INC. BEST WORKPLACES Q&A
The TGG team is excited to share that last month The Gunter Group was named to Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces list for 2022! This was the second year in a row that TGG was recognized with this national honor from Inc.
When announcing the 2022 winners Scott Omelianuk, Editor-in-Chief of Inc. Magazine stated:
“The competition this year was tough—thousands of best-in-class companies competed to make the Best Workplaces list, agreeing to employee surveys that determined which participants had the most satisfied teams. All winners have something special in common: a culture that encourages people in a way that allows teams to stay strong in the office or in one’s home office—even if the home office is at the kitchen table! That kind of leadership and the resilience it creates are worth celebrating!”
To highlight what the award means to TGGers everywhere, we visited with three team members located across the Western United States.
What does the Inc. Magazine Best Workplaces Award mean to you as a member of the TGG team?
Josh Eife (Denver): As a newer employee, I am not surprised by this recognition because it was evident during the interview process that TGG is a special place. I have not seen an organization as committed to their employees while serving clients in the right way, and this award validates that personal observation.
Tracy Bell (Seattle): It acknowledges how I feel as an engaged employee – I work for a company that cares about its employees and supports them to grow and learn. I feel this every day. An award is confirmation that others feel the same.
Jim Calko (Los Angeles): It’s exciting and validating for our organization to be recognized as one of the best places to work in the country. For me having been at TGG since the beginning of the journey, it’s really fulfilling to see as we all do our part to help build something special.
What makes TGG’s culture special and unique?
Jim: Authenticity and sincerity have been huge components since the beginning. Being able to show up, be your full self and be celebrated.
Tracy: TGG’s culture is special because it puts values at the center of what we do. They are foundational to how we hire and we show up for ourselves, our company, and our clients. Notably, values are an ongoing conversation at TGG which is a rare practice in and of itself.
Josh: Genuine relationships! TGG’s emphasis on hard work, doing the right thing, and making friends along the way is a rare dynamic in the working world. We are all on this journey together, and having value-based colleagues makes it a special place to work.
Interested in learning more about how our great culture comes to life? Click here and see what fuels our team, our relationships, and our work.
Ready to jump in? Our TGG team is growing and we are currently hiring! Click here to see our open positions and apply.
TGG RECOGNIZED ON NATIONAL BEST WORKPLACES LIST
For the second year in a row, The Gunter Group has been named to Inc. Magazine’s annual Best Workplaces list. Featured in the May/June 2022 issue, and prominently featured on Inc.com, the list is the result of a comprehensive measurement of American companies that have excelled in creating exceptional workplaces and company culture.
The Inc. recognition marks the thirteenth workplace award The Gunter Group has received since its inception in 2011. The honor comes as The Gunter Group successfully undertakes expansion efforts in Denver, CO, Salt Lake City, UT, and Southern California providing its management consulting services to public and private companies across a variety of industries.
Upon learning of the national recognition, Mike Gunter, founder of The Gunter Group commented:
“We are thrilled to receive this award for the second year in a row. It is a true testament to our team and the culture we have built together in our company, and continue to build as we grow our team across the country. Our goal has always been to put people first and being nationally recognized by Inc. is a great honor.”
After collecting data from thousands of submissions, Inc. selected 475 honorees this year. Each company that was nominated took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, which included topics such as management effectiveness, perks, fostering employee growth, and overall company culture. The organization’s benefits were also audited to determine overall score and ranking.
About The Gunter Group
Founded in 2011, The Gunter Group features an experienced team of consultants serving clients throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western United States. The Gunter Group prides itself on providing consulting services to a broad range of organizations spanning Fortune 100 companies to locally-based businesses. The firm has been named one of the “Best Companies to Work For” in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine for eight consecutive years and named one of the “Best Small Firms to Work For” by Consulting Magazine three years in a row. The Gunter Group currently has over 70 team members with operational hubs in Portland, Reno, Salt Lake City, and Denver.
