Think Small: Five Tips for Agile Program Management

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at jrothman.com.

If you have an agile project larger than two or three feature teams, you have an agile program. A program is a collection of projects where the objective is one business deliverable. If you’ve managed programs before, you know how difficult it is to keep programs on track. With bigness comes more risk.

One of the best ways to make sure your agile program is successful is to think about how to make everything smaller--not in what the program delivers, although you’ll have the opportunity to deliver early if you follow these tips. But if you think about “smaller” for organizing the agile program, you might be able to manage the risk better. Here are six tips for making your large efforts “smaller” to achieve maximum benefit from your agile programs and to help them maintain progress.

Agile Tip 1: Keep Your Iterations Short
Remember, the length of the iteration is the length of work you can afford to throw away. That’s the amount of time you have between feedback from the customer or product owner to the team. The more people you have on the program, the more inertia the program has. Imagine you have a program of 100 people. If you have a three-week iteration and you have problems with that iteration, you might have to throw that iteration’s work away. That’s better than throwing a release of work away. But do you …

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