The release of SAFe® 4.5 couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve spent most of my career in startups and Lean startups, and UX has truly become my passion. Fortunately, 4.5 brings Lean startup and UX concepts to the enterprise, while driving a clearer and deeper integration with SAFe. So, whether you are just starting to implement the SAFe framework or are in the process of updating to 4.5, I wanted to share some tips and tricks to make the move more successful.
I was lucky enough to attend Atlassian’s first European Summit in Barcelona last week with my team. We had 2 fantastic days meeting people from all over the world from South Africa to Sweden and funny enough, had to go all the way to Barcelona to spend some time with a friend from my hometown in the states.
There is no clear-cut prescription or magic bullets in agile transformations. It is hard to do and rarely done well. However, realization and ultimately success comes to those with a willingness to accept change and incorporate learning to improve and move their maturity forward. Transformation is a moving target and it constantly forces you to deal with the unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions associated with change. Throughout the course of 8 years, I have had the opportunity of seeing customers adopt and scale their people, work and time to find some repeatable pattern of sustainable innovation. The top 6 challenges I observed were common and spanned across all clients, industries and roles. -
2016 has been an amazing year. The agile conversation has continued to expand beyond just software development. Agile is not simply a conversation for the IT department any longer, as the business is now an active participant at the table. CIOs are playing such a key role in the enterprise that they are now sitting on the Board of Directors. CMOs have started to embrace an active role in transformations per their involvement in digital transformation. CFOs are getting into the action as well. And most exciting, we are getting very close to a true case study of a 100% successful agile transformation from strategy ideation at the executive level down through the entire organization.
At the same time, a lot has happened at AgileCraft in 2016. Most exciting was being named Fortune’s #1 SMB Place to Work, among other awards we have received. Our growth has been explosive—more and more customers are starting their agile transformation with us; we have seen global expansion of both customers and team members; and new and exciting product enhancements, including our new Roadmapping and Time Tracking tools that are coming in Q1, along with our reimagined user experience.
So, as we head into the last month of the year, I thought I would take the time to make some predictions for what I expect to see coming for agile in 2017:
Enterprises that have traditionally resisted Agile will get on board
The majority of companies in the Fortune 1000 who have resisted investing in agile IT transformation will officially fund large scale transformation initiatives in 2017. Companies will look for new ways to fund transformations, including having the Finance department embrace capitalization of software based on agile development practices. I might sound like a broken record on this topic, but here is the realization that every large enterprise will reach sooner or later: every company is now a software company. If you don’t embrace this and vow to be excellent at building software, you risk letting others gain the competitive advantage. C-level execs who understand this and react to the need for transformation will lead in their respective spaces and maintain that lead. It’s very clear, you can’t succeed in the digital world by resisting agile.
Planning, accounting, and balancing will become the top focus
The large-scale frameworks will begin to focus on cross-portfolio planning, bimodal accounting, and portfolio balancing as the PPM space continues to contract. This has caused an acceleration of momentum in the last 4 months. Agile at Scale started at the Program level with the notion of team of teams/scrum of scrums rolling up into the release trains. As we have progressed with Agile at Scale, it’s moved up to the Portfolio level and beyond. However, common challenges are emerging, such as the need to satisfy the auditors, the corporate governance structure, and the Finance department, which all live in a bi-modal world. Many transformations stop before they start because enterprises are unaware of how skill set based utilization planning and agile teams can co-exist. Additionally, the need for real-time actionable data from a solution that provides a single source of data has become a necessity. Finally, instead of manually compiling error-prone PowerPoints and spreadsheets, there will be a move towards one-click, comprehensive status reports in real time. (Shameless plug for AgileCraft)
Additional frameworks will be introduced, but stall quickly
New scaled agile frameworks will attempt to enter the market, but their success will be limited, with one of the new frameworks centered around the modern agile movement. Existing methods of scale will stay flat or contract in market share as the Scaled Agile Framework continues to expand. Several frameworks, including SAFe, LESS, Kanban, Nexus, and DAD give companies several options to choose from. Many enterprises struggle to decide where to start and what works best for them. Let’s face it, SAFe is the market leader and it dominates in the marketplace. No organization implements SAFe 100% by the book, but many successful organizations are figuring out how to mold the framework to fit their business through the use of a common language that SAFe provides.