About Inc. Media
The world’s most trusted business-media brand, Inc. offers entrepreneurs the knowledge, tools, connections, and community to build great companies. Its award-winning multiplatform content reaches more than 50 million people each month across a variety of channels including websites, newsletters, social media, podcasts, and print. Its prestigious Inc. 5000 list, produced every year since 1982, analyzes company data to recognize the fastest-growing privately held businesses in the United States. The global recognition that comes with inclusion in the 5000 gives the founders of the best businesses an opportunity to engage with an exclusive community of their peers, and the credibility that helps them drive sales and recruit talent. The associated Inc. 5000 Conference is part of a highly acclaimed portfolio of bespoke events produced by Inc. For more information, visit www.inc.com.
About Quantum Workplace
Quantum Workplace, based in Omaha, Nebraska, is an HR technology company that serves organizations through employee-engagement surveys, action-planning tools, exit surveys, peer-to-peer recognition, performance evaluations, goal tracking, and leadership assessment. For more information, visit QuantumWorkplace.com.
REAL WORK. REAL RESULTS.
PRAGMATIC AGILE IN PRACTICE
We recently published a series of articles on the topic of pragmatic Agile and how its approach and methods can impact organizations of all sizes. As a way to highlight pragmatic Agile in real life practice, we wanted to provide an example of how one of our consultants utilized pragmatic Agile while supporting a client.
Senior Consultant Rob Anteau, has been working with Agile and waterfall teams for decades. Even before joining TGG, he developed a similar perspective to the implementation of Agile. Below is a recent example of an impactful Agile adoption Rob oversaw at one of our clients.
Rob was a project manager leading an effort to modernize a software platform used by the client. The project was sponsored by “traditional IT” and many leaders dismissed Agile concepts in their initial plans, nor was that even part of their culture. Rob challenged this.
First, Rob left the Agile vocab and dogma at the door. The company culture wasn’t hospitable to the new terminology, so he didn’t push it. Rob started with a two week time-box with a planning session. The team got on board, finding freedom in the admission that they didn’t know everything at the beginning of the project.
Next, Rob introduced a retrospective, tailored specifically to his team. He framed it as a chance for the team to learn from their mistakes and to capitalize on strengths. He led by example, demonstrating what active engagement looked like.
This all required some heavy lifting on Rob’s part. He still had to create the 650 line project plan, and constantly translated the iterative work of his team into a report for leadership. He served as a lead blocker, allowing his team to iterate while he kept management informed. In the end, all parties were happy with the new setup.
Rob knew that elements of Agile would be helpful for his team, and understood he didn’t need to get there in one day. He took his time, gradually introducing elements and demonstrating their value. He didn’t need to act like the smartest guy in the room; rather, through servant leadership he demonstrated and cultivated the Agile mindset. As a result, his team experienced a mindset-shift, finding comfort in the idea that their work didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. They came to see “good enough for now” as, well… good.
This was pragmatic Agile in practice. Whether our clients need support for a wholesale digital Agile transformation or just a little help along the way, we’re excited to partner with them to meet their goals.
More about Rob Anteau:
Rob is a technical program leader who is adept at developing and executing programs utilizing agile and waterfall methodologies across multiple industries, from healthcare to the public sector. With a background in IT infrastructure, cloud migrations, network operations, and cyber security projects, Rob uses his technical expertise and business acumen to bring stakeholders together to ensure quality and timely delivery. He places importance on communication and being adaptable to a variety of environments. Understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in technology, Rob is committed to delivering a final product that is aligned with client objectives. Rob holds a B.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Vrije Universiteit as well as the following certifications; SAFe 5 Agilist, Scrum Master, ITIL, ISTQB, Prince2, Six Sigma Green Belt, and TMap. Rob is a fan of the maker movement and in particular enjoys electronics projects. His other passion is anything VW related; he owns a 1978 Westfalia.
FIRST STEPS AND HELPFUL FRAMEWORKS
(Agile Series Part 6)
In this series, we discussed different ways to apply an Agile mindset and common Agile practices in pragmatic ways that make sense for your organization and your culture. A pragmatic approach to Agile can work not only for development teams, but many other teams and departments across an organization.
The idea of adopting Agile methodologies into your organization may seem daunting. However, our experienced team has helped businesses of all sizes accomplish this exact goal, and we are confident that Agile principles can deliver meaningful results to your organization. In this article, the final entry in our series, we boil down the first steps leadership teams can take to build their Agile muscle and the frameworks to utilize along the way.
