Aligning Global Teams Through Agile Program Management: A Case Study

Agile Program Management

Like many organizations, Planview operates globally, with headquarters in Austin, Texas, and offices in Stockholm and Bangalore. About two years ago, we launched a company-wide initiative to rewire our organization and embrace Agile ways of working—not just in product and R&D, but across every department and team, starting with marketing. We developed three go-to-market (GTM) teams, whose goals and objectives centered around building marketing campaigns to create a pipeline for sales. Each team aligned to a different buyer group, with members from the product, marketing, and sales.

The challenge: integrating international teams in our Agile transformation

Like many organizations, we struggled to align and execute our marketing programs across our international teams, defaulting to “North-America-first efforts” that other regions were then left to replicate. As we built out these new groups, we considered how to best include our five-person team of regionally aligned field and demand marketers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

At the beginning of our Agile transformation, the EMEA marketers were often misaligned and disconnected from big-picture plans. The EMEA teams were running different campaigns from those in North America. Before forming cross-functional GTM teams, the EMEA team had to individually meet with the different functions in marketing, product marketing, and other departments. The extra complications of time zones and cultures also made it difficult to get things done and stay on strategy.

With team members feeling disconnected, at Planview we suffered lower-impact campaigns and less-than-ideal demand generation. To succeed in our Agile transformation journey, it was critical to properly align the international team through an integrated Agile program management strategy.

The approach: forming and integrating the EMEA team into Agile program management

While the three GTM teams had dedicated cross-functional members representing demand generation, content strategy, and product marketing, it was clear that assigning an EMEA team member to each of these teams wouldn’t solve the problem. Each EMEA marketer is organized by region and language, not by GTM Agile Release Train (ART), so we needed to develop our own EMEA Agile program that would meet the challenges and achieve the needed international alignment.

Agile Program Management

Working with our Chief Marketing Officer and other stakeholders, we determined that we would continue to align our EMEA team by region/language. Now that the GTM teams were formed (with each team having all the necessary people to deliver end-to-end value), the EMEA team could meet with each team in the context of the prioritized strategic initiatives. Drawing on our local expertise, we could weigh the campaigns from the three GTM teams against each other to determine which would drive the most pipeline and impact in each region. This structure enabled EMEA marketers to opt into GTM campaigns that were regionally impactful, instead of creating standalone campaigns. This approach has been a success. At our last PI planning event, EMEA progressed from just replicating campaigns into co-planning and co-creating the campaigns that were of local interest and fit.

By including the distributed teams in Agile program management, we achieved better alignment as a global marketing team; gave our EMEA marketers the opportunity to leverage fully supported, regionally impactful campaigns; and ultimately, achieved better results for our demand generation campaigns.

Learning 1: When starting the process of shifting to an Agile approach, there is an advantage in letting the GTM team form, storm, and norm before involving the EMEA team. That delay allows for the EMEA team to finish up previously committed (sales-agreed-upon) deliverables. It gives the team and the sales stakeholders time to observe and see the benefits of Agile GTM teams without feeling that they are not getting the support they were expecting.

The practice: virtual, inclusive PI planning

Our model continues to evolve in a positive way. We’ve now been through five PI planning events and have transitioned from a “one EMEA representative” approach to including our full marketing team in a truly global planning event.

What does a global planning event look like in practice?

When our EMEA team started to participate in PI planning, we had one representative join to understand the process and feed the critical milestones into the team’s plans. We then matured to the full team joining remotely, which meant that we needed to create a system that would enable inclusive planning across continents.

We created a process of “continuous planning.” First, our global team would plan “together,” from Austin and virtually via web conferencing for EMEA. Our EMEA teams would log off during the evenings in their time zones, and the US team would continue to plan with recorded readouts. The next morning, while the US teams were offline, the EMEA teams would listen to the readouts, adapt plans accordingly, and provide their own readouts on changes made once the team was back together during mutual business hours. While tricky at first, this process ensured that everyone was engaged and that all teams’ contributions were heard and considered. Most recently, we’ve conducted fully virtual planning in mutual time zones.

Learning 2: The gradual inclusion in PI planning meant the GTM teams were already well-established and well-versed in the process. The maturity of the teams and the process helped a lot in the inclusion of the international team.

