Step out of the chaos!

Step out of the chaos!

Information technology projects are typically a bit chaotic due to interaction of people, the environment and the inherent complexity of software and hardware. The bigger the project, the more complex and chaotic the project becomes. Unfortunately, all products and services can’t be delivered based on the output of a single small team or even a swarm of independent small teams. Coordination and group thinking is required to deliver large projects. Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) addresses this coordination and planning need with a period release planning event. Release planning is one the lightning rods in the discussion of scaled Agile frameworks overall and SAFe in particular.

In SAFe, release planning is done as a large-scale event for each program increment (a period of time typically spanning 8 – 12 weeks). The goal of the of the two-day release planning event is not only to synchronize and energize everyone that is working on the project, but also to assure a coordinated approach to delivering value. A few of the critical success factors for this group planning and coordination activity are:

  1. Release planning is a formal meeting with an agenda and roles. Preparation must occur before participants begin showing up the first day of the meeting. Typically the program’s vision and linkage to the business objectives and the top priorities of the initial program/feature backlog are used as inputs into the event. The release train engineer (who facilitates the event) will need ensure that the workspace and tools the teams will use are prepared.
  2. All members of the program should participate in the release planning event. Release planning is both a planning and coordination event. In the release planning event, teams develop and coordinate their plans for the next set of sprints in an environment that actively encourages communication and sharing. Everyone involved in the program brings different skills and experiences to the table; therefore they can provide unique insights into how the program can deliver maximum value. For example, if a program based in the US was leveraging offshore developers in the Ukraine and testers in India would planning be as effective if team members in India and the Ukraine were excluded and just told the plan? How many challenges and issues would be exposed later in as functionality was delivered that could have been solved by upfront communication?
  3. Release planning events are best when done in person. Programs need to ensure that release planning events are scheduled and that budget is available. Budgets for the events should include travel both travel and logistics.   When travel is not possible, the program leadership should make every effort to make the communication as intimate as possible (in-person being the most intimate and then in descending order: video, audio, test chats and smoke signals). Remember that if it is difficult to hear and participate, participants will get bored and stop paying attention.

A classic advertisement during in 2009 Super Bowl showed a cowboys herding cats. Large projects might not be quite as chaotic as that, however if teams don’t have a clear vision or don’t understand the interactions and relationships between what they are delivering and what others are delivering chaos could ensue. The Agile release planning event in SAFe is a mechanism for solving the planning and communication conundrum.