6kites | How to Scale Agile with Portfolio for Jira (with Webinar)

Agile is sweeping across the enterprise, enabling all kinds of teams to deliver faster and develop better “products,” whether they’re working on software or marketing campaigns. Many organizations have taken a powerful first step in their agile journeys with Jira Software.

Yet, as enterprise agilitygains in popularity and moves across the organization, a few common growing pains can set in:

  • Since Jira doesn’t support a big picture view of program increment planning, a lot of manual work is needed to align departmental projects with the organization’s goals. 
  • Teams may have different tools, workflows, and practices, making cross-functional collaboration difficult. 
  • Teams can be siloed, suffering from tunnel vision, misaligned priorities, and poor dependency management.

To effectively scale agile across teams, you need a way to align teams behind the organization’s priorities while still leaving them the autonomy they need to do their best work. That’s why Atlassian developed Portfolio for Jira.

Keep reading to learn how Portfolio solves common scaling challenges, clearly linking agile execution across teams to business priorities.

Portfolio for Jira Provides a Roadmap to Scaled-Agile Success

Successfully scaling agile requires your organization to shift from a project-driven to product-driven operating model. This means creating initiatives that can be shared across different functions in alignment with the business goals, rather than having individual teams defining their own terms. 

Portfolio for Jira enables this by providing an integrated agile roadmap. This gives you the power to plan and manage a combination of releases that span multiple teams and projects.

Scaled Agile Roadmap in Atlassian Portfolio for Jira
Agile Roadmap in Portfolio for Jira

ATake, for example, the development of a human capital management (HCM) suite with three core modules: recruitment, payroll, and talent management. Without a scalable project management tool, it’s a challenge to link all the associated tasks for proper planning, budgeting, and resource allocation. 

Scaling agile isn’t easy. Think of the complexity of user-story mapping when you have multiple product modules to prioritize at once. To determine the deliverables and release schedules, you’ll need a portfolio roadmap that is capable of cross-team release management. 


Scaling Agile (the Right Way) with Portfolio Roadmaps

When you discover the advantages of scaled agile, it can be tempting to rush into deploying Portfolio right away. This can lead to a new set of challenges, because small problems in your agile practices are magnified at scale. 

We recommend the habit of descaling at first. Always start by assessing your Jira workflows, instance, and backlog to make sure you have a solid foundation for scaling agile across the enterprise. 

A good rule of thumb is to keep Jira simple. When we help our customers scale their Atlassian footprint, we take a close look at their backlog to ensure that they’re following best practices for issue creation, configuration, and prioritization.

Since Portfolio pulls issues from Jira to populate the big-picture roadmap, it’s essential that your user stories are kept in good order.

Pro Tip: Use Roman Pichler’s DEEP framework when it comes to creating an ideal product backlog for your Portfolio roadmap. The DEEP principles are denoted as:

  • Detailed: Create a concise list of tasks, with fine-grained items at the top, followed by coarse-grained task partitioning. 
  • Estimated: Every task should have estimates, either in story points or work days, to prioritize them accurately. 
  • Emergent: Ensure that the backlog can be changed based on user feedback, instead of static work.
  • Prioritized: The most important and highest priority tasks are at the top of the product backlog, with defined dependencies.

Note that Portfolio will take your sprint planning in Jira as the gospel for portfolio roadmapping. Your data quality will directly impact the effectiveness of the project forecast in Portfolio.

Screenshot: Backlog overview in Portfolio for Jira
Backlog Overview in Portfolio for Jira

Aligning Your Teams with Initiatives and Themes

As mentioned previously, the biggest challenge in scaling agile arises from misaligned priorities. To help you overcome this, Portfolio allows an unlimited hierarchy above epics, often labeled as themes and initiatives. With this, you can identify the highest priority across the board to translate into the portfolio roadmap.

Themes are equivalent to the organization’s current focus areas. You can cluster initiatives into a theme, followed by the set of tasks and dependencies to be assigned to team members.

Not sure how to incorporate this concept into your Jira plan? Let’s go back to the previous example of the HCM development project. 