Leadership is critical for Agile to be successful, particularly for an organization trying to drive forward a large digital transformation. Leaders need to set the right culture so that iteration, transparency, and collaboration can happen without fear of failure. Leaders need to empower teams, so that they have a degree of autonomy (on how they work and what the solution is), help teams remove their impediments, and prioritize dependencies when there is an impasse.
Agile leadership is synonymous with servant leadership, but it doesn’t mean mob rule and “anything goes”. When leaders are supportive of the outcomes and the value Agile teams are delivering, as opposed to managing features or the project, leaders help cultivate an Agile organizational culture. When leaders accept the degree of uncertainty and give the teams the space to figure “it” out, this allows leaders to be less involved as managers and more focused on the strategy, identifying recurring pain points and themes to be addressed. It is important for teams and leaders to establish a cadence and process, in order to provide the right level of transparency and iterations for leaders to see what’s going on and for teams to collect feedback.
Notice that to this point there hasn’t been a reference to scrum, kanban, SAFe or any other framework. This is intentional because an organization can be successful by being Agile and not just doing Agile, which is the common reason why many Agile programs fail. A leader or organization doesn’t need to sign up for a particular framework, although they certainly can if it makes sense. There can be meaningful value in those frameworks, but a pragmatic approach to agile is a great way to start adopting those Agile values and benefiting from them.
Often the most lightweight process, with clearly defined objectives is the best approach to set up an organic, iterative approach. The Agile Manifesto, which is shorter than a paragraph, simply calls out the importance of ‘People over Process’, ‘working software over documentation’, ‘customer collaboration over negotiation’, and ‘responding to change over following a plan’. This allows for an inherently pragmatic approach for teams to iteratively work.
Agile frameworks do provide some tools and concepts that can be leveraged to help improve a process and team collaboration. This blog series called out three specific concepts that can be leveraged for an organization of any size, regardless of formal organizational “agility”. The first of these tools is the Retrospective.
Retrospectives, or retros, are powerful moments for people and teams to take a step back and reflect on things that work well that should be continued upon, but to also identify what are those opportunities where the team can do something differently. Some organizations also call these a post-mortem or in the military they are referred to as an After Action Review (AAR). The retro is a facilitated conversation so the team can be free to think and participate and is intended to be a simple tool for the team to learn.
Big Room Planning is another concept typically associated with Agile planning, but can be used universally. In a Big Room Planning session, leaders will talk about business goals for the iteration (typically a quarter, but could be a Program Increment, a PI). This is a great opportunity for leaders to inform teams how their work directly impacts the business. In addition to aligning on shared goals, the other added benefit is Big Room Planning brings teams together to plan out the work within a certain time boxed iteration.
Some leaders may question the value of pulling everyone from the teams together to stop working on what they’re currently doing, just to plan the next iteration. They may see this as an incredibly expensive meeting and push back on the value. Although there is an upfront investment for preparation, Big Room Planning can actually save meeting time, as well as reduce risk by making sure teams are clear on what work is coming up and giving them space to talk through complex problems earlier in the planning process. Regardless of whether a team is waterfall, Agile or somewhere in between, it’s an extremely valuable exercise to bring teams together to align on shared objectives and honestly talk through dependencies to plan the work through the next iteration.
As part of Big Room Planning, teams should have an understanding of how long it will take to complete certain tasks. One of the benefits of Agile is understanding flow and Velocity of a team. Velocity at its core is the simple measurement of the rate at which a team consistently delivers business value to an organization’s customers. Teams that understand their Velocity can more predictably and sustainably deliver value, which can protect teams from burnout, as well as give leadership more confidence in estimated delivery targets.
All of these concepts and techniques are ways to apply Agile concepts to your organization, regardless of if you’re “Agile” or not. Each organization is different and therefore “Agile” will show up differently, which is perfectly fine. The changes required for Agile to thrive can be hard and take time.
Our team at TGG can help you experience the benefits of Agile work streams without the stress of doing it alone. Click below to connect and explore how Agile in action can impact your organization.
VELOCITY: DRIVING TOWARDS CONSISTENT VALUE DELIVERY
(Agile Series Part 5)
When working with organizations or teams new to Agile, one observation we have noticed time and time again is the misunderstanding of velocity as an Agile metric. Many teams view velocity as something that denotes efficiency and can be controlled or improved if, “done right.” Other teams think velocity will provide exact timelines for delivery of a piece of code similar to how work is assigned. While velocity does provide insight into how much work can be completed during a given iteration, its true value lies in empowering teams to prioritize and right size their work to create an achievable roadmap with consistent value delivery to customers.
