To successfully scale agile, organizations need to know how software development is tracking against business priorities. This gives executives visibility into the status and progress of projects, and helps project management sleep at night. The tricky part, however, is figuring out how to link agile development to high-level deliverables.
At Atlassian, we believe that the first step is a strong foundation in agile practices. Step two is understanding how to match your tools to your organization’s agile needs. How should you group work streams? What do you want to see in a report? Answering these questions will help every great company scale agile, link development to business strategies, and ensure that teams are aligned to deliver valuable software to customers.
Introducing programs in Portfolio for Jira
Programs, a new feature in Portfolio for Jira, gives customers an aggregated view of multiple plans. A plan is a roll-up of work items across teams and projects; think of plans as a way to track streams of work like mobile or platform. By using programs, program managers, product leadership, and executives can see how these different streams of work are tracking against high-level business priorities, all with Jira Software data.
Pro tip: Programs are not to be confused with the SAFe term program. But it can be used to support a SAFe method. Check out our white paper to learn about how to use Atlassian tools with SAFe.
At Atlassian, one of our development managers, Niall O’Riordan, uses the programs feature to track work across four plans (he hopes to add a fifth plan soon). Niall is concerned with answering questions like, what is everyone working on? And, what is going well? What is not going well? At the end of the day, it is his responsibility to see how work in progress is tracking, course correct if need be, and communicate to other stakeholders important status updates.
Niall set up his plans to represent a different function and/or product within the Jira product family: Jira Software, Jira Service Desk, Portfolio for Jira, ecosystem, and integrations. Each plan pulls in the appropriate issue sources from Jira Software. Niall likes to use boards to track his teams’ progress, so for example, his Jira Service Desk plan pulls in three different boards and represent three different teams within the Jira Service Desk development team. Niall uses this plan to get visibility across the teams to understand dependencies and resource management. But all Jira family products work within the same code base, which means that the Jira Service Desk team overlaps with the integrations team, and more importantly, all of the teams that Niall is tracking have overlapping high-level business priorities that they are working towards.
Unlimited issue hierarchy in Portfolio for Jira
One of the key features in Portfolio for Jira is the unlimited issue hierarchy. In reality this means that you can assign work items to an issue hierarchy above epics. At Atlassian we call this level “initiatives,” but many companies have added new issue types to match their company’s own terminology. Dutch bank, ABN AMRO, is a great example of this. They use two levels above the epic to group work items into value streams and then business units. They name value streams “episodes” and business units “sagas.”
Niall, like ABN AMRO, takes advantage of the unlimited issue hierarchy and calls the level above epics, initiatives. For Niall, initiatives reflect big rocks, high-level strategic objectives, that have an end date. Initiatives can spread across multiple plans, which is why programs is so important. It is with programs that you can see how initiatives track across multiple plans. In Niall’s Jira family program, he has each plan in its own swimlane and looks at the schedule of his team’s work at the initiative level. When he clicks on an initiative in the program view, it highlights the initiative for each plan and shows the progress of work for that initiative in each plan. And for quick insight into how more granular things are tracking, Niall uses the schedule view to zero in on how a plan, release, and time is progressing using the filter.
The other view in programs, called the scope view, includes a scope table of all the initiatives in a program. The scope view lets you navigate the issue hierarchy tree even if issues are from different boards, projects, or plans. This gives someone like Niall a way to see the smaller pieces of work that might be a risk and cause a delay to larger business priorities. For example, if Niall sees that an initiative is In Progress with a scheduled due date fast approaching, but only 15% of the work complete, Niall can see which epics are lagging and why.
And instead of having to look at the issue details in another tab, Niall uses the issue details within the scope view to look at dependencies and scheduling factors. All of the important Jira Software data that he would otherwise need to comb through is in one view; no more shoulder tapping or scouring for links in Jira Software using JQL or a great memory. Niall has all of the information that he needs to know what is going well and if not, why.
Focus on what matters with Portfolio for Jira
Niall is a great example of a simple use-case for programs. He wants to get visibility into what is going well and what is not. If something does not look right, like work items in the scope view are all blue when you should see some green and yellow, Niall has the information to diagnose what is wrong and the correct action item like contacting the epic assignee.
If he needs to bring it to the attention of a larger group, he has the added benefit of a programs acting like a high-level report that is digestible and easily shared. This works well for ad hoc check in with an executive, but also for recurring status updates like a scrum of scrums meeting. Niall just needs to show the different programs views to communicate at a high-level how work is tracking. And since everything is connected in real-time to your Jira Software data, you know that whatever you are looking at gives you a snapshot into how agile development is tracking against business priorities.
Want more information on programs? Check out the release notes to learn how to focus on what matters, dive into issues with more detail, and keep track of the progress of your portfolio.