But even more important than the transition of the individuals is the alignment of these levels with each other. After all, if they’re not aligned, they’re likely to end up even less efficient and Agile than they were before the transformation began.
As with most management structures, alignment of an Agile enterprise begins from the top down. Executives operating at the portfolio level make the overarching strategic decisions that set the pace and direction of the programs and teams under them. However, Agile transformations require buy-in from the bottom up, which creates a period during the transition when alignment is especially challenging.
How can alignment be created and maintained? The answer lies with understanding and taking full advantage of the SAFe framework , and communicating openly and consistently with other levels of the enterprise.
Alignment of Portfolio and Program Levels
The portfolio level is responsible for strategic and budgetary decisions that will affect what projects the company takes on and what priorities those projects receive. As decisions are made regarding business direction, time frames, and budgets, the portfolio level develops “business epics” (large-scale initiatives that describe how the company is going to reach certain business goals) and “architectural epics” (technology-based initiatives required to support various business needs).
These epics then inform the portfolio backlog, which essentially presents a far-reaching strategic to-do list for the program level to work from.
Product and Release Managers at the program level then use these portfolio backlog artifacts to create their own backlog of more specific program level initiatives, which are filtered down to individual teams according to a set cadence that works within the larger business epic.
Alignment of Program and Team Levels
The program level is responsible for keeping the “release train” moving, ensuring that development done at the team level in short sprints can be controlled, tested, and released in a regular pattern that complements portfolio level goals.
While these release trains can look like well-oiled machines when they’re working right, it takes a lot of effort and communication to keep them chugging along in that direction.
As the middlemen in the equation, the program level serves as the communication hub between teams and executives at the portfolio level. They also serve as the real key to proper alignment: if the program level loses touch with a team or portfolio level, the entire process can grind to a halt or become derailed.
However, if the program level serves its communication role effectively, all three levels stay aligned with each other and work together toward beneficial business goals.
For more information on how to create and maintain alignment from the portfolio level down, we recommend our upcoming training course, Portfolio Management Training – Understanding Agile Governance, administered by Kevin Thompson, Ph.D.