Have you ever seen your stakeholders use tactics like this?!
Holly Green has more than 13 years’ experience in the software industry and is a Principal Business Analyst with Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). Her BA career has focused on work for leading ecommerce retailers with heavy involvement in Portfolio Management for the past 6 years. She currently serves on the Advisory Board for the University of Washington Certificate in Business Analysis Program. Holly is passionate about using her BA skills to help the enterprise successfully manage its portfolio by assessing business strategy, value, risk, and dependencies.
Today we will focus on ways in which we can accomplish the above 3 objectives.
Expanded from one person managing the Ecommerce Portfolio to 5 teams that moved requests from intake through to execution5 Teams for Portfolio Management:Portfolio Steering Committee (Focused on ‘What’)Provide leadership priorities and direction for portfolio mix and resourcesPortfolio Planning (Focused on ‘What’)Vet requestsApprove or deny based on ratification criteriaInitial architecture assessmentPrioritize requestsDevelop quarterly portfolio proposalPortfolio Execution (Focused on ‘What’)Breakdown epics and featuresMake program backlog commitmentsDevelop release plansDeliver valueEIE Planning (Focused on ‘How’)Lead and influence continuous improvement of people practices and technology to drive value:Engineering practicesContinuous deliveryIncrease productivityEnvironment NeedsEmployee EngagementAlign on goalsFeature Delivery Increase release frequencyImprove qualityReduce defectsDevelop metricsEIE Execution (Focused on ‘How’)Process improvementRelease and build; release calendar go/no-go evaluationEnvironment supportTest process improvementTeam staffingImpediment resolution
‘Connect the dots’ team initiated to:Examine agile and portfolio planning needs4 P’s exercise: Prerequisites, Preparation, Participation, PayoffIdentify gaps in the agile processIdentify topics for leadership supportMake a recommendation on how to establish alignment across the leadership, business, and technology teamsAfter 3 years we were:Successfully using kanban to visualize Business demandAble to quickly turn away low value propositionsAble to recognize and delay requests that would be blocked by dependencies – setting expectations early onBut…We weren’t meeting our commitments (not enough slack to absorb variation and enable fast flow = traffic jam)We weren’t always doing the right work to support Business strategyPOs didn’t have enough visibility into each other’s release plans (the portfolio) to make accurate planning decisions (especially when cross-team dependencies came into play)The 5 teams weren’t communicating well with each other or with the Agile teamsSME resource constraints – weren’t leveraging SME skillsets appropriately so that knowledge transfer could occur
Discovered SAFeHelps us meet our goals to: Establish scaled agile release planning processExecute to support Business StrategyReduce waste:Reduced number of teams involved in managing intake and prioritization
These techniques sound fairly standard until you start to consider how they get executed at scale.
Typically, a bottoms-up approach is recommended for SAFe implementation. We had our teams in place and they were working well. We had a Kanban Portfolio backlog (not mapped to Investment Themes and far from perfect, but something to start with). So, we started at the Program Level.
WSJF = Cost of Delay / DurationCost of Delay = Business Value + Time Criticality + Value of Risk Reduction or Opportunity EnablementLeverage Minimal Marketable Features to release value quickly while maintaining a cadence for longer-term business investment themes.Opportunity list is the foundation for a team’s quarterly plan.
Attendees: Business RepresentativesAgile teamsDevelopersArchitectsProduct OwnersBusiness AnalystsScrum MastersQAResource ManagersTechnical and Business Leadership
Adding the Portfolio level is the greatest challenge: Direction and governance should come from leadership driving the enterprise business strategy and technology investment strategy. Financial constraints need to be accounted for.The stakes are high and the variables are numerous.
