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Pulling Agile into the Picture

Ever noticed those “push” / “pull” stickers on shop doors? They always seem so insignificant until that one day when you make the wrong move, run into the door, and spill coffee everywhere. Yes, it’s the worst and not completely irrelevant. Believe it or not, those very same stickers make all the difference in agile at scale.  

Traditionally, waterfall management gives enterprise executives the responsibility to define strategy, map out plans, then push the work down the hierarchy of an organization. This process creates bottlenecks, is detached from the reality of work execution, and undermines any ownership shared by the teams. As a result, this command-and-control culture cripples agility, and potentially long-term business success.   

In effort to change the status quo, two facts must be recognized first: 1. There are multitude of changing variables at the team level that influence what and how work is executed—from scope creep, dependencies, and blockers. And, 2. It ranges from inefficient to impossible for teams to constantly monitor and report on these variables so a high-level executive can make planning decisions. For years, organizations poured resources into optimizing these processes, but remained stuck in this reality. Today, agile enterprises have flipped the script, bringing the work to the teams. This means equipping teams with the responsibility and strategic visibility to make decisions around work execution.

By passing responsibility down the chain to the Program and Team level, decisions can be made alongside the work by team members who know the work best. At these levels, agile teams can look up to the strategy defined by executives and use their knowledge of dev capacity, scope of work, and even details on architecture to map out plans that best support those strategies. In other words, agile teams can “pull” direction from the upper levels to make better-informed and faster decisions. Arguably most important, this responsibility increases the feeling of work ownership among teams.

From foundational functionality to the details, Jira Align is designed to empower this agile mentality. In this article, I’ll highlight two small, and sometimes overlooked, buttons that enable the pull action.  

First, and most befitting, is the Pull Rank button on the work item backlogs. Here, agile teams at each level of scale have the option to reprioritize their backlog in correspondence to how parent work items are prioritized (either in Jira Align or from an external system). For example, if Epic A is #1 on Portfolio backlog, a Program Manager working on the Feature backlog can pull rank to order the child features of Epic A to also come first. Teams are not obligated to prioritize in this exact order, but they now have the option. In most cases, we see Scrum Masters, Solution Managers, and Product Managers pull rank into their backlog, then make changes to the order of items as needed. This is a quick and easy way to baseline priority in a logical and aligned manner.

Pull Rank.png


Another small, but powerful button is Jira Align’s Why button. Packed with insights, this button lives on every work item and provides the broader, strategic context of the work. This is especially empowering for teams. So often team members are disconnected from product vision and business strategy. They are fed (or “pushed”) stories and tasks with no understanding as to how this work will impact success for the company. No matter how small the work item is, it will roll up to a larger item, which then contributes to an even bigger strategic effort. Jira Align documents this breadcrumb trail in the Why button. Team members can pull insights around their work items and understand why their work is important. Content includes details around parent work items, the supported Theme, Weighted Shortest Job First, success metrics, and even the business case tied to this work.  

Why button.png


Allow me to leave you with one last piece of advice: don’t underestimate the power of these small actions. They nurture individual empowerment and ultimately, agile team ownership. And from what I’ve found, these are driving forces behind enterprise success.



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