The company has created a theme for all of its product modules: “world-class product experience.” With that in place, the product manager sits down with her business team to brainstorm the product roadmap. They decide to tackle the nitty gritty of using the HCM platform to encapsulate the firm’s UX innovations. Subsequently, the product owners discuss with their teams on the features that need to be improved, or what they can add on for each module, to improve the user interface and experience. 

In this scenario, we can translate the project taxonomy into a hierarchy as below.

Screenshot: Initiatives, epics, and stories in Portfolio for Jira
Portfolio for Jira Enables You to Align Teams Behind Enterprise Initiatives

The Power of Bottom-up Planning with Portfolio for Jira

The essence of scaling agile is about giving teams the power of autonomy. 

In a scaled-agile environment, your goal is to align multiple teams in Jira around a shared mission. This way, everyone is able to clearly understand how their work fits into the big picture. Portfolio for Jira gives you the power to do this, by aggregating multiple business units together for strategic bottom-up planning.  

Bottom-up planning solves the conflict between teams with different toolsets and practices. Instead of having the project managers, or high-level executives, communicate the project guidelines and processes down to individual tasks, this approach allows team members to develop their preferred ways to accomplish the defined objectives. 

If you have both Scrum and Kanban teams working together, there isn’t any better way to manage large product releases, especially when it comes to resource allocation. 

The best part? You can combine releases of multiple projects in Portfolio.

Screenshot: Release management in Portfolio for Jira
Easily Combine Releases for Projects in Portfolio for Jira

For instance, to expand the human capital management suite, the teams are expected to release the beta app versions for two modules (recruitment and talent management) within the next quarter. 

To initiate a portfolio plan for this project, you first need to create a designated project for each module and its associated tasks in Jira. 

Once you have sourced the primary issues from Jira boards, Portfolio will gather this data and calculate your team velocity (how fast your teams are likely to accomplish work). It will then predict the release date for both modules. 

You can also add members to the respective teams for global capacity planning, as well as individual monitoring.

Pro Tip: It’s possible to have a person working in multiple teams. Portfolio for Jira can help you distribute his or her work hours to proportion effort between teams. Take, for example, a UX/UI designer who will be working on both modules. 

You can manage the scope and stories within Portfolio to define the optimum timeline for your project. Portfolio lets you play with what-if scenarios, where you can add or discard a scope in a sandbox environment and only commit those changes to Jira if you are happy with the outcome. 

Screenshot: Agile Release forecasting in Portfolio for Jira
Portfolio Automatically Measures Team Velocity for Release Forecasting
Screenshot: Agile Resource Planning in Portfolio for Jira
If you assign too much work for a single release (against team velocity), Portfolio will notify you if the release will be late.

Having this big picture laid out is only the first half of the story. It’s important to configure your team and resources as the project progresses. For that, you need capacity view.

With its scheduling algorithm, Portfolio helps to ensure that no one is overcommitting. You can access the Teams view to review individual commitments and configure the assigned capacity as needed. Capacity planning is also crucial to avoid bottlenecks in the case of delayed tasks. 

Screenshot: Scaled Agile Team Management with Portfolio for Jira
(1)Team name; (2) Overbooked capacity indicator; (3) Iteration name; (4) Planned capacity indicator; (5: Free capacity indicator

Scaling at Last

After putting all these hours into your Portfolio plan, it’s time to share it with stakeholders! 

You can generate reports directly from Portfolio to clearly communicate the entire plan. With the theme identified at the beginning, management is able to connect the roadmap with the organization’s focus areas. 

Need to review an individual project within the portfolio plan? Just add custom filters to Portfolio reports to get the data you want (for example, comparing the iOS team and Android team plans). This way, any responsible decision maker can instantly assess the detailed roadmap to evaluate the team’s work and avoid future downfalls. 

Scaled Agile Roadmapping at 6kites
Here’s how the team at 6kites uses Portfolio for Jira to overhaul our internal roadmaps. 

That’s a lot to take in. So if you want to find out how you can make the most out of Portfolio for Jira, watch our On-Demand Agile at Scale Webinar.  

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