Written by Tim Wise for Leading Agile.
As a VP of Technology your day is going along fine and then boom… priorities shift from product and marketing moves the date up. A big presser is now being formed and you have to adjust and communicate the change down to your teams to proceed forward. The following week, sales dials you up and announce that they have the trump card, $300k in sales are on the line. You have to stop what you are doing and get the release you were working on out of the door pronto. The teams below you are stuck at the perceived whim of a madman. Who is the madman they perceive? That “madman” is the variety of demands coming from Sales, Marketing, and the Product organization. It’s tough to prioritize in a way that makes everyone happy. So how can you handle this in your organization?
There are plenty of problems in organizations. Sometime plans don’t exist. Some people are in fact “yes-men”. There are 10 stakeholders. These, and plenty of other things, happen in the real world. And no, we can’t make everyone happy all of the time.
So when forming portfolio and program teams, the general sentiment of the crowd when I walk into the room to begin coaching is one of frustration. I repeatedly hear “the business” from anyone and everyone. It is truly a point of deflection, representative of years of abuse. The statement will come from all parts of the organization. Sales, marketing, IT, product, operations, no one is exempt. However…
After forming a proper portfolio team, the first thing to come out of a portfolio is a business-facing Epic. The portfolio will intentionally begin to prioritize work so that demand is focused on the next best thing. This is followed by another Epic, and another. They start prioritizing epics against each other and making credible, pragmatic business decisions around what they will do in the next few months. They begin to visualize a roadmap of epics. The roadmap will likely change and when it does, this group will have a way to prioritize those changes against the current plan. The biggest plus is that it is all transparent. The teams above, below, and around the portfolio will be informed. The voices are calm and the team is now dealing with the rational single voice of the portfolio.
This is called a forced prioritization. You are choosing which projects and epics the organization is focusing on in the next quarter and predicting the year. In a short time, the portfolio and teams that they coordinate can see that they are “the business."