The Big Room: Laying The Groundwork

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“Responding to change over following a plan”; it’s in the agile manifesto.

Many use this to argue that we don’t need to plan. As we have found at Drillinginfo, that is a fallacy and planning IS valuable and needs to be done in order to properly organize and monitor work being done.

 

We started using agile in 2012 in small teams to improve our process, mostly adopted via OJT and trying different things people read about. First we put up a board to visualize work done every 2 weeks and tracked progress in a burndown chart. Over time, we hired people with project management skills who knew different agile processes and could coach teams on methodology and slowly work with the teams to adopt those processes that worked.

 

Along the way, our teams adopted either ScrumBan or Kanban approaches and our delivery improved, to a point. We were now struggling with all the features and initiatives our Sales and Product organizations were asking from us. How could we organize it in such a way as to outline what we were working on? We were planning sprints and holding grooming meetings, however, we still had a yearly Roadmap which the Product and Executives of our company put together and periodically asked where we were in building it. There was little communication between these groups and the teams beyond that.

 

During a meeting with an agile tool vendor, big room planning was discussed and encouraged. From what we discussed, it would help us with the pain points we were experiencing. Now, how to implement it? We would need to get our executive leadership on board, both for the time our teams would take to do it as well as budget to conduct the meeting. Future articles will go into specifics of the evolution of our planning and conducting Big Room sessions.

 

The two main executives we needed on board were our CTO, to whom all Tech teams reported to, and the VP of Product, whose group defined what products/features we would work on. Our CTO has been very supportive of our agile transformation. We pitched the idea of holding an offsite planning meeting to get everyone on the same page before the next quarter’s work begins. Doing planning this way would provide a shared vision of the work, collaborate to remove risks and obstacles, and communicate with each other to agree on the work. He accepted our proposal and provided the budget for food. DI had access to a large room in our building complex in which we would conduct the session.

 

Next, we met with the Product VP, explaining the process and discussing the benefits. Product had already developed the roadmap for the year, this just required that they focus their requests on that which they want in the first quarter of the year. We stressed the benefits of conducting these meetings: increased visibility into what teams committed to work on and the ability to track this throughout the next quarter. They agreed and were able to provide the quarterly list, but they did not agree that prioritization was needed. (baby steps - we would continue to work on this) We received a list of product features, with input from our Support and Sales Associates and that is what we took into the planning meeting.