Requests were big and smallRequests ranged from maintenance and compliance to edgy ideasRequests were not clearly mapped to Business strategyBusiness priority for requests was not clear
Key Initiatives outlined by leadership map to enterprise investment themes and strategiesTo do this, we:Synchronize Portfolio Management to Enterprise PlanningLeadership responsible for communicating the plan and keeping the teams tracking to the planQuarterly planning marches to the mapArchitectural Runway supports the mapIncidentals go directly to the teams – they don’t muddle the big pictureFeatures, Quick Fixes, Campaigns, Tech Debt, Maintenance, and Compliance flow directly to POs
When direction changes…Share Spike example
Our cats are more aligned, but we still have room for improvement:Improve report-out on progress and changes to planPlan how to facilitate work that crosses multiple teams – especially when there is no clear owner
Ask the audience and write down:What are some of the ways we can identify gaps in our planning processes?What are some techniques for Portfolio planning improvement in a constrained environment?What are some ways to Boost portfolio planning transparency and communication between Technology and the Business?
Case Study: How to scale agile
How to Scale
Principal Business Analyst, REI
“If you want a kitten, start out by
asking for a horse.”
- Naomi, age 15
• Principal Business Analyst, Recreational
Equipment Inc. (REI)
• 13+ yrs. Software Industry experience
• Advisory Board Member, University of
Washington Certificate in Business
• Focus on Portfolio Management
• Identify and bridge gaps in planning
• Scale agile using techniques from SAFe1
• Build partnerships for success
Agile Framework (SAFe) is an approach to software development developed by Dean
Leffingwell for leveraging agile at scale. Visit www.scaledagileframework.com.
• 3 years iterating on Agile Portfolio
• Expanded Portfolio Management from one
person to 5 teams
• 6 Ecommerce Agile Teams
• 100+ people involved
communication channels between numerous large
divisions and competing views on how to best address
business strategy. Technical resources are constrained.
As a result, our efforts are uncoordinated, inefficient, and
lack the full power of our combined talents.
Our opportunity is to establish a process that can support
agile at scale, reduce waste, and enable us to better
execute against business strategy.
• ‘Connect the dots’ team initiated
• After 3 years we were:
Successfully using kanban to visualize Business demand
Able to quickly turn away low value propositions
Able to recognize and delay requests that would be blocked by
We weren’t meeting our commitments
We weren’t always doing the right work to support Business strategy
POs didn’t have enough visibility into the portfolio to make accurate
Portfolio Planning teams weren’t communicating well
SME resource constraints inhibited knowledge transfer
• Discovered Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
– Helps us meet our goals to:
• Establish scaled agile release planning process
• Execute to support Business Strategy
• Reduce waste
Scaled Agile Framework
What we did
• Leveraged techniques from SAFe1
– Portfolio Vision
– Architectural Runway
– Agile Release Train
– Release Planning
• Focused on roles and process
Started at the Program Level
Agile Release Train
• Quarterly release planning off sites
• To prepare:
– Aligned Product Owners with the Business
– POs work with the Business to prioritize Team
• Use Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)1
– Identify Minimal Marketable Features to release value
• Produce a list of top opportunities and redline at estimated
Release Planning in Action
GOAL: Examine opportunities across teams to detect
conflicts, dependencies, and risks. Make necessary
adjustments to address discoveries. Create a plan.
we believe in!
voice is heard
Adding on the Portfolio Level
Portfolio: More than a list of requests
• Key Initiatives map to investment themes and
• To support the vision, we:
– Synchronize Portfolio Management to Enterprise
– Leadership communicates the plan
• Progress is tracked quarterly
– Architectural Runway supports the Portfolio
– Incidentals go directly to teams
• If it doesn’t support enterprise strategy…
– It can’t be in the Portfolio Backlog
Keep on Track
• Intake Process:
– Raise the price of admission
• Single entrance point
• Stricter requirements
• ‘Spike’ for more information
– Plan time to learn
Make commitments with confidence
Now that scale is accounted for…
Our cats are more aligned
Areas of Opportunity
• Improve report-out on progress and changes
• Better plan how to facilitate work that crosses
Could you do this?
– How you could partner across the enterprise
– How you could leverage the right mix of skillsets to make
quick decisions and address impediments to success
• Keys to success:
Accept change and its discomforts
Expect an iterative process
This is about a framework
• We adapted SAFe to work for us
• You will adapt techniques to work for you
• What are some of the ways we can identify
gaps in our planning processes?
• What are some techniques for Portfolio
planning improvement in a constrained
• What are some ways to Boost portfolio
planning transparency and communication
between Technology and the Business?