Application Development Lifecycle Management and Product Portfolio Management will converge
Last, but not least, are the changes I expect to see in Application Development Lifecycle Management (ADLM) and Product Portfolio Management (PPM) space. As business and enterprise agility takes a more prominent role, the traditional PMO will become obsolete and the ADLM and PPM markets will officially converge. Thinking back, this should have been one of my predictions for 2016. Companies no longer want to, or can afford to, invest in a full-fledged PPM solution. The ROI just doesn’t make sense. Most companies that are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PPM solution are rarely using the platform for comprehensive portfolio planning. Most focus primarily on time tracking and some light-weight resource allocation, so it no longer makes sense to make this significant financial investment. I believe that enterprises will make a big shift to ADLM solutions that can support their true needs at a much more cost-effective path.
The “tumping point” will be reached
I had a debate with my wife one evening when I used the phrase “Don’t tump that over.” I argued that tump was in fact a word, and she dissented. Siri cleared it up and validated that it is a word and I was using it correctly. Merriam-Webster informed us that it was a “chiefly southern” phrase, but proper nonetheless. Since then I have referred to tipping points as tumping points just to have a little fun with my friends that were English majors. With that background story in mind, I believe that in 2017 Agile Business Transformations will truly take hold from top to bottom in several Fortune 500 at-scale scenarios. We have been flirting with it for a couple of years and it is finally fixing to tump over. We were impressed when agile made a team of 12 work more efficiently, so it will be incredible to see an entire enterprise wired with agile principals from top to bottom. This enterprise shift will be very consequential to how companies compete in the modern era and I am looking forward to seeing software continue to disrupt and improve the world.
Curious what your thoughts are, do you agree or disagree?
What an amazing week! This was our first year as a gold sponsor of the Atlassian Summit and it exceeded all of our expectations. We were lucky enough to welcome our partners, Scaled Agile, into our booth this year as well. They got to see firsthand the craziness of the event and the excitement surrounding AgileCraft and the SAFe framework in the Atlassian community. SAM even made a cameo appearance as well. He was so popular that he had to retreat to his secret hiding place after the 1st night but before he did, he had the opportunity to meet some great people! And once again our “SAFe word” shirts ran out within minutes, with too many people to count asking for more.
I am always impressed with the Atlassian leadership and their great showing of support giving back to the local community especially this year with their 1% Pledge initiative. From a product perspective, I was interested to learn that Atlassian’s doubling down and investing even more into delivery of Enterprise offerings. We agree that this is where the marketspace is headed and as an Industry leader, it only makes sense.
It was great to interact with the larger Atlassian Community as well. For the first time I walked away from an event wishing it was longer. There was so much excitement surrounding scaling agile that we didn’t get the chance to talk to the all the people we wanted too. We spent the majority of the week focusing on the evolution of scale. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and JIRA was a constant part of the conversation. Our booth was swamped morning to night. We spoke with companies who had already made the move to SAFe as well as those that were ready to make the move. A # of companies shared they had tried other solutions in the past to scale agile and had failed. Throughout the week we were able to highlight for many how JIRA, SAFe and AgileCraft is the perfect combination for scaling agile to the enterprise. The scaling discussion wasn’t just limited to the states either. I was impressed with the Global presence at the conference – London, Melbourne and more.
I couldn’t have imagined a better week for myself and the AgileCraft team. Between another stellar conference, ability to interact with experts in our space and topping it off with winning the Fortune Best Place to Work award, I couldn’t be happier.
At AgileCraft, we deliver the most comprehensive software solution available for scaling agile to the enterprise. AgileCraft transforms the way organizations enable and manage agile productivity across their enterprise, portfolios, programs, and teams by aligning business strategy with technical execution. To find out more visit us at https://agilecraft.com or follow us on twitter @theagilecraft.
Question: Is it better to start scaling before you have alignment across executives, business units and products or is it best to first get alignment and start your agile transformation with a process that is designed to keep the entire business in alignment?
