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Ten Agile Concepts Applied to Program Management (1-5)

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Author: Michel Thiry     Source: LinkedIn
As I will deliver an Agile Program Management Seminar for PMI SeminarsWorld on 23-24 June, I thought I would share some of the agile concepts that the seminar will cover. I have identified 10 agile concepts and this post covers the first five, I will post the next five next week.

1. Customer Centricity/Stakeholder Engagement
This principle is central to good program management as well as agile, whatever the approach used, stakeholders should be engaged from the beginning and customers/sponsors should actively be involved in decision-making and decision execution; this is what, in agile, is called: Continuous Business Owner Engagement.

People are motivated to achieve goals which they value and which are achievable. When I manage a program, I always apply the concept of Goal-Setting Motivation; it is based on three basic precepts:
1) The perception of the goal’s ‘value’: how much they feel involved in the setting and choice of the goals? This is covered by a good stakeholder analysis and needs and expectations elicitation.

2) The ‘achievability’ of the outcome: Is the balance between skills and difficulty to realize the objectives acceptable? This accomplished through a formal achievability (or overall risk) analysis.

3) The perceived rate of achievement: Is it easy to measure the status of objectives realisation vs actual? The setting of intermediate benefits and of the program pace is an essential job to cover this issue.

2. Minimum Business Increment (MBI)/Benefits & Value
Typically, a project delivers outputs that create capabilities. If well transitioned, capabilities produce outcomes that result in benefits; and benefits, once integrated in the business, generate value.

An MBI is the smallest increment of value that can be realistically achieved through the delivery of benefits and result in business stakeholder satisfaction. The program team, when defining intermediate benefits, will seek to identify MBIs with the business stakeholders and project teams.

I always try, within a program, to focus project charters, plans and monitoring on the key deliverables that directly contribute to benefits and produce business value, therefore enabling MBIs.

3. Program Increments (PIs)/Program Pacing
The program life cycle is composed of a series of cycles, or PIs. The program team must consider expected benefits, the degree of predictability of the outcome, and the preparedness of the organization for change when setting their program increments. The pace is based on significant features or benefits; it is why I typically use a flow-based approach to define the program increments.

The program team sets its initial objectives and expected benefits based on stakeholder elicitation; as outputs are delivered incrementally by project teams, they are reviewed with the stakeholders and requirements are adjusted iteratively. Because teams release benefits (MBIs) incrementally and as early as possible, the program provides earlier return on investment because the team focuses on delivering highest value work first.

4. Rolling Wave Planning/Program Cycles
In a program, because of its complexity and volatility, it is difficult to plan in detail to the conclusion. Typically, one should be able to estimate the next cycle in detail, but the overall program is assessed at high-level. This is what agile practitioners call Rolling Wave Planning. Rolling Wave plans are evolving plans that describe work in detail for next cycle and more broadly for further cycles.

I have used this approach in multiple elements of the program, particularly the Business Case where I promote a tiered approach from outline to preliminary, and definitive through an incremental & iterative decision process. I also use this approach for budgeting where you take a holistic approach to define a high-level outline, but a detailed budget for next cycle.

In planning, the program team should focus on the next benefits to be delivered and progressively update future program cycles. Finally, the roadmap will display a high-level outline and detailed actions for next cycle; it will be continually updated to reflect changes as the program progresses.

5. Roadmap
The roadmap is a high-level plan that captures the vision of the program. It dislays the key benefits that will be delivered and milestones for their delivery. An incremental deliverable that is functional and provides value is also the primary measure for progress.

I also believe that interfaces between projects, or workstreams, should be outlined in the roadmap. In agile we try to reduce interdependence between teams to improve their effectiveness, but those dependencies that remain must be managed at program level.

Effective roadmaps take a rolling-wave approach and are adjusted regularly to reflect changes in the program; they allow the team to gain early feedback and provides customer visibility, confidence, and control of the product. 
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