Scaling Agile project management to large, complex endeavors requires an Agile Program Manager to address the big picture coordination of programs. Program management is the discipline of coordinating and managing large efforts comprised of a number of parallel and related projects. Scrum leverages a concept called the Scrum of Scrums to perform many of the activities need for program management. Agile Program Management is not just repurposed project management or a part-time job for a Scrum Master.
Agile Program Managers coordinate and track expectations across all projects under the umbrella of the program, whether the projects are using Agile or not. Coordination includes activities like identifying and tracking dependencies, tracking risks and issues and communication. Coordination of the larger program generally requires developing a portfolio of moving parts at the epic or function level across all of the related projects (epics are large user stories that represent large concepts that will be broken down later). Agile Program Managers layer in each project’s release plans on top of the program portfolio to provide a platform for coordinated release planning. Techniques like Kanban can be used for tracking and visualizing the portfolio. Visualization show how the epics or functions are progressing as they are developed and staged for delivery to the program’s customers.
Facilitating communication is one the roles of an Agile Program Managers. The Scrum of Scrums is the primary vehicle for ensuring communication. The Scum of Scrums is a meeting of the all of the directly responsible individuals (DRIs) from each team in the program. The DRI has the responsibility to act as the conduit of information for his or his team to the Agile Program Manager and other DRIs. The DRI raises issues, risks, concerns and needs. In short, the DRI communicates to the team and the Scrum of Scrums. The Scrum of Scrums is best as a daily meeting of the DRIs chaired by the Agile Program Manager, however the frequency can be tailored to meet the project needs. A pattern I have seen used to minimize overhead is varying the frequency of the Scrum of Scrums based on project risk.
Another set of activities that generally fall to the Agile Program Manager is the development and communication of program status information. Chairing high-level status meetings, such as those with sponsor or other guidance groups, is a natural extension of the role. However this requires the Agile Program Manager to act as a conduit of information by transferring knowledge from the Scrum of Scrums to the sponsors and back again. Any problem with information flow can potentially cause bad decisions and will affect the program.
We will explore the role of the Agile Program Manager in detail. For now, it is important to recognize that the Agile Program Management is more than a specialization within the realm of project management or a side job a Scrum Master can do in his or her spare time. Agile Program Managers need to be well versed in both Agile techniques and in standard program management techniques because the Agile Program Manager is a hybrid from both camps. Agile Program Managers build the big picture view that a portfolio view of all of the related projects will deliver. They also must facilitate communication via the Scrum of Scrums and standard program status vehicles. The Agile Program Manager many times must straddle the line between both the Agile and waterfall worlds.