This article is a simplified overview for teams outside of software delivery to creatively apply velocity to their work.
Velocity as an Agile Metric
Velocity, at its core, is the simple measurement of the rate at which a team consistently delivers business value to an organization’s customers. For most Agile teams, value delivery can be broken down into small units of functionality called user stories, which is a replacement for traditional team member role requirements. During each timeboxed sprint, teams will typically work to complete a number of “stories” from a product backlog that, once completed, will be released to the customer.
To ensure the team is not committing to more work than they can realistically deliver during a timeboxed sprint (also called increments), the team will estimate each story, giving it a number of “points” that represent relative complexity (not Level of Effort) needed to complete that story. The total number of story points that can be included in a given sprint is determined by the team’s velocity. For newly formed teams, there are formulas and best practices that can be followed to set an “initial” velocity, but determining a team’s actual velocity is best calculated over a set period, typically 2-4 sprints.
While calculating a raw velocity number is straightforward, and a quick activity, utilizing it as a metric to empower Agile teams and drive consistent value delivery is not a one-size-fits-all approach and takes dedication, trust, and time to build. To facilitate that unique growth, here is a list of nuances about velocity that consistently come up in retrospectives:
- A Team’s Metric – A team’s velocity is based on the relative sizing of the stories they are working on through the duration of the time-boxed period. As such, their calculated velocity is unique to their team and any direct comparisons of velocity across a program will be meaningless. Said bluntly: do not compare raw velocity numbers across teams; it’s comparing apples to oranges. If you are looking for a way to compare teams, consider looking at a team’s consistency of velocity against the success of meeting their commitments. A team with an inconsistent velocity may be on track to over- or underestimate their capacity to deliver on their commitments.
- Variance in Velocity – While some level of variance is anticipated, especially with immature teams, the drive should be for a consistent velocity iteration over iteration. Consistency in velocity enables teams to confidently size work and create product roadmaps that reliably release value to customers. An inconsistent velocity (increasing, decreasing, or waffling) is a sign that the team needs to reflect on their process and determine areas for improvement. This could be as simple as ensuring users’ scores are clear and simple to understand, or more complicated, such as eliminating external dependencies that can delay work.
- Team Visibility – Velocity is a team metric and should be a visible and active part of all planning meetings and especially the retrospective. This allows the team to be introspective and honest regarding their capacity and capabilities. It also provides the opportunity to identify whether anything has changed that impacts the team’s capacity to continue delivering against their historic velocity.
- Capacity / Capability – When teams have an established, consistent velocity, but are continuously under delivering against business objectives, it can mean that there are not enough people allocated to complete the work and/or existing people are not adequately trained against new technologies employed by the organization.
In a software setting, story points and velocity can be seen as a science, but in utilizing a pragmatic lens, these concepts can be effectively applied in all categories of work. A pragmatic approach to determining velocity creates healthy team dynamics, a collaborative culture, and more engaged employees.
Do you have questions about how an Agile approach can help your organization meet its strategic goals? Our highly skilled consultants can help you turn a mountain-sized project into an attainable endeavor that will propel your organization in the year ahead. Click below to connect with our talented team!
THE RETROSPECTIVE AND KEYS TO SUCCESS
(Agile Series Part 4)
Lesson Learned events provide a wealth of valuable information that can be applied from one project to the next. For example, on a past project our team assisted a client build and launch a new initiative. Upon completion of the project we attended the project post-mortem (also called retrospective, retro or after action review). We reviewed the project stages, explored processes that were used, and examined team dynamics. There was a lively conversation about communication and process breakdowns, and an encouraging discussion highlighting wins along the way.
We developed a comprehensive list of recommendations with the client team which were reviewed by the organization’s PMO and adopted into the day-to-day management of other projects. For our TGG team that Lessons Learned meeting was yet another example of the value and importance of retrospectives.
The Impact of the Retrospective
The result of asking this question in an agile setting is a regular review of the team’s activity, called a retrospective.