Starting with good alignment is an absolute no-brainer for the rare few but that is not the reality that most large organizations live in. So the question then more realistically becomes something akin to: Is it better to get started before we have alignment and try to iterate to alignment knowing it will be a big mess or do we wait and spend time trying to get everyone to buy in on a single framework and flow before you start. These days I see a lot of organizations landing on let’s get started and iterate to alignment as fast as we can. It is seriously messy and political for all involved but waiting for alignment is like waiting for an honest politician. It does happen but it’s like seeing the northern lights (rare and unpredictable).
With the deliberate intent of iterating to alignment in a complex and political system, in this blog we’ll take a look at the 5 steps that can get you there faster and help de-risk a vast transformation.
#1 – Set the Terminology - When bringing together many groups, it’s pretty common to have terminology used in many different ways. In order to set the enterprise up for success, terminology should be set across the enterprise. By doing this you will break down communication barriers from the teams through to the executives. Agile is acronym rich and confusing for business people with limited agile training to begin with. If the groups do not use common terminology this challenge is accentuated. This gets the enterprise speaking the same language from day one. This is true even if you have multiple methods and levels of agility at play. Finding that common vocabulary is worth the effort.
#2 – Connect the business to technology - A key part of the alignment is creating the connections between your business and your technology. The epic (also referred to as a project historically) should be consistently used to link business to development. The epic should require a base level of data to capture intake, budget, approval, high level estimation, business case and link to corporate strategy. By creating this link, all business units and portfolios are aligned for financial, strategic and progress reporting.
#3 – Fix the number of backlog levels and estimation models - An important step in the process is to fix the amount of backlog levels and estimation models. The enterprise should require a consistent level of backlog decomposition across all teams regardless of agile maturity level and a common unit of estimation across those levels (i.e. the enterprise uses the same method to estimate the epic - either team week, person week, points, WSJF or t-shirt size). A common structure is Strategy -> Theme -> Epic -> Feature -> Story. The flatter this hierarchy the easier it will become for the portfolio, programs and teams to right-size their backlogs and become predictable. Other levels can be added but the complexity and estimation accuracy will likely be affected. The task level below the story can be optional depending on level of agile maturity. Often a portfolio will work with tasks until the teams reach a high level of predictability and are able to break stories down to low point levels at all times. Once predictability is achieved, tasks can be removed and the teams can rely on story points alone. A standard depth of backlog and method to size the backlog improves predictability, visibility and communication across the enterprise.
#4 – Get a common planning cadence - A key step of driving towards alignment is ensuring your enterprise is on a common planning cadence. Seems like a pretty basic concept however a common planning cadence is needed to drive consistency across the enterprise and enable cross-program / cross-portfolio planning. Decoupling planning from delivery is virtually the only reliable way to help all of the teams align risks, objectives and dependencies. Getting all teams to line up around quarters, for example, is a common way to get everyone planning together. Although not required, getting the teams on a common sprint cadence increases efficiency and productivity with another frequent alignment mechanism across teams.
#5 – Implement dependency management - The last step is to implement dependency management. You must have a team to team dependency management process for all feature level delivery. This process enables the teams to plan their roadmaps and delivery schedules. Without a firm commitment of teams that is strongly aligned to the calendar, it is near impossible for teams to commit to dates if they are dependent on another team. Best practices once this is in place is to analyze dependency clustering activity then optimize programs and teams to reduce the amount of dependencies. Dependencies are an agility killer and the best way to reduce them is to modify the technology or the structure of portfolios, programs and teams (or a combination of both). This is very difficult to do so the first step is strong management of dependencies.
A few runner ups include:
- If possible align the states and workflow across all teams to streamline reporting and communication.
- Create risk definition and regular risk management for all feature level delivery items where a significant impact on variation in outcomes is advised for better outcomes.
- Once the backlog is delivered, implement acceptance criteria to be used at the Epic, Feature, Story level.
- Put constraints on acceptance criteria to add guardrails for compliance by program as needed.
- Aligning the work to strategies and themes for all business units (with placeholders where definition does not exist) provides invaluable reporting at the executive level that can be used in the future to place better bets and ensure that we are working on what will impact the business the most.
The items above get us to a level playing field where all work is visible. From there I submit that agile practices with dedicated teams will prove superior in delivering quality with predictability. That fact will be very transparent and hard to dismiss. Positive results accelerate the move to agile and build excitement to further invest in simplifying software at scale. Transformations are not for the timid but out innovating your competition through the use of technology is the prize.
Can that really wait another day?