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March 20, 2023

Demystifying initiatives and initiative templates in BigPicture and BigGantt

BigGantt Portfolio-level Management Project Management System Administration
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Initiatives and initiative types, called “boxes” and “box types” respectively, are the core concept in BigPicture and BigGantt. They are highly flexible and secure means for creating and managing any type of initiative or a group of initiatives, be it a Hybrid project or portfolio. In this post, we will explain what initiatives/boxes and templates are. And then, discuss the key characteristics that make a project, program, and project portfolio management easy.

Understanding initiatives and projects in management

An initiative is a comprehensive plan an organization runs to introduce a new value or achieve a long-term goal that supports the organization’s business strategy. In simple terms, an initiative is meant to improve something or solve a specific problem. Larger, strategic initiatives can comprise multiple projects. An organization can also run several initiatives together whose goals help fulfill the common vision.

A project, on the other hand, is a temporary undertaking that aims to create a unique product, service, or another similar result. It requires a collective effort from various stakeholders, including managers and teams. A project also has a defined scope, constraints, budget, and completion timeframe. Organizations launch projects typically to address a stakeholder’s need and contribute toward a larger initiative.

In summary, both initiatives and projects focus on delivering something. Initiatives represent plans or actions which indicate their strategic nature. Whereas projects are much more precise and link tasks with strategic planning. Therefore, projects have an operational character.

The meaning of boxes (initiatives) in BigPicture and BigGantt

An initiative in BigPicture and BigGantt has a bit broader meaning in a way that it does not define upfront what kind of undertaking you want to launch and manage. It could be a strategic initiative, a project, a program, a portfolio, or something else. Therefore, think of BigPicture initiatives as conceptual containers, or storage boxes if you will, that can hold any Jira data you put inside.

Unlike regular physical cardboard boxes, initiative boxes provide you with everything you need to work with the box contents. They also do not limit you as to what and in what quantity you want to put in. What does it mean? Let’s start with the first advantage.

One initiative box where you can store unlimited content

Imagine you are moving out so you need to pack up all the items from your kitchen, bedroom, living room, and so on. The more people living in the house, the more items to pack. Typically, you would not be able to fit all the belongings in one box due to the quantity, size, or weight. But initiative boxes are different.

No matter the size of the project or the complexity of the portfolio, one initiative box can hold any amount of items. These could be components, Jira issues, Sprints, and versions within one project. Or dozens of other projects sitting under one large strategic initiative or program. (More on it later.)

A Hybrid project consisting of several sub-boxes (here: iteration and stage timeboxes). Each of those sub-boxes can additionally hold thousands of epics, milestones, stories, or tasks and have separate resources/teams assigned to them.

 

Moreover, you can combine the contents of one initiative box with the contents of another. For instance, you might need to create an initiative to hold tasks belonging to multiple boxes. This way, you narrow down the scope of your work to the granularity level of your choice and retain all the features that allow you to manage all the important areas of your initiative.

Dedicated modules let you manage all key areas of your initiatives

As we mentioned earlier, projects and other undertakings, are bound to several factors that you also need to take care of. Typically, those are the scope, task dependencies, deadlines, and many more. Initiative boxes in BigPicture and BigGantt have these areas fully covered. You manage each area of your initiative with so-called box modules.

In BigPicture, there are 10 modules, while in BigGantt there are 2 of them. Each module helps you manage one of the core areas of your initiative in its unique way.

A comparison of modules availability in BigPicture and BigGantt.

 

You decide which individual modules you want to enable or disable. It means you can even use a Gantt chart in an Agile project and show Scrum Sprints against a Classic timeline.

Keeping all initiatives and projects under one umbrella

Initiatives comprise projects or other, smaller initiatives that can vary in size and composition. You can run in parallel several unique undertakings that can be part of something larger or exist independently. For instance, you can have multiple interrelated projects forming programs and portfolios and a few temporary timeboxes on a side.

So the bottom line is that your organization can have different projects and initiatives going on that make up unique structures. And the idea is to keep them under one umbrella and manage them efficiently. This is where the concept of a box, or the generally termed initiative comes in very handy. Here’s how.

Initiative structures on a smaller scale

Earlier, we talked briefly about how one initiative box can hold multiple items, ranging from Jira issues to even other boxes. They can also include items specific to a given initiative. For example, a SAFe® Agile Release Train (ART) would comprise three levels of boxes: the ART itself (sitting at the top), followed by Program Increments that are further broken down into a series of Iterations.

A SAFe® Agile Release Train initiative box with its respective sub-boxes (Overview module).

 

Here, the ART, PIs, and Iterations are all initiative boxes that you can manage individually. For instance, customize their views, configure scope, allocate resources, add and update stories, and much more. Depending on what you want to do, enable respective modules within each initiative box and you are good to go.

This SAFe® program can be a standalone initiative box or part of the bigger structure present in your organization. On a larger scale, the idea of boxes works in a very similar way.

Stacking up initiatives to form complex hierarchies

In the previous example, the ART initiative was the most parent box of the entire structure. But as you put several initiative boxes inside another overarching box, you can scale the hierarchy up into programs and project or initiative portfolios.

