John, a product manager of a large corporate, proudly shows his management what results their 200 software development teams are delivering every second week!

He knows he impressed them. But soon his confidence is gone. With a weak voice, he confesses the teams do not have enough work to be done …..

They react furiously. “Impossible”, the business management claims, because there is work for about 10 years queuing.

John knows the long wish list, but he does not know how to explain what is going wrong to the management. Does this sound familiar?

A tuned delivery pipeline needs the right size of work

Please do not think this does not apply to you because you are dealing with a single project or several small projects. We see the above happening every day. As soon as the development team becomes efficient, the business has issues feeding them.

The main reason is that in general, the size of business ideas is too large for a 2-week development cycle.

John explains the business management the work will have to be better specified and validated to prevent the teams will start developing a new unspecified idea without any business value. He does not want to waste resources and money.

What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget? —Eric Ries

He proposes to introduce Portfolio Management at the business side, to make them better aligned with the Agile development approach, to enable them to adopt the Agile Mindset I wrote about before.

The main duty of the business side is to dream about the company’s future and based on that define Epics, high level feature descriptions. This has to be done frequently, for example, quarterly and is called Portfolio Program Management.

The Product Owner converts these Epics into User Stories. Only the highest valued pieces of work are being taken to the team. The focus should be on unique, differentiating features.

You should start with Portfolio Management by the time you know that you have a predictable delivery process.

Development approach

Probably the main challenge in being Agile, is accepting the iterative approach by the business management. The focus should be to first build a walking skeleton, then an MVP. This is a process of weeks up to maximum 3 months.

Keep adding features in short cycles up to the moment there is enough. Forget about believing in your personal assumptions. Only market validation counts. Let all the teams together frequently demo the whole integrated increment together and then decide what will be next.

“Change before you have to… Control your own destiny or someone else will. An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” —Jack Welch, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), GENERAL ELECTRIC

The lesson from Jack Welch is simple: Enterprises must learn how to adapt quickly to changing technology and economic conditions, or they will become extinct, no matter their size, smarts, or strength. This means it is not sufficient to have an Agile IT department. The whole organisation will have to become “lean”. Agile Portfolio Management aims to facilitate that change.

SAFe Framework for guidance

Adopting Agile Program Management is easier said than done. To get started you might consider The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) for Lean Enterprises, which is a scalable and configurable framework that helps organizations deliver new products, services, and solutions in the shortest sustainable lead time, with the best possible quality and value. SAFe and Scaled Agile Framework are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.

It is an extensive body of knowledge, SAFe is based on Lean-Agile principles and values. It provides guidance for the roles, responsibilities, artefacts, and activities necessary to achieve better business outcomes.

SAFe 4.5 helps companies to:

  • Innovate and test ideas more quickly using the Lean Startup Cycle and Lean User Experience (UX).
  • Deliver much faster with Scalable DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.
  • Simplify governance and improve portfolio performance with Lean Portfolio Management.
  • Support the full range of development environments, from the simplest to the most complex, using four configurations of the framework.

Read more about SAFe on scaledagileframework.com.

Implement with Care

Implementing the full SAFe framework will be rather challenging and might introduce too much overhead for many companies. Fortunately, you can start with the ESSENTIAL SAFe configuration, which focuses on the essentials of the framework. It describes the most critical elements needed to realize the majority of the Framework’s benefits.

This was the 3rd post out of  7 that I have promised before. Other obligations forced me to focus on different things. The other posts will sooner or later be published, that’s for sure! The next one in line will cover Scaling and Governance, supporting the migration from flexible teams to flexible organisations.

Entrepreneur, co-founder & Managing Director of Goyello and Webmerce. Sociologist and electrotechnical engineer, a great combination that stimulates him to look for working solutions. Passionate about converting great ideas into new solutions. He is married and a proud father of 3 great sons. Participating in (and training for) triathlons to stay fit.

  • Excellent post Peter 🙂

    I’ve also noticed business doesn’t want to work with user stories as they’re too low level. Epics are too big for the team to pick up on the other hand. Slicing user stories with approaches like the hamburger method might help to deliver things iteratively instead of incrementally. Impact mapping can be used to come up with alternative solutions (and reducing scope). Each deliverable is potentially deployed and outcomes are measured to see if we’re on course, or a direction change is needed.