Features, Not Stories, Are the Real Measure of Value

In a recent Business Insider story, Atlassian’s President, Jay Simons was quoted as saying, in respect to companies’ challenges delivering software at scale across teams and programs, and as to why Atlassian acquired AgileCraft:

“For really large enterprises, this is a really gnarly problem,” Simons said. “They need the ability to make these kinds of decisions. That’s really what this is about.”

As an independent outsider, the Atlassian acquisition makes sense to me, because Atlassian’s most widely used tool for agile development, Jira, while incredibly flexible, doesn’t scale by itself and doesn’t provide visibility well across projects and programs. (Yes, I know there are tons of plugins, that may help, but they fundamentally don’t solve this issue, in my experience.)

AgileCraft, on the other hand, was developed to address strategic-level decision-making from the portfolio level down to the team level. AgileCraft’s integration with Jira allows enterprise customers to leverage their existing Jira data and infrastructure to solve for program-level and above issues such as:

  1.  What’s the ROI on our software development investments?
  2. Are we, as an organization, focused and aligned on developing the right thing at the right time?
  3. What do our cross-program dependencies look like and are we managing them?
  4. Are our teams (agile or otherwise) working on the right thing at the right time?
  5. Will our teams meet their commitments for this release/quarter/planning increment?
  6. Are teams delivering value at the business/enterprise level?

While all of the above questions are worthy of their own blog post, I’ll focus this post on the last question for four reasons:

  1. In my experience, when coaching organizations from team-level agile to SAFe (or another agile at scale method), the answer is usually no (at least not at first),
  2. AgileCraft does an exceptional job of providing visibility at the program level, which Jira lacks in any meaningful way, on its own,
  3. Features, not stories, are the real measure of value when scaling agile to the enterprise, and
  4. Finally, I’m on a flight from Denver to Vegas to attend the Atlassian Summit this afternoon and I can leverage this SolutionsIQ interview I did at the 2016 SAFe Summit for content!

The reason most teams have trouble developing value at the business/enterprise level when they first transition to SAFe, or another form of agile at scale, is that they are used to focusing on optimizing velocity per sprint. They are “looking down” at the story level, when they need to be looking up to the feature (Jira Epic) level. This requires a change in agile mentality from a team-focused mentality to a team of teams-focused mentality.

The challenge is when you go to a Scaled Agile environment, stories are no longer the value object, they’re potential value. The feature becomes the delivered value to the customer. And because of that, what you’ll often see early on, and even fairly along into things, is the teams will consistently be working hard to get their velocity up but they’re never delivering their features. They’re only getting 70, 80, 90% of a feature done because they’re not focused on the real value, which is the feature.

This is the beauty and power of AgileCraft, by it’s very nature of having a powerful focus on the program/ART level – program board, dependency management, program velocity, and especially the Planning Increment Progress (think PI/quarter/release burn down/burn up) view – program-level leadership and above, as well, as agile team members can quickly determine if they are completing the right things (features) in the right order at the right time, thereby delivering business value to the enterprise, not just potential value. (I believe this is so powerful and important, that it is the focus of my free AgileCraft whitepaper.)

In addition, there is another powerful outcome of integrating Jira with AgileCraft, and that is it leads to the agile teams to “look up” to the features and higher strategic level work items (portfolio epics and capabilities) to understand how what they are working on ties into the company goals. Why is that significant?

I’ll leave you with a version of a parable you may have heard before:

Two bricklayers working side by side were asked what they were doing. The first brick layer said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second one said, ” I’m building a cathedral.”

Jira, by itself (in my experience) often results in an “I’m a bricklayer” mentality. AgileCraft with Jira allows every team member (agile or otherwise) to look up and possibly realize they’re building a cathedral.

If you’d like to learn more about the power of AgileCraft to shift teams from a team velocity mindset to a program velocity mindset focused on completing features, request a copy of my free AgileCraft whitepaper.