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Transitioning from Portfolio to Align

JS January 10, 2020

Hi - We are currently using Jira Portfolio but are curious about the LOE to transition to Align.  We have 60-70 teams in 15 Product Lines.  Any thoughts on how easy/difficult would this transition be?  We are primarily Scrum based and Scale leveraging a Lean Agile Framework.  We currently use a hierarchy of Strategic Milestones > MVI > Epics > Stories > SubTask.  Our current reporting is immature so starting from scratch with reporting would not be a headache.  Our teams have been using Jira at the team level for years however so there is a significant amount of data.

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Peter Jessen
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January 11, 2020

Hi @JS,

While your question is fairly straightforward, the answer is not due to all of the variables that are left unasked/unanswered. I'll try to give you a short answer, based on what you've shared, and then a longer more nuanced answer.

Short(ish) Answer: Relatively straightforward transition, based on what you shared

In my experience, the Jira Align adoptions that work start with a pilot program of 50 - 125 people (think SAFe Agile Release Train) organized into agile teams with a common purpose/focus. Based on what you've shared, this could be one of your Product Lines.

Assuming a straightforward mapping of your hierarchy to Jira Align's Strategic Themes -> Portfolio Epics -> Features (Jira Epics) -> Stories -> (Agile) Tasks, much of your data probably can be direct imported via Jira Align's import function (for your Milestones and MVIs) and then synced with Jira (for epics, stories, sub-tasks) via Jira Align's Jira connector.

A good idea is to allow 90 days for an initial pilot implementation to get up-and-running with the pilot program having time to get the details right, then roll to additional programs (Product Lines?) on an accelerating pace. The pilot program becomes both advocate for Jira Align and a source of internal trainers/coaches to help additional programs adopt Jira Align.

Assuming a straightforward, plain vanilla Jira environment with common/universal workflows, minimal additional issue types (you didn't mention bugs, defects, spikes, etc.), minimal use of (standard) custom fields, no use of nexgen projects, proper agile team process, and a few other factors, you could successfully and smoothly transition all 60 - 70 teams in your 15 product lines to Jira Align in 9 - 12 months.

Can it be done faster? Yes. But in my experience, the "Big Bang" approach of transitioning everyone to Jira Align in one shot either: 1) fails miserably or 2) costs far more in rework, lost productivity, confusion, dumping/reloading data than a phased approach described above.

Below are three excellent Jira Align resources for more details on the technical considerations of implementing and integrating Jira Align with Jira:

Longer Answer: It depends on organizational maturity, quality of current Jira discipline, level of agile maturity, ability to implement organizational change, and other factors

So let's hit on some things you didn't explicitly mention in the information you provided, all of which impact the ease/difficulty of implementation, pace of implementation, and probability of success:

  1. The current Jira implementation and data
    • You mention having years of Jira data. How much of this data do you actually want synced with Jira Align?
      • Typically when implementing clients really need only the last 2 - 4 quarters of data sycned over for initial analysis and planning metrics
      • The rest of the data would still be accessible in Jira, but probably isn't needed in Jira Align
    • How standardized is the existing Jira implementation?
      • Are all teams on 1 - 3 universal/standard workflows? Or do they all have the ability to create their own workflows (and therefore do)?
      • Are all team using the same standard/universal custom fields, or does each team or group of teams have divergent custom field usage?
      • Is the use of standard and custom fields consistent across teams and programs?
        • For example: Is component used consistently?
          • I've seen some teams use it to specify a software component or OS (ex: Android vs iOS) and other teams in the same company use it to specify the team consuming the story.
      • Do your programs have the same structure or relationship between teams to Jira projects?
        • For example:
          • Do all the teams working on a program/project/(?product line?) work in the same Jira project or
          • does each team have its own Jira project or
          • A mix of the two?
      • Do teams share sprints or do they follow the Atlassian best practice of only using sprints created off their own team board?
        • Are teams consistent in their sprint discipline and are they on a common cadence across programs or the organization?
    • Do you have one or multiple Jira instances? Are they cloud, data center or server?
    • If you do have inconsistent usage of Jira (based on the items above), do you want to migrate to a clean Jira instance before integrating with Jira Align or keep the existing instances?
    • These are just some of the typical issues involved with existing Jira environments
  2. Organizational agile maturity:
    • How mature is agile in the organization at the team level?
      • Many organizations think they are much further along the agile maturity journey than they really are.
      • Do the teams actually live a lean agile mindset or do they use Jira and therefore assume they are agile?
      • Why is this relevant to implementing Jira Align?
        • Because teams will either adopt Jira Align with open arms because it enables better agile behavior (at team level and at scale) or they will fight it (often passive-aggressively) because they see Jira Align as an assault on their independence, forces them to conform to company standards, and provides transparency to everyone on what every team is doing.
          • Mindset and culture matters - in fact it is critical to a successful Jira Align implementation
    • Does the organization have any experience with agile at scale already?
      • Jira Align will, by its very nature, help instill a more agile at scale way of thinking.
      • The issue here is:
        • Are the scrum masters and product owners already trained to "look up" to the features (Jira epics) and above to keep their teams aligned with strategic goals?, or
        • Do the scrum masters and product owners primarily "look down" and focus on velocity?
          • This often leads to features (Jira epics) only getting 80% complete, but never finished and accepted.
            • NOTE: The importance here is that the feature is the lowest level of business value in agile at scale. The story is only potential value.
    • There are many other organizational maturity issues that arise when implementing Jira Align, because it is fundamentally an enterprise transformation platform.
      • Implementing Jira Align can be treated like just implementing another IT tool, but it has the power to support transformation of the entire enterprise and empower business agility, as now described in SAFe 5.0.
  3. Ability to implement organizational change
  4. Existing and desired organizational structure
  5. Presence or lack of a proper champion
    • I left this one for last because it is the most critical success factor in a successful implementation of Jira Align, whether transitioning from Jira Portfolio or integrating with Jira for the first time.
    • As I mentioned above, Jira Align is, by the very nature of the visibility and insights it provides, an enterprise transformation platform. As such, a champion with a vision at a sufficiently high level in the organization can make or break the adoption of Jira Align and (usually) an agile at scale framework (such as SAFe).
    • I've been involved with multiple Jira Align implementations over the last 4 years, some with strong champions, some with no champions, and some where the champion left in mid-adoption. The smoothest and most successful were the ones with strong champions throughout.
    • It is possible to successfully implement Jira Align without a champion, but it takes more time and there are greater risks for failure.

I will continue to expand on this answer as I have time, but it is the weekend and family time right now! So watch this answer for the updates.


Peter Jessen
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January 14, 2020

Hi @JS, Is there anything else you wanted to know about transitioning from Jira Portfolio to Jira Align?

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JS March 21, 2020

Thank you for the very thoughtful answer.  This has helped us planning our way forward.  

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Peter Jessen
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March 21, 2020

Hi @JS

You are very welcome. Feel free to reach out with any other questions.


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