10 Years of Big Room Planning by Martin Burns@CA Technologies
When you have a delivery team of teams – or a team of team of teams, across many functional areas and geographies – collaboratively planning in one big room is a proven, effective approach to producing a 3-6 month mid-range plan, one fractal above the iteration plan in a planning onion (Release). Some organisations on the journey from Annual (or less frequent) Releases find this a helpful point to increase their Release frequency, and align it to releases. Others further along the Continuous Delivery path use it to close in on the next focus area of their roadmap.
Prior to its acquisition by CA in 2015, Rally Software practiced Big Room Planning for well over a decade on its own products (including what is now CA Agile Central). Carrying forward that heritage, CA now practises Big Room Planning across its entire product portfolio, and has helped hundreds of enterprises launch this method for themselves. Transformation Consultant Martin Burns, shares three benefits of working this way.
1. When you plan together, you get faster plans
Any kind of planning is an exercise in uncertainty; uncertainty in what the problem is, uncertainty in what the solution might be, uncertainty in what it will take to achieve it. Producing a mid-range plan that fairly exposes the uncertainty yet gives enough confidence to move forward requires taking decisions in conditions of high uncertainty, and so many of them. It’s a complex environment.
CA Transformation Consultant Suzanne Nottage has estimated that to produce a mid-range, mid-precision plan for a delivery group takes 20,000 informed decisions. And we know that the best way to work under conditions of complexity and uncertainty is to implement feedback loops – the faster the better – that pull in everyone who has an informed point of view, including every stakeholder who will be impacted from all the external groups who have dependencies to or from our team of teams. If we can’t get all of those people, then we need empowered decision-makers.
When you have ‘everyone’ immediately available to you, you can make those decisions super quickly, particularly when it’s supported by in-situ coachingsupporting that it’s the best decision you can make with what you know. It might still be mostly right, but that is why we have the mechanisms to sense and adjust.
The result is that you can form a sound mid-range plan that sticks in just 2 days.
When you get really good at it – like CA’s Agile Management Business Unit – you can get done in a day.
Compare that to programme planning cycles that take weeks and months when your method is email, Skype and exchange of Gantt Charts to do the legwork of bringing together everyone’s experience and knowledge.
2. When the people who do the work plan the work, you get better plans
Traditionally, plans are created by managers. While managers may have great experience, being removed from the direct work simply means that experience is no longer current. The only experts at detail are the people who do the work every day. What managers bring is context. So you need managers with context in the room, too.
This closes down or significantly clarifies a whole class of risk right up at the start; all those implementation questions are easily resolved simply by getting out of your chair and going and walking over to the people who have informed experience. All those questions about ‘why’ that go beyond the Powerpoint: the same.
Further, the diversity of views from having everyone together means that you will consider angles that otherwise would be entirely missed.
So we need everyone involved in the work to be be involved in the planning process. This means everyone. Not representatives. Not ‘experts only’. Everyone.
3. When you plan together, you get happier, more engaged people
In their conference presentations on their experiences, a large Danish toy manufacturer strongly insists that you should not underestimate the impact of Big Room Planning on building the social fabric of your delivery organisation. My experience absolutely mirrors that. Bringing together the entire delivery group three or four times a year transforms the email signature and the voice into a living person; someone you respond far more empathetically to; someone you’re far more likely to help and support when things get tough, as they always do. It builds the culture of your organisation, and gives you an inflection point to be able to build it in the direction you choose.
And quite simply, it’s an event that is joyful.
As an example, I worked with a team of team of teams whose mid-range planning consisted of each team in its own small breakout room, collated by conference call, while management sat nervously awaiting the outcome. The process was long and exhausting for everyone, not least as it spanned the globe.
We carried out a mood survey straight after the planning process. This was a simple, one word “how did the process feel” question, converted into word cloud, with more frequently occurring words appearing larger, and colour-coding for positive/negative sentiment. Well over half of respondents expressed negative feelings about the process. This is a long way from my experience of effective BRP, which are consistently amongst the most energising, engaging experiences I have had in my entire career.
Caption: Word Cloud sentiment analysis after Big Phone Planning.
Following this event, the organisation admirably took up the challenge to move to Big Room Planning, coming together in a small number of Big Rooms in the US, Europe and India. The difference in mood is striking; almost two thirds of respondents reported a positive feeling about the event, and while the event retrospectives had plenty of annoyances, and ideas to remove them, no-one was advocating a return to the many small rooms.
Caption: Word Cloud sentiment after the first attempt at Big Room Planning
A secondary outcome of this is commitment. It’s not possible to commit on behalf of someone else; I can only commit for me, for something I believe in. When the people who are doing the work also plan it, the result is not only a plan; it’s a team of teams who believe in that plan and are deeply committed to delivering on it.
It sounds crazy: put everyone in a room for two days and shake, and out of the end comes a sound plan and everyone committed to it. And just a little bit magic. And yet it works, time and time again.
Find out more about this subject during the talk of Martin Burns „10 years of Big Room Planning“ at Agile Leadership Day 2017.