Saturday, January 11, 2014

SAFe Release Planning Tip 1 - Execute your launch as an Agile Project for the Leadership team of the Train

When it comes to launching a train, the SAFe material talks a lot about the "Quick Start".  It's the 1 week "all in" launch process, which basically looks like this:

  • Monday and Tuesday - all teams trained together in SAFe ScrumXP
  • Wednesday and Thursday - Release Planning Event #1
  • Friday - Specialised Breakout training for ScrumMasters and Product Owners.

This is the packaged, high energy launch week Dean and the guys at Scaled Agile have rolled out again and again over the years as they launch trains.

What's not really covered, however, is the pre-work that goes in to making sure that week will be successful.  At SPC training, a whole day is spent on the launch process .. but still, the material there is heavy on how to run the quick-start and light on how to prepare for it.  This, of course, is the space in which the experienced consultants are meant to shine :)

The pragmatic reality is that (in my experience at least), there is 6-10 weeks of solid work to prepare for this.  Whilst the first PSI planning event is really what gives birth to the ART, I think of this time as the gestation period.  Some people may do it faster, but the most recent train I helped launch did it in 6 weeks and they were very very hectic.

My personal belief is that this is the perfect time to start to lay the foundation for success, and the foundation of the Lean House is Leadership.   It's an ideal opportunity for the new train's leadership team to conceive and execute on the launch as an agile team delivering an agile project.  This post from a couple of years ago covered some of the fruits that emerged the first time a team I was coaching took this approach.  I believe the benefits are three-fold:

  • The success of the launch is owned by the leadership team rather than the consultant
  • The leadership team gets to learn Agile by doing it themselves
  • The leadership team gets Fast Feedback on their project as challenges and triumphs emerge at the PSI Planning event

The approach is predicated on the following sequence of events once you have "found your train":

  • The leadership team of the train does the Leading SAFe course together
  • This is followed by an inception or visioning workshop where the launch backlog is created
  • The leadership team executes on the launch backlog over 3 to 5 2-week sprints
  • PSI Planning occurs

Leading SAFe

This is the 2-day SAFe course designed for the leadership group of a release train.  There are two ways of approaching it.  The temptation for many is to bring the IT leadership group in for training, then have them "evangelise to the business".  However, for me this misses a golden opportunity.

Agile success is predicated on strong cross-functional collaboration.  Traditionally, we look at cross-functional as "devs, testers and BA's" - at scale, our cross-functional leadership team involves sponsors, product management, architecture, operations, delivery and other stakeholders.  Learning together is a powerful kick-start to shared understanding, take the opportunity to bring your cross-functional leadership team together for the Leading SAFe course.  The discussions will be far richer, and early alignment far stronger.

I also make a slight variation to the course in this context.  I like to finish with 30-45 minutes where the group works together to generate a set of key insights and ways in which they are convicted change needs to start.

The Visioning/Inception Workshop

Ideally, this should occur within a week of the Leading SAFe course.  The objective is to create a vision and a backlog for the launch preparation activities.  Participants should be some or all of the leaders who attended Leading SAFe.

My first recommendation here is to live by the SAFe mantra "Fix the date, float the scope".  Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for the launch date.  If it doesn't feel slightly uncomfortable, it's not ambitious enough.  Whether you take 6 weeks or 6 months to launch, the train won't really start learning and growing together until they're all in the room for that first PSI planning event.

In terms of how to structure this workshop, it really depends on how you like to facilitate.  Every SPC gets a "PSI readiness checklist", and one approach would be to use this as a foundation.  Personally, I'd rather the team generates the plan themselves.  My latest (and favourite) structure for the workshop progresses through a series of questions:

  • Where did we leave off?
  • What will success look like?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What needs to be done?
  • How will we do it?
  • When will we do it?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What did we learn in this workshop?

The material for "Where we left off" is a recap of the final take-aways they generated in Leading SAFe.  For the rest of it, it's flip charts, post-its and your favourite facilitation techniques.  I keep a big picture of the PSI planning "inputs/outputs" visual on the wall, and inject 4 framing themes into "what needs to be done?"

  • Program Backlog
  • Team Formation/Preparation
  • Operating Model
  • Logistics

You should exit the room with a vision, a well-formed backlog prioritised into sprints, and an agreement for leadership team cadence executing on the backlog.

Executing on the launch backlog

You now have a backlog full of stories about booking venues, grooming the program backlog, forming and training teams.  Hopefully, you have a leadership group excited about working together as an Agile team to deliver those stories.  Most likely very few of them have ever actually done so.  Now it's time for them to learn Scrum by doing, ably served by the Release Train Engineer acting as the scrum-master.  Sprint planning, stand ups, backlog grooming, showcases (to the teams of course), retrospectives and a kanban wall are the order of the day.

Some of the things to look for:

  • Shared understanding forming across leadership silos as they plan, execute and retrospect together
  • The team understanding the way a backlog "responds to change" as they learn the flaws and gaps in their launch plan as they execute against it
  • A real understanding of "MVP" emerging as the PSI planning date nears and the team makes hard priority calls about "what really has to be done to be ready" versus "what would have been ideal".
  • The team understanding the value of dedicated teams as they struggle to make headway against the distractions of their "BAU work".  This is often demonstrated by a near zero velocity in the first sprint.
  • Transparent lean leadership in evidence as the team showcases their results to the teams on the train-to-be.

PSI Planning

The event itself is the subject of many posts to come, but in the context of the "launch project", I have one extremely strong recommendation.  Very soon after the Release Planning occurs, the leadership team needs to run an "Inspect and Adapt" against their launch plan.  This sets the scene for the preparation for Release Planning #2.

What's Next?

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