Start Enterprise Agility with a Strategic Vision
An organization’s strategic vision specifies the organization’s unifying goal and its overall strategy for achieving that goal. Strategic vision comes from the organization’s business leaders, who have a high-level understanding of the organization’s needs, the customers’ needs, and enterprise agile product development. The organization then turns that strategic vision into tactical work through a three-step process:
- Break it down: Team members work with the customer, management, and the other teams to break down the work required.
- Prioritize: Work is prioritized to deliver the most essential and highest value items first.
- Pull the work into teams: Teams pull work from the system to complete it.
Each enterprise agile framework has its own approach to setting and executing the strategic vision. For example, SAFe® recommends executives create high-level strategic themes based on the organization’s budget and goals and on customers’ needs. LeSS has a head of the product group, who creates a prioritized list of work items that a product owner distributes to different teams. The head of the product group may create the strategy for the entire organization and dozens of individual teams. DAD encourages teams to develop a common vision, where executives, managers, and stakeholders collaborate with the teams on high-priority goals. Spotify’s approach distributes the vision among different product owners. They can work together to find common goals, but it’s up to them to do what works for their teams (or squads).
Breaking it down
After your organization’s leaders establish a strategic vision, the rest of the organization breaks it down into something that can be delivered. For example, suppose an organization’s strategic vision is to create a version of its product that runs on smartphones. This vision doesn’t specify any of the particulars for implementation. Does it mean all smartphones or only Android and iOS smartphones? Should it be an app or just a mobile version of the website? These are questions the executives may not know the answers to and that the teams should answer in collaboration with customers and other stakeholders.
To implement the strategic vision, the organization must transform it into something more tactical. This transformation is a higher-level version of Scrum‘s divide between the “what” and the “how.” The strategic vision is the “what.” Breaking it down provides the “how,” which is up to the product development teams to decide. Each enterprise agile framework has its own approach to breaking down the work:
- SAFe breaks down strategic themes down into epics, which can be broken down further into user stories and delivered over multiple product increments.
- LeSS does something called an initial product backlog refinement, during which the product owner works closely with the team to refine the backlog into something that can be delivered.
- Kanban breaks larger work down into work items recorded on Kanban cards, and work items may be written as user stories.
Prioritizing the work
Prioritizing the work is a key aspect of enterprise agility because it ensures the most essential and high-value work is completed first, providing the organization and its customers with the most value as early as possible. Teams strive to “stop starting and start finishing,” so they can produce potentially shippable product increments. Each top enterprise agile framework has its own approach to prioritizing the work:
- SAFe has several different levels of prioritization. At the top (portfolio) level, managers and executives prioritize their epics on a portfolio Kanban board. Middle managers prioritize the work in program and solution backlogs. Finally, individual teams have their own product backlogs. Each of these steps is a way to zero in on the highest priority solution.
- LeSS relies on frequent product backlog refinement meetings. The initial product backlog refinement breaks down the work. Then subsequent refinements prioritize the work based on customer feedback.
- DAD includes prioritizing the work as an agile best practice — a part of each of its different delivery lifecycles. Agile teams deliver the highest value product as a way to increase the customer’s return on investment. Customers get more of what they want early.
Pulling work into the teams
Unlike traditional product development, in which management pushes work onto teams, Lean-Agile has teams pulling the highest priority work items from a product backlog or similar list to complete the work at a pace within their capacity for completing the work. The pull method also supports several system-level optimizations, such as shortened cycle times, timeboxing, and respect for people.
Each of the top enterprise agile frameworks has its own way of pulling work through the system. For example:
- SAFe recommends using Kanban boards at every level of the organization. Portfolio epics are pulled based on the budget, then different parts of the product are pulled across a Kanban board and into an agile release train.
- LeSS focuses on pulling work through the teams by applying queueing theory, which suggests the flow of work through the system can be increased if you break things down into smaller batches.
- Kanban is the most straightforward. Simple swim-lane diagrams are created on a board that shows the team’s capacity. Then, work is pulled across the board as it is completed.