Becoming Agile - Planning in An Environment with A Command and Control Culture

A colleague recently related to me his experience working with a client to make changes in the annual planning and budgeting process to support the Scrum framework that development teams follow at his company.  The client is a mid-size and growing eCommerce company.  They had a dozen scrum teams that had been functioning for a little under a year when they brought my friend Dave in to help during the company's annual strategic planning and budgeting cycle.

He identified these elements as essential to a successful Agile planning effort at enterprise scale at the maturity level at which the company found itself:
  • Product Owners versed in the company's strategic objectives for the next 12 months
  • Software development managers with a sense of architectural direction for the technology on which products were built
  • IT operations managers with a roadmap for a more scalable, fault-tolerant infrastructure
  • A team of Scrum Masters/project managers, constituting the company's PMO, orienting the group around cadence, cross-team dependencies, and team capacity
The planning process followed no particular methodology but included these steps:

  • Each Product Owner wrote on 3 x 5 cards features from their backlog and taped them on a wall in descending priority
  • Product Owners reviewed each other's cards and discussed dependencies on other teams for feature delivery
  • The Product Owner whose team needed to deliver a feature in support of another team's wrote that supporting feature on a different color card and put it in roughly the rank order required to support the primary feature
The main purpose for the exercise was to respond to strategic objectives enumerated by the executive team by reporting on teams' capacity to deliver value within time and resource constraints.  It was a break from tradition at the company.  In past years, executives had instructed teams what they needed to develop and when it needed to be done, a process that never works well for anyone.

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