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Helpful hints if you're rolling Align out to your entire enterprise

(Or, What to expect when you’re expanding.)

Once you've completed your Jumpstart, or your initial assessment of Jira Align, you'll start to think about how you can roll it out to the rest of your enterprise. As an Align Solution Architect (and a former Align customer), I must congratulate you on your wise choice!

Now I'd like to offer a few suggestions that my fellow Solution Architects have found help enterprises that are rolling out Jira Align to a wider audience. Each enterprise has its own unique variations, but we find there are a few things common to all.

We put the suggestions for expansion into 4 broad categories:

  1. Planning for the expansion: We recommend you take an agile approach to rolling Align out to your enterprise. That means thinking about how you’re going to deliver value to your customers on a regular basis.

  2. Configuring Align: Align has literally hundreds of features for its customers, and we recommend turning on only those features that are needed to help people do their jobs.

  3. Training and Support: Be sure your teams know your enterprise’s approach to scaling agile practices before introducing the tools. Then implement role-based training so you show people the specific features they need to do their jobs. And be sure to offer ongoing support throughout the regular agile cadence.

  4. Process alignment: Enterprises use Jira Align to support their agile ways of working, so it’s important to ensure the tool is configured to support the process. The folks who are defining the process need to work closely with the folks who are supporting the tool so there’s no dissonance between the two.

Let's look into these areas a little further.

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Planning

  • Adopt an agile mindset: When a team is rolling an Enterprise-wide tool out, there can be a desire to make sure everything is exactly right before moving forward with implementation. However, making sure everything is exactly right before you start delays the value you’ll receive from using Align. Also, we see Jira Align customers frequently rearrange their portfolios and programs after they’ve been using Jira Align for a while and have more visibility into how teams actually deliver value. So keep the MVP in mind when you're starting, then add more variation as you expand to additional programs and portfolios.

  • Remember who the customers are: Each enterprise has its own definition of the value it wants to get from using Jira Align. It helps to think of the Jira Align users as your customers and you want to be sure you’re delivering value to them. The needs of the product owners and scrum masters are different from the needs of the folks who are making portfolio investment decisions. But unless you're supporting both groups, you'll find there are gaps in the entire solution.

  • Rapid feedback: Make sure you’re getting feedback from your Jira Align customers as you move forward. If you’re introducing a new training class, make sure you’re checking with the trainees that they got value from the session. If you’re introducing a new taxonomy of structuring work, make sure everyone understands the taxonomy and can use it to describe their specific work. Be sure to have regular checks or experiments so you can be sure your customers are getting value from the features you're delivering to them.

  • Focus on outcomes, not activities: Be sure to identify the outcomes you want for your enterprise and determine how you're going to measure your progress toward achieving those outcomes. Remember to establish key results beyond just the number of teams that are using Align or the number of people who are using Align. You can use Jira Align's Objectives and Key Results (OKR) features to track your results. (My colleague Tom O'Connor wrote an article about using OKR's here: https://community.atlassian.com/t5/Jira-Align-articles/What-if-the-Apollo-11-Moon-Landing-Mission-had-OKRs/ba-p/1479280 )

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Configuration

  • Simplify Jira Align's role settings so people see only the features they need to do their jobs:  Jira Align contains hundreds of features, but not every company wants to use all of them. We recommend starting out with the minimum number of features people need to accomplish their jobs. This isn’t intended to hide things, but it makes it easier to train your teams and present them with just the set of tools they need.

  • Simplify Jira Align's details panels so people see only show the fields you know you'll use: Jira Align work objects have a number of attributes that help with different aspects of enterprise planning. The Jira Align administrators can configure the system to show or hide attributes on each of the work object detail panels. We recommend hiding all the field you’re not specifically using. For example, the Align Epic has attributes to capture Kano complexity modeling; if your company’s Product Management team doesn’t use Kano modeling, it’s best to hide those fields. As with the role settings mentioned above, it will make it easier to train teams and give them the tools they need to do their jobs.

  • Adopt a common scheme in Jira to make it easier to integrate with Align: Jira is great because it allows every team to have their own workflows and ways of working. But if you’re using Jira Align to scale your agile practices and get visibility throughout the enterprise, you probably want to start bringing together the widely varying workflows. One way to do that is to adopt a common scheme in Jira that teams that are integrated with Jira Align can use. That scheme can have a standard set of issue types, attributes, and workflows that support the way your enterprise wants to scale.