The retrospective is an event in agile frameworks, a chance to “look back” while still in the middle of the work. It is a chance to review not only the team’s performance, but the systems, processes, and working culture that lead to performance. The goal is continuous improvement, to review and adjust the way that the team works in order to constantly improve delivery of day-to-day work and digital transformation efforts.
The main theme of the retrospective is accountability. The team looks back at the past few weeks in order to hold themselves accountable to promises that were made. If the team falls short on promises, they make adjustments. If the team has been successful, they try to understand the reasons for that success with the goal of repeating it in the future.
Regardless of the format, a retro should be a judgment-free space, where the team can openly discuss failure and successes in the spirit of learning. A retrospective is one of the most important ceremonies in an Agile system. There are plenty of books and blogs on different facilitation approaches to retrospectives, each depends on the team and its culture.
Our take: simpler is often better and can yield a richer conversation, which is why we prefer to focus on two roles and four questions. We’ll explain:
- Role: Facilitator – This is the only defined role in a retrospective. This is usually someone on the team, possibly a scrum master. The first goal is to create an atmosphere of trust, where the whole team feels comfortable engaging. Pay attention to setting, personalities, and culture. The facilitator is always thinking ahead to the retrospective; for example, when the team encounters a roadblock this person records the experience and suggests to the team, “This would be a good topic for our retrospective.” The facilitator is accountable for the success of the retrospective.
- Tip: Facilitators, make sure you know your team. Temper the talkers, and engage the less vocal, introspective members by gathering written feedback in advance of the meeting. Work with the personalities you have on the team, ensuring that everyone has the chance to engage.
- Role: Participants – This is the team closest to the work. In the interest of maintaining an atmosphere of open and honest communication to glean the most meaningful feedback, be thoughtful as to who, specifically, to include in the conversation. It’s best to limit participants to people who know the work and can make changes that would benefit the team.
- Tip: Tell the participants, and make them aware, that their candid feedback is the most essential ingredient for an effective retrospective.
- Question: What did we promise to do vs. what did we actually accomplish? This question provides a baseline for the conversation and aligns the participants around a shared understanding of the exercise’s objective. This question promotes accountability by considering the promises made vs. the promises that were kept. If you’re looking for metrics, some helpful ones include burndown charts or say:do ratios.
- Tip: Don’t spend too much time on this question; it’s simply intended to be a foundation for the following questions.
- Question: What worked well? – Beyond providing a morale boost by celebrating success, this question serves to identify strengths with the intention of converting strengths into habits. Turning positive results into rules for operation is the “machine learning” mechanism for the team. Silence here is an indicator of siloed work, a lack of confidence or cohesion, or even burnout.
- Tip: If participants are struggling to think of things to contribute, bring back recent kudos or recognitions as a primer for conversation.
- Question: What didn’t work well? – This is your chance to learn from mistakes or identify ways to improve. This question promotes accountability for shortcomings, with an eye toward actionable improvement. The keyword is actionable–this isn’t a chance to complain, it’s a chance to change. Keep things constructive: rather than searching for blame, search for improvements.
- Tip: It would be rare for a team to be silent here. If your team is struggling to name areas for improvement, be ready with a couple coaching questions to help the team unpack the potential reasons why. You might discover they need more challenging work or perhaps there could be conflict within the team. Silence can mean there is still a perspective waiting to be heard and understood. It’s rare for a team to be silent here.
- Question: How will we adapt? – Every strength and weakness identified in the previous questions should have an action assigned to it in this question. This is a chance for your team to hold itself accountable by making an agreement. This question only has power if the team can keep its word. In the next retrospective, circle back to the agreements that were made in this question.
- Tip: Write these answers down, and make them visible. Once the team agrees on how to adapt, post those agreements on a board, in a chat, or anywhere else people will be sure to see them.
The beauty of the retrospective is its simplicity. It’s not limited to software development, or even IT. Any team can adopt this ceremony on an iterative basis, adapting it to their needs and situation. The power of the retrospective is in its effects: know your goals, and iteratively improve the way you pursue them. That’s pragmatic; that’s agile.
Our goal at The Gunter Group is to help our clients maximize their potential through thoughtful action and tangible results. Click below to connect and discover how the TGG team can help you achieve your strategic objectives.