The results: greater alignment, faster time-to-market, better campaigns

Agile Program Management

The impact of our EMEA Agile program can be broken down into three main categories: alignment, time, and utilization.

The collaboration between the EMEA and GTM teams has created significantly stronger connection and alignment, evidenced by both the improvement in campaign quality and our working practices. Our teams have increased visibility into shared and separate work and developed a better understanding of how decisions impact overarching shared goals.

Our Agile ceremonies, combined with the use of Planview LeanKit, have served as a catalyst and a framework to bring us closer together. Communication is easier, more frequent, and more productive, as everyone is aligned to the same goals and plans and has visibility into each other’s progress, needs, and capacity. The greater team can now make conscious trade-offs based on mutual priorities, which enables the EMEA team to focus on the right things and deemphasize asks that are not aligned to the goals. EMEA marketers feel more involved and have an important seat at the table. That is both motivating and effective.

Learning 3: Ceremonies and visual planning tools are absolutely necessary, but only really benefit teams with the right enablement and coaching. To this day we still meet weekly with our Agile coach to refine our LeanKit board and discuss WIP limits, sizing, retros, etc.

From a time-to-market perspective, we’ve seen substantial improvements. Before aligning EMEA to the GTM teams, there were delays in deploying campaigns because EMEA would “find out” about campaigns rather than being part of them from the beginning. Now, the team can give early input and feedback on how a campaign could be adapted to provide the most impact for EMEA, then roll it out more quickly. As a concrete example, we have reduced the time for campaign tactics to go live from three months to three weeks.

The volume and quality of campaigns and campaign materials has increased significantly as well. In the past, the EMEA team often made do with the materials (especially translated materials) that were available, not the assets that were ideal. There were campaign ideas that we could not realize due to a lack of localized material. Without dedicated resources for EMEA, the team had to share creative and translation services with North American providers, who often needed to prioritize programs led by corporate/North America.

Now that EMEA has full visibility into the North American programs, they know what kind of material is in development.

Scaled Agile

They give input on what is needed to execute campaigns in global markets and when delivery will happen. That means EMEA campaigns can begin at almost the same time as the North American ones, and their marketers can prepare for when translated assets and other materials will be available.

Overall, by transforming our EMEA Agile program, the region went from running one or two campaigns each PI to running five campaigns per PI. EMEA marketing went from approximately four to six new localized assets/materials per year to 18 – 20. We added three translated, campaign-specific landing pages per language. And, most importantly, we’re beginning to see direct indication of pipeline improvements.

Agile program management can be challenging with international, distributed teams. By integrating our global team members into our planning processes from the beginning of our Agile transformation, we’ve been able to achieve measurable benefits across the marketing organization.

About Verena Bergfors

Verena is the Marketing Director for Planview’s EMEA markets

Verena is the Marketing Director for Planview’s EMEA markets. She’s from Germany but moved to Sweden around 10 years ago and has been with Planview for over four years. Prior to living in Sweden, she worked in Shanghai for seven years where she held positions in marketing and sales. Verena’s true passion is languages and she enjoys working on diverse international teams.

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Planview Executed a Successful Virtual PI Planning – Know How

Virtual PI Planning

Program increment (PI) Planning plays a critical role in ensuring cross-team alignment and collaboration. Typically done as a two-day, in-person event, PI Planning brings teams and leadership together to create program plans based on a shared mission and vision. As our marketing team approached its most recent PI Planning, we faced a challenge: how could we execute a successful PI Planning event in a completely virtual way?

The answer: surprisingly well. In our recent webinar, We Survived Virtual PI Planning, event participants shared how we prepared for virtual PI Planning, what went well, and lessons learned. In this blog post, we take a closer look at how the Planview go-to-market (GTM) ART not only survived virtual PI Planning but pulled it off with flying colors.

Before the event: The importance of preparation

All of the webinar panelists emphasized the importance of preparation. “Preparation always matters for a PI event,” explained Agile Coach Steve Wolfe from Peak Agility. “But it matters even more for a virtual event. We wanted to make sure that we covered every possible item and contingency.”

