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May 07, 2024

Everything you need to know about Agile Program Management

Agile Roadmapping Portfolio-level Management Project Management
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

The Agile mindset revolutionized project management in all kinds of industries. But what about more complex initiatives with multiple related projects, aka programs?

Believe it or not, you can also manage programs in a more flexible way. That’s what Agile program management is all about. Let’s delve deeper into this topic — its key characteristics, benefits, and best practices.

What is Agile program management?

Agile program management is an iterative approach to planning, executing, and launching multi-project initiatives.

Agile programs aim to foster alignment with organizational objectives, deliver value to customers, shorten delivery cycles, and improve quality with each iteration by implementing customer feedback.

There are several differences between project and program management. The first one is the scope – one project versus multiple projects. Multiple projects require more managers to plan and manage and more teams to deliver them.

A visual comparison between program management and project management.

Aligning and coordinating those teams in an Agile manner means that frameworks like Scrum or XP won’t be effective — they work best in a small team. Instead, you can use scaled Agile frameworks like Scrum@Scale or Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), to name a few.

Why is program management important?

Program management brings critical benefits to your organization:

  • Creates space to work by definition — Program management is the structured framework that enables organizations to run multiple related projects simultaneously to achieve a common goal.

  • Saves money — Program management allows better management and resource allocation. Projects that are part of the program can complement each other and share the resources, meaning they don’t need higher budgeting.

  • Improves visibility and project tracking — You can see different tasks and issues within other projects. This visibility enables you to spot potential problems, threats, and risks within projects, especially when they can collide, and manage dependencies effectively.

  • Highlights best projects — Seeing many different projects within one program, you can compare and measure them to see which is the most promising and which should be dropped.

  • Aligns with the business objectives — Program management is important because it brings business value and saves money. Remember, stakeholders want to see the results of each project, and proper management helps to achieve the desired results.

How does Agile fit into program management?

Agile is a good choice for program management because it prioritizes value and customers’ needs. It’s much more flexible than the Waterfall (Classic) approach, and its iterative nature makes it much easier to pivot or add features customers need.

On top of that, Agile teams work cross-functionally, so they have all the competencies needed to deliver the project. Plus, they rely on their shared knowledge and skills instead of documentation. It applies to the program level, too.

Management has less of an impact on the project in Agile than Waterfall because Agile teams manage their work. They’re empowered to make decisions. Keep in mind, though, that without management, coordination across teams would be inefficient at best.

Roles and responsibilities in Agile program management

Any program would easily fall apart without the right people being responsible for specific areas. Keep in mind that the list depends on a variety of factors. For example, an organization that creates products will need a product manager. However, some industries don’t develop products at all. For those businesses, project managers are the equivalent of product managers. Here’s a short list of the most common roles in Agile program management:

1. Program managers manage and control the program’s life cycle daily. Also, their responsibilities include managing risks, issues, potential problems within teams, and budgets. They serve as the main coordinators and communicators with stakeholders.

2. Product managers ensure that the product roadmap is accurate, up-to-date, and aligned — and the importance of the roadmap cannot be overstated. Product managers work closely with program managers to determine what, when, and how to build to optimize organizational resources and meet customer needs.

4. Project managers plan, track, and oversee projects and ensure the deliverables are timely, within budget, and aligned with the goals. Project managers work with program managers to ensure alignment between the two levels.

5. System architects are the business and technology experts. They look at business plans and goals, analyze technical solutions, and create recommendations for the correct IT elements to achieve those objectives.

6. Business owners establish and operate an organization to profit from its successful operations. Business owners also own the assets of the firm or entity they formed, from which they earn passive or active income, and are the legal proprietors of a business.

7. Scrum Master ensures that the values, pillars, and practices of Scrum are implemented in the team. The Scrum Master is accountable for the team’s effectiveness and helps the team improve their efficiency.

How to implement Agile program management?

Implementing an Agile approach to program management is not a push of a button. But keeping these tips in mind will make it easier.

1. Think about the right framework — As mentioned earlier, Agile is an approach, an overall philosophy. But you also need a proper framework. There are many different approaches, such as Kanban, Scrum, or scaling agile frameworks, i.e., LeSS, Scrum of Scrums, or Disciplined Agile. Each of those frameworks has advantages that work best for specific work environments. How do you know which framework will suit you best? Well, you might need help from…

2. Agile Coach for a smooth transition — Someone who knows everything about Agile? That sounds like a good choice! An Agile coach is a mediator, facilitator, and advisor who will help implement Agile’s rules and adjust them to your teams’ needs.

3. Remember about four principles — It’s well known, but it’s also worth mentioning that there are four core principles of Agile:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

4. Remember about core components — Agile program management has some core elements. These are primarily events like Daily, Review, Planning, and Retrospective. Without them, Agile program management would fail, as cross-collaboration and cooperation between and within teams are crucial elements to succeed with the Agile approach.

Agile program management best practices

Remember to apply these best practices to ensure your Agile program runs smoothly. Think of them as useful tenets that support collaboration, decision-making, and goal-setting.

1. Be as transparent as possible — An open culture and encouraging people to share their opinions and ideas work miracles.

2. Communicate with each other — Sometimes, the best ideas come from a simple talk or sharing your thoughts and doubts.

3. Make sure every voice is heard… — Making people feel important boosts morale.

4. …but filter out bad ideas – being assertive is the ability to say “no” when necessary. It’s not about hurting people’s feelings but being a good manager.

5. Don’t be afraid to drop projects that don’t show promise – The budget is not a bottomless pit. It’s better to reallocate resources to more promising projects than be stuck with those who will lead your team nowhere.

6. Interdependence keeps the budget steady — One team made a feature that improves other teams’ work? Great, implement it and reap the financial benefits.

7. Present a realistic deadline: Don’t overpromise — One of the easiest ways to put your team in crunch mode, or worse, the death march, is setting an impossible deadline.

8. In case of failure, organize a Retrospective instead of pointing fingers – don’t look for someone to blame. Instead, gather your team to talk about past Iteraton and analyze the areas for improvement.

9. Treat failure as a lesson — Not all projects and programs succeed, but every initiative is an opportunity to learn and improve.

How BigPicture helps manage Agile programs

Without the right software, Agile program management can be a nightmare. But not all Project Portfolio Management apps support scaled Agile methodologies, so they may not provide you with the right environment to ease your program management duties.

If your organization manages work in Jira and you want to take Agile program management to the next level, use BigPicture. The app is compatible with scaled Agile frameworks like SAFe® or Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), so you can plan, track, and coordinate teams of teams in a way that fits your approach best.

Here are four more reasons why BigPicture is your best choice for managing multi-project Agile initiatives:

Complete view of the program

High-level or granular management? Why not both? With BigPicture, you can see your Agile program in detail. The Agile roadmap module serves as the command center of your initiative. The Work Breakdown Structure shows the program’s structure, and the timeline displays the scope and dependencies.

See the complete structure of your entire Agile program, along with neatly visualized goals, tasks, and dependencies.

 

Use the Board module for a more detailed view of a Program Increment or specific iterations. The Kanban-style board contains task cards you can customize to display the information you want to see. Capacity warnings let you know if too much work is allocated and the Sprint or Iteration may not delivered on time. The module displays cross-iteration and cross-increment dependencies, too.

Get a full view of the Iteration or Program Increment on an Agile Board.

Cross-project dependencies

Programs often contain tasks connected across iterations or projects. If you need more visibility into the dependencies between work across the program managed by different teams, BigPicture can help you visualize and manage it all.

Drag-and-drop and in-line editing make creating and modifying dependencies fast and easy. And you can make changes without leaving the full view of your program — no more clicking through screens without additional context.

Data-based resource management

Assigning people or teams to projects without knowing their workload first is counterproductive. BigPicture makes it easy to see the workload and capacity of everyone participating in the program.

Want to manage resources across the program? Use BigPicture’s Resources module.

 

Color-coded bars provide insights at a glance and make allocation decisions easier. Seeing the list of tasks assigned to each team member across the program or team and their capacity makes holistic resource management possible.

“Find a perfect match” suggests alternative assignees with matching skill sets and availability to handle a task if the original assignee is overloaded with other work.

Use capacity planning to ensure your team can deliver the iteration’s scope. Set the workload limit for each individual or team. That way, you can accurately accommodate varying efficiencies of Agile team members.

Manage capacity planning for teams and individuals for each Program Increment in BigPicture.

 

Seamless two-way integration with Jira

BigPicture is a powerful PPM app for enterprise-level project and portfolio management.  And it integrates with Jira, so your data stays synced and your project teams stay aligned.

Team members manage and update their work in Jira, and the data flows immediately into BigPicture. And if you make changes to project scope, assignees, or any other aspect of the program in BigPicture, Jira is automatically updated, as well. So your team can keep using the work management software of their choice without any friction.

See for yourself!