty and Kristian Rautiainen. 2005. Towards an approach for managing the development portfolio in small product-oriented software companies. In: Proceedings of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 2005). Big Island, Hawaii, USA. 3-6 January 2005. Los Alamitos, California, USA. IEEE Computer Society. 10 pages. ISBN 0-7695-2268-8.
  6. Jarno Vähäniitty and Kristian Rautiainen. 2008. Towards a conceptual framework and tool support for linking long-term product and business planning with agile software development. In: Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Software Development Governance (SDG 2008) in conjunction with the 30th International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2008). Leipzig, Germany. 12 May 2008. New York, NY, USA. ACM. Pages 25-28. ISBN 978-1-60558-035-7.

Keywords: agile, product backlog, software development, product management, portfolio management, Scrum

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Last update 2012-10-31