The Agile Program Manager: The most important role you don't have

Oct 27, 2019 10:09:09 PM / by Robert Orefice

At Hakkiri, we have found that a powerful way to scale Agile successfully is to establish an Agile Program.  In establishing this program, a key part is to ensure someone is given the role of the Agile Program Manager.

Very commonly, especially at high-growth companies, we see a pattern where Agile teams are operating 'autonomously', usually in a Scrum framework, blissfully operating as if everything is in their own control. The focus is mostly inward to the team-level and continuous improvement efforts stop at the team boundaries. This can work for a period of time but can quickly break down the moment a Stakeholder asks your leadership, "What's the status?".

Chaos ensues, teams get interrupted with questions of who is working on what.  They start naming dependencies and blockers that were never communicated,  the disjointed processes of different teams seem impossible to reconcile, and everyone starts pointing fingers.  You might also see or hear a few of these:

  • "What the heck is team X working on?" -- Your top priorities aren't getting done and there's one or two teams hard at work where no one really knows what they are doing or why it's important.
  • The "I got this" process guru -- A product or engineering leader has been tasked with process definition even though they have no proven experience in this domain.  They LOVE the process they created like it's their firstborn child and focus more on that than defining or building products.  Even though the process isn't working for anyone, this de facto owner refuses to entertain getting help.
  • The non-Agile process consultant comes to town -- Your Board is so frustrated by your lack of answers that they bring in their favorite operations consultant to whip you into shape.  They have the wrong bag of tricks for software development.  The Board will get lots of status reports, but your product will stall and your engineers will run for the exits.

If these things sound familiar, you urgently need to establish an Agile Program and fill the most important role you don't have: The Agile Program Manager.

What is an Agile Program Manager?

The Agile Program Manager keeps a laser focus on the successful delivery of the highest business value features across Agile teams, while ensuring transparency and collaboration throughout the rest of the organization.  This role isn't a program manager in the traditional sense just as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach is not a project manager in the traditional sense.

In the context of an Agile Program, the Agile Program Manager owns the process definition of how the program operates.   This is generally done by creating a Program Increment (PI) which is a program level planning process across teams.  For example, a common cadence is a 6-week PI, which is made up of 3, 2-week Sprints for those teams doing Scrum.  There are many other configurations possible, which can be tailored to the business needs of each program.  The Agile Program Manager becomes the conductor of the cross-team process, coaching at the program level and ensuring there is clear visibility into all status and progress.

How is an Agile Program Manager different from a ScrumMaster?

A ScrumMaster is typically focused on the efficiency of the team itself.  Sure, there are many times the ScrumMaster is chasing down impediments that are the result of a dependency on another team, but once that is out of the way, the main focus is on the team.  On mature Agile Programs, once things are running smoothly enough, the Agile Program Manager may step in as a temporary ScrumMaster or Agile Coach for teams in need.  However we strongly recommend this practice only after the Agile Program has reached an advanced maturity level.

Hakkiri believes it is important to stay current and be students of all industry trends, so we'll point out a role in different ‘agile at scale’ frameworks that have a similar concept:

How can Hakkiri help with Agile Program Management?

Hakkiri’s Continuous ClarityTM Platform will help you organize your teams and deliverables into Agile Programs and get unparalleled visibility into your operation. Your Agile Program Manager will have the dashboard of their dreams giving them the real-time situational awareness needed to coach the teams towards successful delivery.  Try out our 30-day Free Trial or request a demo today!

If you are seeking assistance with adopting Agile, defining your Agile Programs, selecting/training your Agile Program Manager, configuring your toolsets, or instituting Agile best practices, we also offer expert consulting services at a variety of levels depending on your needs.

See Part 2 of this series on how to identify and train your Agile Program Manager -- and be sure to subscribe to our blog and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest. 

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Tags: Agile, Process

Robert Orefice

Written by Robert Orefice

Robert Orefice is a co-founder of Hakkiri. He has previously served in senior leadership roles across Technology, Product and Portfolio/Program Management at Eze Software Group, WebMD and Aetion. In each of these roles he has directed Agile transformations with an emphasis on blending the right mix of tools and processes to drive a great team culture, while also giving the necessary visibility to executive stakeholders. Previous to his work in the software industry, Robert spent over 12 years as a microprocessor design engineer and methodology lead at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The process discipline, iterative engineering workflows, and demanding quality requirements from the semiconductor industry have enabled him to bring a unique perspective into Agile software development.