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Agile Program Management, Enterprise Agile Planning

Taming the Agile Chaos: Real Stories from the Trenches

Four Agile experts share how they solve common scaling Agile problems.

Published By Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell

Scaling Agile has always been a quest to deliver more of the right value, but what happens when it isn’t working the way you’d hoped? How do you determine that your organization isn’t as Agile as it thinks it is? How do you know when your scaling Agile practices need to change? Worse yet, how do you know when it’s time to organize your scaling efforts in a decidedly different, more articulate, and valuable way? Enter Agile Program Management, or as we often refer to it at Planview, “Taming the Agile Chaos.” 

In a panel discussion from this month’s Agile2021 conference, Planview Solution Consultant and Solution Architecture experts Bob DeMaria, Norman Garrett, Ronnie Pinkerton, and AJ Shavell talked through their time in the scaling Agile trenches and shared how they uncover the need for Agile Program Management every day as Planview’s resident Agile experts. Planview’s Director of Product Marketing Brook Appelbaum moderated the discussion.

Key Takeaways

In case you missed it, here are some of the key takeaways from our panel discussion: 

  • Agile chaos manifests in businesses of all sizes and levels of maturity 
  • Agile chaos rears its head in many ways
  • Agile Program Management can quell these concerns and provide a foundation for scaling success

Agile Chaos Doesn’t Discriminate 

Most organizations start scaling Agile (adding more Agile teams) because they have big, complex problems that must be solved. They need to take  big chunks of work, break them down, and deliver them faster and more effectively.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your organization is dealing with completely unique challenges related to practicing Agile at scale. The reality is that Agile chaos manifests in businesses of all sizes and levels of Agile maturity. Luckily, Agile Program Management offers a way to tame this chaos — whether you have coordinated teams of teams working in sprints, or siloed teams with little coordination between them.

Signs of Agile Chaos

So often, when Agile has spread organically, there will be multiple Agile teams using different solutions and even different methodologies within one organization. Agile chaos comes in many forms: 

  • Siloed teams
  • Poor coordination
  • Unrealistic plans
  • Risks that explode
  • Dependencies
  • Frequent pivots
  • Building the wrong things
  • Delivery delays

Here are four stories from our panelists that illustrate a few of the common ways in which Agile chaos can appear in an organization.

Silos, silos everywhere 

Sr. Solution Consultant AJ Shavell shared about how while many organizations have started to embrace Agile fully (with Lean-Agile Centers of Excellence and a top-down approach to Agile), others have struggled to unite their Agile teams, often due to a lack of executive support. 

AJ shared a story about one financial services customer, which had silos of Agile teams using different tools, processes, and methodologies. The company was struggling to coordinate work, see dependencies across teams, and achieve larger initiatives.

“The biggest win for organizations scaling Agile from the bottom up is often the move to quarterly planning.”

Sr. Solution Consultant AJ Shavell

For these Agile teams, the first step was to align the teams around one process, and synchronize execution by aligning planning cadences to quarterly increments (often referred to as program increments or “PI” planning). The next step was to bring all the disparate teams together into a single solution that provided visibility into dependencies and helped to break down the walls between previously siloed teams.

View the eBook: How to do Virtual PI Planning: An Essential Checklist

Unrealistic plans and poor coordination

Director of Solution Architecture Ronnie Pinkerton shared an example from a more mature Agile Release Train, that fell victim to another form of Agile chaos: Unrealistic plans. Unrealistic plans are often a symptom of poor coordination and communication among teams and between teams and leadership.

“Even mature teams or release trains should aim to plan to about 80% of their capacity, because there will always be change in every PI.” 

Director of Solution Architecture Ronnie Pinkerton

In this instance, the teams discovered their plan was unrealistic when they calculated the work would take 120% of their capacity for the upcoming PI. As a result, they narrowed their plan to take about 80% of their capacity and assigned the remaining 20% to account for the unplanned work that predictably arises during most sprints for most teams.

Read Next: How to do Virtual PI Planning

Exploding risks

Sr. Solution Architect Norman Garrett shared a story from a large financial services customer that was struggling to effectively track and manage risks on their ROAM board. (Side note: ROAM stands for Resolve, Own, Accept, Mitigate and is the risk management process used by Agile teams.)

“For Agile teams and release trains, visualizing risks is as important as visualizing work.”

Sr. Solution Architect Norman Garrett

While the ROAM was useful for surfacing the risks, the teams wanted greater visibility into how those risks were affecting the day-to-day delivery of features across the release train. To do that, they created lanes and cards on their program board to represent the risks, effectively merging their ROAM board with their program board. This allowed them to track the cycle time for resolving risks, as well as ownership.

Read Next: Managing Risks with ROAM in Agile

Frequent pivots

Director of Solution Consulting Bob DeMaria shared an example from an oil and gas customer that illustrates the chaos caused by frequent pivots. As a Lean-Agile organization, having the ability to pivot from something that isn’t working is a huge benefit. But there’s a shadow side to pivots when they occur too frequently.

“Making work visible can alert teams to many of the challenges of scaling Agile, such as unplanned work.”

Director of Solution Consulting Bob DeMaria

When the teams looked at their reports at the end of the PI, they noticed that the amount of unplanned work grew larger than their planned work as they progressed through the PI. Seeing the outsized relationship between planned and unplanned work caused them to dig into why, which uncovered the fact that teams were being asked to work on various pet projects during the PI that weren’t surfaced during planning.

Read Next: What Makes a Successful Agile People Leader?

How Agile Program Management Can Help

At Planview, we think of Agile Program Management as a way to tame the Agile chaos: A way to visualize, plan, coordinate, and deliver your organization’s biggest initiatives across your Agile teams. In essence, it’s how we take scaling Agile to the next level — how we take pockets or islands of teams of teams and get them aligned and working in harmony. 

Implementing Agile Program Management will align teams to a unified process and planning structure, allowing all Agile teams to work together toward the achievement of key  strategic objectives. In a nutshell, Agile Program Management is a key component to successful Agile scaling.

Planview’s Agile Program Management Solution 

Looking for the right solution to help tame the Agile chaos? Planview has created different Agile Program Management solution bundles to help your organization on its Lean and Agile journey.

  • Harness the power of Agile at scale
  • Effectively manage the work of multiple teams visually
  • Map dependencies and remove roadblocks between teams
  • Sequence features and stories with connected board views
  • Gain visibility and insight into what your Agile teams are working on and when it will be done
  • Manage workflows, make critical business decisions, and time releases

Learn more about Planview’s Agile Program Management Solution on this page or watch the solution demo.

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Written by Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Sr. Manager, Content Marketing

Liz leads the go-to-market content team at Planview. She worked at LeanKit prior to the company being acquired by Planview. With more than a decade of Lean-Agile marketing experience, Liz passionately believes in the transformative power that applying Lean-Agile principles can have on teams and organizations.