Agile At The Top: How Executives Walk The Talk

I am pleased to introduce Diana Weber for a special guest blog post on “Agile At The Top:  How Executives Walk The Talk”.  Diana is a passionate writer, an avid agilist, and an Agile Project Leader on my team here at Valpak.

IMG_1152As trailblazers in scaling agile across the corporate enterprise, Valpak executives walk the talk and support agile practices from the top-down. As a result, the Executive Portfolio Kanban was born. Though merely a board, it represents what the traditional PMO Office used to be, streamlining the process of traditional project prioritization which governs the strategy and execution of large business initiatives. By converting this process to a Kanban, executives and stakeholders are able to have full transparency and visibility to the top priorities of the company for a given quarter. This creates a trickle-down effect as Product Owners are kept aware of changing corporate priorities so that they can adjust and build upon their backlogs of user stories that will support the successful completion of these epics for their executive sponsors. Competing impacted resources and teams are identified so that the more important initiatives take priority as the execution of this work is planned within team sprints. Oh, and we didn’t get here overnight! The Executive Portfolio Kanban was launched about a year into our agile journey and has been tweaked over the course to what it is today, and now serves as the top layer in our adaptation of the Scaled Agile Framework.

Main points of interest:

  • Swimlanes include: Funnel/Vet/Design/Build-Execute/Rollout/Done and each lane has its own defined set of Exit Criteria that should be met before a card is moved into the next swimlane.
  • Cards are at the epic level (this is important because the priority of these cards are queues for the Product Owners on how to prioritize user stories that support each epic.) Each card falls in one of these categories: Increases Revenue (up arrow), Customer Satisfaction (smiley face), Cost Saving (down arrow) or Infrastructure related (donut shape).
  • Each color coded card is “owned” by an assigned executive that represents a particular business area. Marketing is pink, finance is green, etc. Each card contains the executive sponsor for the epic, the teams impacted (who will do the work to make the epic happen), Investment Theme, and Value Statement (what is the ROI or benefit of doing it).
  • Executives meet at the Kanban board 1x per week (Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m.) and each speak to their cards and move them appropriately.
  • This Portfolio Kanban board is reset every quarter. Our Senior Director of Enterprise Agility & Digital Product Leadership, Stephanie Davis, facilitates this process by meeting with each executive individually to help them review their current epic cards, write up new cards and remove cards as needed. The executives meet as a group to discuss priorities and determine which are the Top X projects and update the board as necessary. Note that some epics stay in the funnel a long time and some move quickly all based on business needs.
  • Cards that include a Top Hat image X mean they have been prioritized as one of the Top X Projects that are highest priority of all the epics.
  • Out of the quarterly epic reset meeting, a Quarterly Plan of Epics is created and sent out for review.
  • There is also an burndown chart to measure the burndown rate for epics for the current quarter.

About Stephanie Davis

Stephanie is now VP of Product Excellence at LeadingAgile focused on the growth, development, and delivery of some amazing agile products.  Recently, she spent the past two years as Executive Director - Enterprise Agility Office at Catalina leading another top-to-bottom, inside-out agile transformation.  Prior to that, Stephanie was Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak. She was with Valpak for 13 years, most of which were focused on leading their agile transformation to what became a world renowned success story published in case studies and demonstrated to over 50 different companies through the years via agile tours.  Prior to Valpak, Stephanie held past positions in the project management domain with AT&T and IBM. Stephanie's academic credentials include a BS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and an MBA in International Business from the University of Bristol in England. She also maintains the Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Stephanie is big on tech community involvement!  Most recently, she served as an elected board member to the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization with global membership, committed to advancing agile development values, principles, and practices. In addition, she serves her local community as an organizer for Tampa Bay Agile, the largest and most active tech Meetup in the area, and the annual Agile Open Florida event. In 2016, Stephanie was awarded Tampa Bay Tech’s Technology Leader of the Year and the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year (Tech) and Emerging Technology Leader of the Year. View all posts by Stephanie Davis

One response to “Agile At The Top: How Executives Walk The Talk

  • Bob Lieberman

    This is valuable, but limited to some degree because of the size of Valpak (or maybe the scope of the product). The idea that senior executives prioritize Epics (which product owners elaborate into user stories) is something I only wish could work at my company. We have initiatives planned at that level, each initiative gets elaborated into Epics and then Stories, all at a lower level in the organization, once senior management has set the higher priorities. There would be too many Epics to make your model work for us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: