Fixing the race condition of strategic initiatives

Since 2015 Bankdata has been subject to one of the largest agile transformations in the history of Danish software industry. Over a period of 1.5 years Bankdata adopted Scrum in over 100 teams and more than 650 employees have begun the journey towards an agile mindset. As the company name implies, Bankdata work with financial software supporting a wide range of banks in Denmark. The company is more than 50 years old and have a long legacy in the industry. I have lately been part of a team (Birgit, Annica and me) helping Bankdata management to act modern and agile in their strategic planning.

Race condition

Traditionally the management team set out a fixed list of strategic initiatives that should be implemented in the coming period. This is great, it gives a direction for the organization and helps each employee and manager to plan activities to implement the strategic initiatives.

The big issue with the approach is the competing nature between the organization wide strategic initiatives and the customer orders. Roadmaps and capacity are typically planned in close collaboration with the customers and leaves little room for the strategic initiatives to succeed; we observe a race condition in the system. There are several ways of fixing this issue. In Bankdata we believe that the race condition can be managed by doing a joint planning together with sponsors, initiative leads, stakeholders and involved parties where conflicting priorities are visualized and mitigated.

Big room planning

The approach proposed to solve the race condition is to adopt the practice of big room planning at periodic intervals.

Big room planning is an agile practice where all sponsors, initiative leads, stakeholders and involved parties gather to agree on a shared plan for a timeboxed period. In this case the timebox is set for a 4-month period. This is done by introducing a pull-based approach where the initiative leads presents the activities and key deliveries and the business units pull the work into their swim lane where appropriate.

Expected outcome: Effective execution of strategy, early identification of dependencies, visualization of bottlenecks, capacity issues, business units can pull activities, alignment of initiatives across the organization.

The agenda for a big room planning is:

  • Welcome and setting the stage
  • Presentation of key deliveries and activities from the strategic initiatives
  • Introduction to the planning process
  • Planning and identification of issues and bottle necks facilitated by business unit directors
  • Presentation of plan presented by business units with emphasis on the identified issues
  • Re-planning fix of identified issues facilitated by business unit directors
  • Presentation of plan with identified fixes
  • Wrap-up and evaluation

Preparation for business units

In preparation to the event, each business unit must get an overview of the customer-oriented roadmap and determine the deliveries for each month. This is to make sure that we only plan activities in business units with available capacity for a given month. We want the input to be as sincere as possible. No matter if the capacity is high or low.

Preparation for initiative leads

In parallel, the initiative leads prepares a range of inputs for the big room planning:

  • Key deliveries and expected month of delivery
  • Ranked order of deliveries
  • Activities with an indicator of magnitude of involvement, need for competencies and target group

The key deliveries are placed in the top swim lanes of the planning board. This visualizes the combined plan for all initiatives. This plan is ranked and prioritized in a collaboration between sponsors and initiative leads before entering the big room planning.

In addition, the initiative leads facilitates a process of breaking down the key deliveries into activities identifying the magnitude of involvement, need for competencies and target group from the surrounding business units.

Planning and identification of issues

During the big room planning, each business unit director facilitates a process of pulling relevant activities from the strategic initiatives into their swim lane. This is illustrated by a post-it in the chosen month for the actual business unit. The relationship between activities and strategic initiatives is visualized using different colored post-its, i.e. one initiative is written on yellow post-its and another is written on blue.

The business unit must consider their available capacity, the competencies needed for the activity and if there are any synergies to relevant customer related work. Identified issues and risks are illustrated by a colored post-it on the activity:

  • red = we need help to solve the issues
  • yellow = we can mitigate the risk ourselves
  • green = no risk.

Re-planning and prioritization

When all business units are done pulling activities into their swim lane, the plan is presented in plenum to the sponsors and stakeholders. Initiative leads and sponsors validate if the plan matches the expected end state for the 4-month period. If this is not the case, the sponsors and business units must work together afterwards to decide which key deliveries that must be postponed or changed for the plan to succeed. Depending on how the plan materializes, it may be necessary to rework the customer-oriented roadmap for the business unit because of the decisions made by the sponsors and stakeholders.

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