The hierarchy of initiative boxes.

 

In other words, just like you can stack one cardboard box onto another, you can do the same with your initiatives to build relationships between them. This will let you track the overall progress of your strategic initiatives on a high level. And then, navigate down the individual (smaller) box to also monitor and manage it.

Such a parent-child relationship has an additional advantage: settings inheritance.

Settings inheritance from parent initiative boxes

The Inheritance mode lets you pass some of the configuration elements of an upper-level initiative onto lower-level initiatives. When you enable this mode, the sub-initiative (sub-box) will inherit the settings from all upper-level initiatives (not only from a direct parent). So if you make a change in settings in one element on a parent level, all children along the line will have their settings updated.

There are a few specific settings a sub-initiative can inherit and you can set each of them separately. It means that one of those configuration elements will be hereditary and the other will not.

Children of the upper-level initiatives can inherit the following elements:

  • Risks Card Views
  • Quick Filters
  • Column Views
  • Task Templates
  • Security settings

Let’s have an example. Below you can see a demo hierarchy of boxes arranged into portfolios and standalone initiatives.

SAFe ART program with its children (PIs) and grandchildren (Iterations).

 

Iterations under the “SAFe ART (Smart House)” program are children of their respective “Program Increment” parents. Those Increments are children of the SAFe ART program, which, in turn, is a child of “Home.” If you make some changes to the Quick Filters on the SAFe ART level, the children below set to inherit Quick Filter settings will also have them changed.

Preconfigured initiative templates you can customize

Initiative boxes in BigPicture, just like the ones you use for packaging, come in different shapes and sizes to enable contents to fit them perfectly. What it means is that instead of setting up a blank initiative box from the very scratch, you can speed up your work using a dedicated template. The initiative templates (box types) come with pre-configured settings typical for each type of initiative.

Currently, there are 11 built-in templates available in BigPicture and 4 in BigGantt.

Initiative templates in BigPicture.

 

In BigGantt, the Agile project, Iteration, Program, and Stage templates are available by default.

Let’s say you need to manage a variety of individual projects or initiatives. Therefore, you might want to choose a Portfolio template that will allow you to store Agile, Classic, and Hybrid types of projects by default.

Customizing the existing template settings

But what if you want to add projects of other types to your portfolio? Then you can easily customize the template settings to accept other projects to its hierarchy. The hierarchy settings (Parent types) are important as they define whether you are allowed to nest certain initiative box types under specific parents.

The settings page for the Portfolio type initiative template. The “Basics” section lets you change the name, prefix, and description. You can also define which other box types the Portfolio box will store (“Parent types”).

 

Moreover, according to the settings menu on the left-hand-site, you can customize the Overview and the Risks modules. What about the remaining modules? These two modules are enabled in this particular initiative template by default. If you think you will need other modules to manage your portfolio items better, you can enable and disable them anytime (General > Modules).

Likewise, you are free to fine-tune other settings to make the box perfectly fit your initiative. You can customize any template this way, no matter whether it would be a parent element in your hierarchy (e.g., a project or portfolio) or a child (e.g., a Hybrid Stage or Program Increment).

However, despite the rich selection of templates, it might happen that none of them are what your initiative needs. What then? You can create a custom template to reuse for managing your unique projects.

Custom initiative templates

A custom template is a feature exclusive to BigPicture Enterprise. It allows users to create their very own templates from the scratch. It is a blank box that does not come with any pre-define settings—until you fully configure it so that it can serve as a template you can reuse again and again.

Alternatively, you can duplicate the existing template that you think has the configuration closest to what you need. And then, rename it and adjust its settings.

Please note that BigPicture and BigGantt users can have up to 11 templates in total. If you would like to add another one, you will need to delete one template to make room for a new one. Or, as suggested above, customize the existing template that would replace the default one. BigPicture Enterprise users, on the other hand, can create and store an unlimited number of initiative templates in the app.

Individual security settings for every initiative

Apart from the global app security roles that decide who can log into the app and see its contents, you can also grant or restrict access at the initiative level. When you create a new initiative, for example, a new funding campaign using a Program initiative template, you automatically become a Box Admin for that particular initiative. 

As a Box Admin, you can allow individuals or a group of users to view the initiative (Box Viewer) or edit its contents (Box Editor). This way, your program team members with Box Editor permissions can, for example, freely update their tasks. Other stakeholders who do not directly work on your program can take a look at how the work progresses and export the selected views—but without introducing any changes (Box Viewers).

Furthermore, when you add another sub-initiative to your current program, your current initiative users will inherit their permissions from the upper-level initiatives. This way, you do not need to configure the security settings every time you create a new initiative (e.g., a Program Increment timebox).

Security settings for the Hybrid Project initiative template. Here, you add users and user groups to their respective roles which the consecutive sub-initiatives will inherit.

 

And since you have created your fundraising box using the initiative template, the security settings were already pre-configured for this particular template. (As a Box Admin, you can customize those settings if needed.)