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Training

  • Separate the tool training from process training: Align is a tool that supports your agile process and practices. It works best if your teams are trained and proficient in your processes before they come to Jira Align training sessions. That way, they can see how the tool supports the process and they can spend time learning how to use the tool instead of working through process questions.

  • Role-based training focused on the jobs to be done: Jira Align has features for teams at every level of the organization. When you’re introducing your teams to Align, it works best to train people on the features they need to do their jobs as opposed to training them on every feature in Align. Focusing on the jobs to be done by each role helps ensure people know how to do the things they need on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

  • Standard set of scenarios in a training environment: When people are learning new tools, it’s best to give them an environment where they can experiment and try new things. Though it might seem like a good idea to have your teams do their training in their production environment, that has at least two drawbacks.
    1. People can’t try different scenarios out in a production environment.
    2. You may not have data in your production environment that demonstrates different scenarios.
    If you create a standard set of scenarios within your Align test environment, you can use that to reinforce different training situations.

  • Set aside time for Office Hours: Once your teams leave the training sessions, be sure to set aside time for Office Hours. These are sessions where people can drop in (either in real life, or in a conference call) to ask questions about their specific day-to-day situations. It's unlikely you cover every possible question in your training sessions, so having experts available to help people when they're back in their day-to-day work will help reinforce the training (and identify new scenarios to include in your training plans.)

Screen Shot 2020-09-22 at 8.39.42 PM.png

Process Alignment

  • Set aside time to clean your rooms: Jira Align uses the metaphor of rooms where teams at different levels can see their work. After teams have gone through training and their data is integrated with Align, they’ll be in a much better state if they can spend some time cleaning their room. That is, they should look at their data (at the team, program, solution, or portfolio level) and make sure it is accurate and up-to-date. For example, if the Product Manager thinks the program is delivering 15 features in this quarter, make sure the Program Room in Align shows 15 features being worked on. If you bring in a large amount of historical information from Jira, have a common plan for how you'll save that history and make sure that work doesn't appear in your backlogs anymore.

  • Use Align for status reporting: The best way to ensure that the information in Align is accurate and actionable is to use Align for status reporting. Instead of having people review PowerPoint slides created by Program Managers, use Align’s Work Tree, Program Room and Program Board to track the progress of the work planned for a program or team of teams. If your management teams are looking at the information in Align to track progress and make decisions, that will ensure all the other teams are using Align too.

  • Use Checklists and Framework Maps to help people along: Align has features for creating Checklists -- step-by-step flows through different Align screens -- that can be used to help people remember the things they need to do for different scenarios or ceremonies. You can create a checklist that takes Align users through all the steps for a SAFe PI Planning exercise, or you can create your own custom checklist to lead people through a standard monthly status reporting session. Framework Maps give Align users a graphical view of navigation. You can create your own custom graphics and put in clickable hotspots that can take Align users to the appropriate screens. So if you have a flowchart that shows a process you want people to go through on a monthly basis, copy a picture of the flowchart into the system and use that as navigation. 

  • Set up a Lean-Agile Center or Excellence or Align Consortium to set the standards for how your enterprise will use Align: There are certain features in Align that have to be common across the enterprise, and there are other features that can be left up to each portfolio or program. Having a group of process and tool experts working together to determine which things need to be consistent and how to solve those problems will help ensure your organization stays aligned and successful.

Every large enterprise will have its own way of scaling its agile practices. Following these recommendations in planning your rollout, configuring your system and training your teams how to use the tools will help ensure Align supports your enterprise's goals. 

10 comments

Rae Gibbs Atlassian Team Sep 24, 2020

@Rich Sparks Great job on the article!

Rich Sparks Atlassian Team Sep 24, 2020

My colleague @Rae Gibbs had a great alternative recommendation for how to handle training. I suggested you have a standard set set of scenarios in you test instance, or in a separate environment. This is so people can experiment and try things out in a safe environment.

Rae reminded me you can do the same thing by having a Training Portfolio, Program and Teams in your production instance, and assigning all trainees to that portfolio and program. That way, they're don't have to worry about inadvertently affecting real production data, and it eases the administrative effort of having to set people up in two different Align instances.

