3 Agile Program Problems...and Possible Solutions

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd edition, Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization as well as several other books including the newest: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver. See her blogs and more of her writing at jrothman.com.

Programs (collections of projects with one business objective) can encounter all kinds of problems. Here are three that you may have seen—and what you can do as an agile program manager.

Problem 1: Everyone is on the program on Day 1. You’re sure you’ll need somewhere between 15 and 30 feature teams—eventually. But, your management doesn’t quite understand how to use an agile approach to assigning people or teams to the program. They give you all the people on Day 1, regardless of whether you have a program charter, a roadmap or anything.

You don’t need that many people right now. In fact, you’re not ready for them. What can you do?

Consider this possibility to help the teams learn how to work together:

  1. Ask the people to create cross-functional feature teams of no more than seven people each. It’s best if every team was collocated, but sometimes that doesn’t work.
  2. Now that people have organized themselves, ask them to select a unique set of defects from the backlog of defects. It doesn’t matter what product those defects belong to (you might need to let another project or program manager know you are asking people to fix defects). As long as every team has a backlog of defects, that’s what you want. This works even better when each team has a product owner, but each team doesn’t need one.

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