Scaling Agile through the Creation of Stable Teams of Teams
Agile has been around for a while now. Since the birth of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, companies of all sizes have dipped their toes into Agile methodologies. Many organizations start small with pockets of teams “doing” Agile. These grassroots efforts are great for a company seeking to get Agile going, but what happens when an organization realizes the benefits of Agile and decides they want to roll it out or adopt it more broadly? How does Agile scale across the organization beyond team-level? How are truly Agile cultures created that drive innovation and have an Agile-mindset throughout? Where do organizations start, and how do you get everyone on board? How do you create a real Agile culture within your organization? To answer these questions, let’s take a quick look at how many organizations handle portfolio planning with a traditional project and portfolio management approach.
Planning Work within a Traditional Project Portfolio Management Culture
With traditional project portfolio management, a company often has an annual planning process in place. This takes them through the following process:
- The organization collects a list of all the projects the business units in the company think are worthwhile.
- Business stakeholders create a business case for each candidate project they’re submitting for consideration.
- If the executive team gives the “okay,” then the business units provide their estimate of time and costs.
- After a comprehensive analysis of all of the project proposals, the organization approves projects based on the amount of current demand and requests. A line is drawn on the number of projects that can be funded at this time.
- Leaders, with the help of the PMO, create a temporary team or teams of people who will work on the projects from various departments, based on the estimates and types of roles needed to complete the work.
In traditional project portfolio management people are assigned to the project or the work, not the work to the people. Additionally, any given person, during the course of a year is going to be on multiple different projects and sometimes even on multiple different projects at the same time.
In this model, the organization is constantly creating temporary projects with temporary groups of people who are partially assigned to the work. The appeal of this for an organization is that central leadership has strong control over which projects get funded, and there’s a belief that by creating these temporary teams and doing partial allocation of people, that you have a highly efficient use of resources. It’s designed to maximize efficient utilization of a shared pool of resources, governed around a centralized list of what is important to the business. In an Agile organization, work and teams function much differently.
Planning Work within an Agile Culture
Agile proposes a different viewpoint regarding temporary teams. Agile teams are stable, cross-functional and autonomous. Meaning you don’t want people on a team just for three months, nor on multiple teams, only one. Agile teams include people with the right skill sets from multiple areas to get the work done.
Typically consisting of 7 members (plus or minus two), Agile teams are kept together for an indefinite amount of time, creating both stable and predictable work delivery.
To deliver work, these Agile teams typically meet frequently and deliver their work incrementally to constantly release value to the market and to customers. As the number of Agile teams starts to grow, it becomes important for leadership to recognize how to best harness their delivery capabilities. Many organizations get to a point where they can easily say, “We do Agile within projects,” but having many Agile teams at the team level, without any planning or coordination between them or each other soon becomes challenging. Leaders seeking a way to maximize Agile benefits need to determine if they really believe that Agile is a good way to complete work, and if so, begin to think about how to scale the benefits beyond a few teams.
In Most Organizations, They Star Their Scaling Agile Journey Here
Organizations that recognize they want to scale Agile delivery teams don’t necessarily think through the full process to do so. They don’t ask, “How does that change our portfolio management processes?” Eventually though, leadership or someone questions how the Agile teams function and how they can be utilized to tackle bigger and more complex work.
Often organizations add more Agile teams horizontally. However, scaling Agile in this fashion is not where the power of Agile lies. Agile teams need to plan, coordinate, and manage work together. Their charter is to take big complex projects, or bodies of work, and break them into smaller chunks. To do this, Agile teams must understand which team is working on which part of the work, and they must also understand their dependencies on each other to ensure work delivery is as efficient and effective as possible. As organizations mature in scaling their Agile teams and have determined which teams and teams of teams are working on larger projects, they get to a point where they need to analyze and reflect on the completed projects of the past. These completed projects help the organization identify areas of persistent demand and provide insight into how these areas may benefit from a more formal grouping of teams and teams of teams. Organizations should evaluate what products their Agile teams were tending to work on and what areas of the business had a greater need to deliver value. If there was any question of where to focus the Agile teams going forward, this exercise can help organizations determine how to think about aligning teams to more permanent value streams.
A value stream is defined as an end-to-end business process and the associated steps an organization takes to deliver customer value. It is also defined as a line of business that delivers value, typically a product or solution, to a customer. As organizations evolve, the shape of their value streams often evolves too.
In traditional project funding, organizations start by building requirement-heavy business cases when determining which projects are to be considered for funding and capacity allocations. Success is measured on the completion of the project tied to the business case, not on the value delivered. Organizations look at the list of things they committed to do, consider if they were completed, and if so, it’s a success.
But if the organization and associated project teams didn’t get it all done, and if it took too long, then the organization determines that they just need to do better next time. Fundamentally, the issue in this practice stems from the fact that organizations are comparing project plans with actuals, and that’s how success is judged. It’s much more a measure of output compared to cost as opposed to an outcome compared to value.
On the flip side, in a world where you’re creating these stable teams of teams (aligned to value streams), you’re no longer focused on output; you don’t have a fixed requirement for when the project ends; and by creating stable teams, organizations know their spend every month and quarter, as well as their predicted value delivery. Going forward, organizations need to look at certain products—how many teams are devoted to it, how long has it been funded, is there value from that spend—and then evaluate if the organization is getting more effective at delivery. In theory, when organizations put a group of people together, those teams or groups of people will get more effective at working together. However, it is up to organizational leadership to monitor the team’s and value streams success, fostering and encouraging continuous improvement.
Learn how to ask important measurement and value-driven questions such as: “Are we delivering value to our customers more quickly?” and “Do we have higher customer and/or employee satisfaction?” These questions help provide insight into operational metrics regarding whether your team and team of teams (even value stream) stability is paying off. Stay tuned for the continuation of this blog, where we continue this discussion of creating an Agile culture within your organization. For now, download the whitepaper, “The 7 Benefits of Scaling Agile ” to learn more about how Agile can set you on the path to success.