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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Program Management

How Agile and program management work together

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Some time ago, small teams have proven the effectiveness of Agile development. They have shown that Agile matters and that it leads to the improved performance of software developers around the globe. Recently, the Agile philosophy adopters working in large companies are scaling Agile beyond single projects, looking for ways to apply Agile project management to whole programs. Of course, they face challenges. However, it does not mean it can’t be realized.

program management

What is a program in Agile and what is an Agile management style How to clearly describe the roles and responsibilities of a program manager? Now it is high time to know more about it.

What is Agile Program Management?

Agile program management is not just a mix of two concepts: Agile + program management.

It includes different things and means managing multiple Agile projects (for example, Scrum of Scrums) or something as complex (for example, the Scaled Agile framework implementing). However, Agile program management may also be as simple as arranging a daily Scrum meeting for program managers.

  • Agile is a philosophy not only for software development but also for other IT and non-IT business areas. This philosophy involves changes in business environments, adding requirements, reprioritization, adjusting timetables, and so on and so forth.
  • Program management is a straightforward process of managing multiple associated projects. Program management is about managing the PMO (Project Management Office) that includes contracts, security, financials, risks, acquisition, etc.

In general, it means managing numerous projects with crossed requirements, goals, and expected results.

When you combine program management and the Agile approach, you have to consider and follow three principles:

  • to be aware of all challenges your team faces.
  • to dive into the learning of the business.
  • to generate a way to meet the needs of your stakeholders.

In order to increase value, you need to have a deep appreciation of the business problem and focus on problem-solving. Agile PMOs are aimed to define and provide value for the company including teams and stakeholders. In this case, three postulates should be taken into account:

  1. Agile program management = advanced collaboration. You need to constantly communicate with people to learn what matters. Dialogs will help you understand the problem, define expectations, set priorities, and optimize collaboration. However, things do change even despite this preparation.
  2. Priorities are constantly changing as well. According to Agile PMO, changes are expected, so you should be ready to adapt using iterative approaches wherever possible. They will lead to greater flexibility to handle changes.
  3. Agile program management cannot be easy. You may still apply Agile principles in a traditional PMO even if you are not engaged in an Agile transformation. It will be very useful to determine value in every activity, constantly communicate with customers, team members, stakeholders, and other parties involved, and help them adapt by planning for and embracing change.

Agile + Program Management = Success

The Agile mindset significantly empowers your program management efforts. In fact, Agile increases the effort of program management to reach all organizational needs and develop a certain approach that will meet stakeholders’ requirements.

An effective Agile program manager must consider value as the top priority for his/her organization. Agile teaches us to focus on collaboration and expect regular changes in priorities.

That is why program managers should talk to their colleagues on a regular basis to learn what is urgent and how to consider current problems. Thanks to the iterative nature of Agile, PMs can boost flexibility in tackling changes and guarantee that the changes are more efficient than in the traditional program management approach.

program management

What are the Roles in Agile Program Management?

There are four essential roles in Agile program management, including a product manager, business owners, system architects (or engineers), and release train engineers.

Product managers and their responsibilities

A product manager in the Agile program management world is a real intermediary between clients, developers, and other involved parties. The goal of the PM is to compose and manage a product roadmap that will outline how a particular product will be developed over time. Product managers are responsible for keeping the roadmap focused on long-term goals and current market conditions. They decide what to create when to create, and how to create essential features to optimize development capacity and satisfy clients.

System architects/ engineers’ roles

System architects and engineers in program management are responsible for determining the architectural vision for an Agile release train (ART). They guarantee that the developing solution fits the expected purpose and that all the architectural capabilities of the system are respected.

System architects and engineers lead the team in the technically right direction and common vision. They help Agile teams to describe the tech context of a program, analyze tech trade-offs, identify the components and subsystems, and communicate with internal/external groups.

Business owners and their impact

A business owner is a role that is responsible for delivering value and ROI (return on investment). From the Agile program management perspective, business owners ensure that the ARTs delivere value appropriate for the strategic objectives and expected outcomes. This role is responsible for communicating changes during some program management meetings. They also manage priorities in accordance with the most relevant business drivers.

Release train engineers and their participation in the common cause

Release train engineers (RTEs) in Agile program teams perform as coaches and internal leaders. They typically facilitate ART events and processes. Sometimes, this person can be simply called a program manager. He/she should be focused on ensuring that Agile teams deliver value as expected (including escalating impediments, arranging communication with stakeholders (internal and external), encouraging continuous improvement, and managing risks.

Agile Program Management Concepts

1. Constant Changes

If we recollect traditional project management, then we’ll see its waterfall approach, where teams work one phase at a time toward a  large “launch.” If such a project has delays in any phase, this will lead to further delays in the line. So, progress stops until a resolution is reached.

Waterfall does not plan for change, therefore, change is viewed as an initially negative force.

Agile program management implies not only delivering as planned but delivering something that customers want. Agile teams implement an iterative approach to development with regular feedback intervals. The model welcomes changes that will increase the value the team delivers.