TGG PARTNERS Q&A – 2022 OREGON BUSINESS AWARD
Last week, The Gunter Group was recognized as the #3 Best Company to Work For in Oregon in the medium-sized business category, according to Oregon Business. This marks the second year in a row that TGG has ranked in the top three and the eighth consecutive year that TGG has been honored by Oregon Business as a Best Company to Work For in Oregon.
We visited with partners, Mike and Ashleigh Gunter, Matt Bader, and Tony Schweiss to hear more about what makes the 2022 Oregon Business honor special.
This is the second year in a row TGG has finished in the top three, what were your reactions when you read the rankings?
Ashleigh: For me, I was incredibly excited and incredibly grateful. Excited because it validates the work we do daily to build and maintain our culture and grateful because our amazing team members are the ones who live out our culture and our Non-Negotiables every day with each other and with clients.
Tony: I agree with everything Ashleigh said and would add that the recognition was also validating because our company continues to add new team members every year and we recognize that just because you have a strong workplace environment doesn’t automatically guarantee it will stay that way over time. For us, growing year-over-year while not only maintaining, but furthering our culture in the midst of a pandemic stricken society… it confirms that we have been investing time and resources in the right places as an organization.
On that note, how has TGG been able to maintain its workplace culture while steadily growing and expanding into new markets?
Matt: As leaders we really focus on listening to our team. Our mission has been, and will continue to be, to maximize potential for our consultants, our clients, and our communities. We genuinely engage our team in conversations about how to make our organization better and stronger, and a company that they are proud to be a part of. The strength and character of our team is our highest priority and it fuels the strength and character of our culture.
Mike: Absolutely. Building off of that further, we continue to look at every business decision, large or small, through the lens of our Non-Negotiables. Does what we want to do or what we think we should do align with all of our Non-Negotiables? Not just one or two of them, but all of them. As we look at continuing to build our company and grow into new markets over the next few years, our Non-Negotiables have never been more important as the basis for framing our decisions..
The Gunter Group has made the Best Companies to Work For in Oregon list for eight consecutive years. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that statement? Ready, go!
Mike: To our team, thank you, thank you, thank you!
Ashleigh: Wow! Let’s keep it going!
Matt: Here’s to 8 more! I can’t wait to see what comes next!
Tony: I am honored to be a part of such an exceptional organization. I hope our whole team takes pride in this recognition!
TGG RANKED IN TOP THREE: 2022 BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR IN OREGON
We are excited to share that for the eighth year in a row, The Gunter Group has been ranked as one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon’ according to Oregon Business.
The Gunter Group was recognized as the #3 Best Company to Work For in Oregon, in the medium-sized businesses category!
According to Oregon Business one TGGer stated, “This is the kind of company that I always wanted to work for, but didn’t think could actually exist. I feel cared for, appreciated, and there’s always support from every co-worker when it’s needed.”
We are honored to be recognized on Oregon Business Magazine’s 100 Best Companies list again this year.
Congratulations to our amazing team!
Be sure to visit guntergroup.com and discover what makes The Gunter Group so unique.
To learn more about the 2022 100 Best List, view the 2022 top ten video, and see the complete rankings visit: oregonbusiness.com
The 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon is an annual showcase that recognizes top Small, Medium, and Large businesses in the state. More than 9,000 employees across a wide range of industries complete an employee engagement survey that encompasses areas such as: management & communications, decision-making & trust, career development & learning, benefits & compensation, and work environment.
THE POWER OF BIG ROOM PLANNING
(Agile Series Part 3)
It would be no surprise if you were to look across any organization today and find at least one or two teams organized around delivering value to the business using Agile methodologies. Over the past couple of decades Agile has permeated many organizations on some level, but Agile is still thought of by many as primarily relating to IT and engineering teams. It’s a process in which teams work together in time-boxed iterations, often called “Sprints,” with each sprint representing a short term plan to deliver against a continually shifting backlog of work across a multitude of stakeholders.
The development of new digital capabilities has grown more complex, and organizations are looking for ways to speed up the delivery of those capabilities to market. To achieve this, many businesses look to lead their organizations through digital transformations and scale Agile beyond just IT teams.
While there are many frameworks that organizations utilize for scaling Agile (SAFe, Large Scale Scrum, Disciplined Agile Delivery, etc.), there is one common element across all of them: a need to plan and coordinate across multiple business and IT teams to promote consistent value delivery quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year. That’s where Big Room Planning comes into play.