Either approach can work, but they both avoid having to use production data for training purposes.

Like # people like this
G subramanyam Community Leader Mar 08, 2021

Interesting and informative article. Thank you @Rich Sparks 

Tina Behers Community Leader Jul 05, 2021

Nicely done @Rich Sparks :)

Thanks @Rich Sparks a few nice hints and a timely remnder.

This article was quite informative.. Thank you for sharing your insight

Thanks for the helpful article!  Regarding this point from above.

Adopt a common scheme in Jira to make it easier to integrate with Align: 

When it comes to a single standard configuration or workflow, we receive feedback from many teams that this is taking away the value and flexibility they had from Jira. They could draw up a team board any way they needed on the wall. Jira used to support that. But Jira Align calling for standardization in Jira is pushing them away from tailoring a teams board to the teams needs and ways of working.

Specifically several are concerned that some teams using Kanban instead of Scrum may not have needs considered.  Others find that a process which was tailored around UX content reviews for example will not fit into this flow. This is aggravated by having to set 1 way or 2 way integration setting at the global level - vs setting this value up per project or issue type. Have you considered that feature granularity? 

Have you also received this feedback, or have you been able to solve for some of this concern in past implementations?  Thanks for any insights you can share. 

Like # people like this

@Bill Goodall 

I am happy to share my perspective on this matter with you:

Jira Align is calling for standardization in Jira because any Agile@Scale approach is calling for standardization on the team layer of scale. There need to be guardrails around time (for example: What cadence do we sync in?), people (for example: How does a team manifest in the team layer tool?) and work (for example: How do we know what status work has?) which are respected, otherwise scaling is impossible, independent of the tool used to support the scaling effort.

That being said, I absolutely understand the teams pains. Especially if the teams did not work in a mature scaling initiative and had a lot of freedom, the change needed can be very challenging. I think @rich shared some great suggestions to support the change effort in that regard. What I would like to add specifically to address the topic you brought up is to implement solutions in Jira to be more flexible within those scaling guardrails.

Rich Sparks Atlassian Team Aug 10, 2021

Sorry for the delay in responding, @Bill Goodall . I was away from my computer for a bit.

We've definitely heard from teams that they want to keep the flexibility of setting up their own workflows. And we absolutely don't want to take away a team's ability to innovate and find new ways of working. What we're looking for is a balance between what an individual team wants to do and what multiple teams working together to deliver value to their customers need to do.

Having many different workflows allows lots of flexibility, but imposes extra work for the folks who need to coordinate the work of many teams, since they need to translate all the different states to understand where things stand. A common scheme is most successful when it makes it easier for teams to adopt it than it is to come up with their own way of doing things. Your company needs to find the balance that is right for your particular needs. 

(Important note: If you decide you want to let each team define their own workflow, Jira Align will support any sort of mapping. There just needs to be a process to let the Jira Align administrators know how and when to update the mapping rules. Otherwise, the information will get out of synch.)

When I suggested a common scheme, that includes:

  1. Issue types: Do you need custom issue types? If so, does the work represented by those issues need to be represented in Jira Align?
  2. Custom attributes: Do you have many custom attributes? Who is responsible for making sure the information conveyed is accurate? What decisions are made based on those attributes?
  3. Workflows: Are there specific steps that must be followed, or are there multiple possible transition paths? Are all the states used? Are there many separate state names that represent the same actual work (e.g., 10 different ways of indicating "code is being tested"?) Are there states that have the same name but represent different work to be done (e.g., teams use "In Review" to mean waiting for funding, waiting for product owner details, waiting for internal teams, waiting for customer feedback, etc?)

You can build the scheme in an agile manner: start with a simplified scheme (an MVP), and then have development teams use it and add to the scheme based on their feedback. The Product Owner for the scheme can take the feedback from all the different internal customers and be responsible for determining what new features need to be added.

Like Friendly Giant likes this

Thanks @Rich Sparks  @Philipp Staat  @Bill Goodall           

These are very helpfull tips and hints that i will follow as i am starting up at a new company. I appreciate teh guide to have a limited number of fields used in Jira....so we can scale.

 

And i intend to align with @Fun Man Andy to spread this important word in our AUG.

 

Have a fantastic day  🌷

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