Programmes are more than Big Projects

Some projects deliver products and some programmes also deliver products. The difference is the goal. The goal of those projects is to deliver the product. However, the goal of these programmes is to deliver benefits deriving from the new product. I’ve written about the difference between programme, project, portfolio and product management before, but feel in need of a new rant – a rant brought on by DAD.
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Purpose Finding: Only solve problems you need to

Brian Williamson has commented that although “problem-solving is important and good when you are stuck. I’m convinced we are in need of some more purpose finding.” I agree and finding purpose manifests in several places in my approach.
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Example of Day to Day Governance on an Agile Programme

You’d think I couldn’t win. Senior corporate managers are nervous that I am doing unconventional agile stuff, without those reassuring Gantt charts or status reports and hardly any formal minutes. Agilists are horrified that I advocate Agile Governance.

This conflict isn’t impossible it is just one of many places where I can demonstrate that Agile practices aid traditional processes/goals. In this case programme/project governance. I start from the position that governance is not contrary to Agile, it is built in. Rather than less governance my Agile programme actually has more governance than is the norm and is is safer as a consequence. Given this position is fairly controversial I thought I’d explain how I go about governance at the moment. I’ll give you a clue – there is a lot of talking.
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Benefits Map: Impact Mapping for Programme Managers

Gojko Adzic has recently published a great book on a technique he calls “Impact Mapping”. Gojko’s Impact Maps are a visualisation of the business drivers and the associated project scope. This means the people doing the work (developers, UX, testers, etc) know what to build but also why they are building the functionality, how the functionality fulfils the business outcome and and who the functionality is for. Love it.

As it happens Programme Managers already have a very similar tool for a similar purpose. Benefits Maps, like Impact Maps, are used to visualise business drivers and associated scope, in this case programme scope. They answer two key questions:

  • Why are we doing the programme?
  • How will we realise the benefits?

The dual function – showing why and how – make Benefits Map high value documents. It also means a Benefits Map can easily morph into the initial Programme Blueprint. For a simple programme the Benefits Map may be the only Blueprint. And the diagram format means it fits on one page. Even in a world where we value “Working software over comprehensive documentation” that one page is worth having.
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A Clear Vision is Essential for Agile Programme Management

Search the Lean-Agile literature and you’ll struggle to find much mention of vision. Agile is all about short planning horizons, releasing stuff early and often, and learning. And a vision doesn’t necessarily help with that.

My direction? Anywhere. Because one is always nearer by not keeping still

The quote is from Engleby by Sebastian Faulks (cited Good Reads) and pretty much sums up the Agile attitude. Movement is the key rather than the direction of movement. Most Agile initiatives (i.e. projects and product development) are simply about building high priority stuff now, so it is no wonder that the Lean-Agile methods are relatively silent about the future.

In contrast a programme is about organisation change and the vision helps define the future state and attract buy-in – it is a “Postcard from the future”. A clear vision is an essential mechanism for staying aligned with business strategy. Alignment is, of course, one of my three threads within Agile Programme Management. The vision should be stable; not static but broadly resistant to change. Despite Agilists desire to “Embrace Change” a radically changing vision suggests the programme is no longer aligned with strategy and hence raises the question of whether the programme should be shut down.
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Three Threads within Agile Programme Management

The way I see it Agile Programme Management weaves together three threads: Transformation, Alignment and Adaptation. These threads are present in traditional approaches to programme management however an Agile approach subtlety changes each and increases the focus on Adaptation.

In this, the first post in a new series on Agile Programme Management, I’ll explain the three threads within Agile Programme Management.
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