What is Big Room Planning?
Whether it is referred to as PI Planning, Quarterly Planning, or any other creative name an organization chooses, Big Room Planning is a simple idea that builds on the Agile principle of promoting transparency and effective communication through face-to-face conversations. It is a one-to-two day event where all teams required to deliver value against the goals of the business come together in a “big room” to coordinate and collaborate toward a shared understanding of how to accomplish the goals over a period of time (typically a quarter).
That’s a bold statement and seems relatively “easy” if all that’s needed is to get everyone in a room talking, but the difficult part is ensuring that the appropriate preparations are made so that the meeting is set up for success with clear expectations.
Each organization is unique and there are many different strategies and implementation guides that can be applied in preparation for a Big Room Planning event. Typically every event follows similar elements that can be adapted to an organization’s unique needs. An example outline of this is shown here:
- 1. Context Setting – Sometimes when teams are working in the weeds of a given capability, it’s hard to know how or why decisions are being made which then impacts the ability to deliver effective solutions against the objectives for that business. By providing context at the beginning of a planning session, leaders share the current state of the business and how solutions being developed are addressing customer needs. This, in turn, provides guardrails as teams are prioritizing quarterly goals.
- 2. Vision and Roadmaps – Product Managers provide a vision and roadmap for individual capabilities (features) that have been prioritized to meet specific business needs. Teams will use these features to break down and define the work that is needed for the quarter. Special attention should be made if there has been a shift in priority from one quarter to another so that teams can see how their contributions ladder up and make a difference.
- 3. Team Breakouts – Teams use this time to break down and size the features into backlog items and create a plan that is visible to all other teams. If there are any dependencies or risks identified, they are raised and provided to the appropriate supporting team. Once the team has broken down the features and understands their capacity to achieve these features, they draft objectives that can be committed to for the quarter.
- 4. Plan Review – During the plan review, all the teams come back together from their breakouts to present their plans. During their review, teams highlight risks, dependencies, and impediments to their proposed quarterly objectives. At this point if there are any concerns with the proposed plans, teams are asked to adjust their plans and then present the revision until all teams have come to an alignment on the quarterly objectives, risks, and dependencies.
- 5. Confidence Vote – Once a plan has been approved, teams are asked to conduct a confidence vote on their commitment to the objective they included as part of their plan. If there is a lack of confidence, the plan should be evaluated to ensure realistic delivery within the timeframe allotted, and the team should propose changes as needed so that all team members feel confident in their ability to deliver.
The Power of Big Room Planning
When strictly looking at the hours needed for a Big Room Planning event, many leaders might wonder if it is worth the investment. While this must be evaluated by each individual organization, we have found that typically the result is well worth the initial investment. Big Room Planning can deliver value in the following key areas:
- Prioritizing Business Objectives – Big Room Planning drives visibility toward competing priorities across stakeholder groups and provides a forum by which decisions can be immediately made to ensure all teams can align to a common business objective.
- Dependency Mapping – Digital products are complex and require multiple teams to complete. Big Room Planning allows time for identification of cross team and cross organization dependencies to ensure an appropriate runway has been provided to deliver commitments.
- Transparency – Including all teams and stakeholders in the planning builds trust and confidence in the organization’s ability to consistently deliver value against commitments.
- Capacity Planning – By having a roadmap and estimating the features during the team breakout, Big Room Planning provides teams with a clear picture of their capacity during the quarter to deliver against their commitments.
- Risk Reduction – With many teams working to deliver value for the business, there is always the possibility of something being overlooked. While no process can ever truly mitigate all of the risks associated with complex change, Big Room Planning begins to break down those barriers by promoting the right conversations.
Big Room Planning can drive consistent value delivery, a shared understanding of business objectives, and a clear quarterly roadmap that meets the needs of the business transformation objectives for teams to follow. To achieve these values, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and the event should not become a rote exercise to check a box. As with everything Agile, organizations should continuously adapt and improve the process to promote engagement from all stakeholders and break down barriers so that the space is created to engage in meaningful conversations.
Big Room Planning and other Agile initiatives can be overwhelming. Our team at TGG can help you experience the benefits of Agile work streams without the stress of doing it alone. Click below to connect and explore how Agile in action can help your organization.