Iterations mean that teams can adapt quickly, move forward as conditions change, and consider clients’ feedback in real-time.

2. The Power of Collaboration

Practice shows that teams are not interested in collaboration if they focus on moving work forward and checking boxes instead of delivering customer value.

Agile teams involved in Agile program management can easily collaborate with other teams, as they rely on each other to reach the shared goal of maximizing customer value. All stakeholders in the Agile team are actively involved in the development and delivery processes.

3. The Power of Value

Agile program management significantly changes how success is measured.

  • Traditional PM defines value as efficiency and reliability – the ability to quickly deliver the thing that was said to be delivered.
  • Agile PM determines this as responsiveness – the ability to deliver the things your clients need, when they want and need them.

In fact, Agile companies work to improve their responsiveness, as a way to become more reliable and effective.

Agile Program Management & Kanban software

Kanban is a great way to visualize work that enables Agile program management at scale. The flexible nature of the Kanban model allows visualizing processes, identifying roadblocks, illustrating dependencies, and facilitating communication within Agile teams.

What Agile Program Management Elements Benefit From Kanban?

1. Program Increment and ART planning

Program Increment (PI) planning is a ceremony that involves the team to create their plans and objectives for the next Program Increment. This event is quite important as t’s a time for Agile teams to align development to business goals and PI objectives, determine dependencies, and analyze capacity. Kanban software helps managers and their teams to plan and coordinate their efforts, communicate plans, and share them.

2. Managing dependencies

Dependency management is key for success in program management.

Many Kanban boards systems may connect related work items (Kanban cards) across multiple boards, visualize relationships between the items, and visualize dependencies. It enables Agile teams to stay aligned.

3. Team of teams (ART) coordination

An appropriate Kanban software solution helps to coordinate the work of multiple self-organizing teams. Thanks to the advanced integrations, teams can use their native tools while providing visibility across the ART. Kanban teams always stay focused on their highest priorities while staying in sync with the related teams.

4. Powerful roadmaps

Kanban software is also used for product roadmapping. It allows product managers to create and evolve their plans in the same tool where they track, manage, and delegate the work of teams.

roadmaps

What benefits bring the right technology for Agile program management?

In order to succeed in Agile program management, you need to have the right technology in your stack to scale Agile.

It worth finding a unique tool that integrates with the tools your teams are already using. It will make the information from those tools meaningful and usable to others within your company.

It’s also critical to pick up a tool that is highly configurable to let configure it to accurately reflect the company’s unique processes and facilitate ART events. The right software will help Agile teams to manage and visualize dependencies and roadblocks, allowing them so teams to prevent issues that get them off track.

Program Manager vs Project Manager vs Product Manager

  • A program manager is responsible for contemporaneous managing several projects, related to one similar theme or direction. These projects represent a certain program that should be controlled. In large companies, the practices of a program manager are quite convenient. He/she can combine identical or very similar works into a project management portfolio and conduct a uniform project administration.
  • A product manager is responsible for the product’s lifecycle, starting from the product idea formation and ends with the release. Product managers work on the product image, develop plans in the financial and marketing directions. They know what the user wants and what the development team is able to do. They combine it into the highest-quality implementation.
  • A project manager is responsible for the management and careful control over the project development. He/she not only delivers the finished project to the customer timely but also creates the most comfortable working conditions for the team. A project manager is like a liaison between the development team and customers.

Two significant aspects while creating an Agile program

When the transition of a program from traditional PM to Agile happens, stakeholders and the team must consider two significant aspects:

  1. The Product Owner must focus on optimizing the value of the development team’s output. Developers rely on the PO prioritizing the most important work first.
  2. The development team can only accept work as its members have the capacity for it. The PO must not push work to the team or commit them to arbitrary deadlines.

What are the mechanisms Agile programs use to organize work in an iterative way?

  • Roadmaps that demonstrate how a product develops over time. As the program develops, the roadmap will change.
  • Requirements that represent lightweight descriptions of required functionality (rather than the long-read documents associated with traditional projects).
  • A backlog that sets priorities for the Agile program.

Steps to Implement Agile Program Management

Depending on the organization, Agile program management can mean different things.

It can be associated with implementing the Agile method, while for others it can mean effective management of multiple Agile projects. Anyway, to implement Agile program management, you should follow some essential phases:

  1. Developing a structure and procedures to control all operations and setting up essential metrics.
  2. Ensuring that the program aligns with the goals and objectives of the company.
  3. Assurance that the program is validated and verified.
  4. Conducting regular reviews (to ensure that all involved are on the same page).
  5. Integration – ensuring that all pieces fall into place to create a coherent whole.
  6. A proper resource allocation.
  7. Considering the costs of managing a program.
  8. Developing a plan.
  9. Continuous improvement – developing new capabilities that will improve the program.

Conclusion

The goal of Agile program management is to continuously improve value for both the company and the stakeholders through various activities. Program managers help organizations to adapt to changes, uncertainty, and instability in the market in a swift and efficient way.

Do you have experience in Agile program management? What does an Agile program manager do in your company? Do not hesitate to share your thoughts and experience.