Steve and I (our part-time RTE) began planning for the virtual event several weeks before it occurred, using a T-minus calendar to ensure conversations started early and occurred often. We first decided on communication platforms, selecting existing enterprise channels Zoom and Slack for ease of use and familiarity. With the standard whiteboards and sticky notes off the table for planning itself, we looked to Planview LeanKit as our visualization tool. Next, we considered timing. Two full days felt long even in person, so we elected to spread the event out over four half-days, in the morning in North America, which ended up being a critical component of the virtual PI planning event’s success.

We developed the event agenda with even greater attention to detail than usual. We consciously limited the number of time people spent just listening, added a dedicated number of inter-and cross-team breakout sessions, and cut back on vision and context content while making it more interactive with an executive Q&A session. In addition, we ran orientation sessions before the virtual PI planning event with leaders, teams, facilitators, and scrum masters to set expectations. We sent out recordings to walk people through the structure of the event and detailed process documentation to explain prep work needed and desired outcomes.

At the team level, leaders like the Director of Product Marketing and GTM Head Brook Appelbaum focused on gaining the vision and context necessary to guide PI planning. “We met with leadership early and often to discuss what was going on with our business and customers,” Brook elaborated. “Now that everyone was distributed, what did it mean for our programs? This gave us direction on how to pause, pivot, or persist with our campaigns and shape our collective understanding of our business going into virtual PI Planning.”

Brook and her peers complemented their meetings with executives, sales, and customer success leaders with a metrics deep dive. “We went through the numbers to see where we were from a pipeline perspective and the details of our programs and campaigns, down to the media, tactics, and channels,” she continued. “It gave us greater insight into what was performing well and what needed to be adjusted.” We also held brainstorming sessions, facilitated by panelist Leyna O’Quinn, content strategist and scrum master. The team talked through their ideas, then compared their inputs to their current backlog items and reprioritized accordingly. This allowed them to bring the most current thinking into PI planning.

Leyna helped the team finish work in progress from its current PI as well, so they could prepare for their final demo and review their backlog. They reviewed metrics, within LeanKit, from the current PI to see what worked and what didn’t, including:

  • Queues, to reflect each work item’s total lifecycle
  • Lead time and cycle time, to understand how long it takes for work to flow through the process
  • Throughput, with information like completed cards per day or week and story points for interaction
  • Cumulative flow, as a visual representation of work in progress as it flows

According to Leyna, “These visual reports and ceremonies allowed the team to have an open dialog and discuss ways to improve processes, tweak our board, and create a culture of continuous improvement.”

During the event: Synchronous engagement and executive commitment

With their thorough preparation behind them, the GTM ART kicked off its fifth PI Planning event—and first fully virtual event.

It quickly became clear that the four half-day approaches was a winner. Head of EMEA Marketing Verena Bergfors described why it mattered to her team. “When it was a two-day event, we couldn’t participate in the whole thing because of the time difference. We had to listen to recordings from the previous day to try to catch up and provide relevant feedback. With the virtual event, we could read out live with everyone listening and adjust and adapt in real-time. It was the first real PI planning that the EMEA team has been able to fully participate in.”

Chief Marketing Officer Cameron van Orman praised the four-day format as well. “Before we went all virtual, we were talking about flying the whole EMEA team out here for face-to-face planning,” Cameron laughed. “There would have been a real cost to that, not just financial but also time and opportunity cost. When we were forced to do it virtually, we saw the power and impact of synchronously planning together across all of our regions.”

Director of Corporate Marketing Leslie Marcotte echoed these sentiments. For her, the virtual PI Planning event allowed for greater collaboration between her shared services organization and the go-to-market teams. The process made work items, like key milestones and deliverables for shared services teams, much more visible and allowed the groups to identify dependencies, increase collaboration, and foster the right conversations. The cross-team breakout sessions were particularly impactful. “It’s much clearer to me how I connect and how I can engage with different teams across the business,” Leslie said.

Virtual PI Planning

One of the unexpected benefits of virtual PI Planning played out during the event. During in-person PI planning, executives often pop in and out of sessions, listening to and steering discussions. On reflection, executives and participants alike agreed that this approach could be intrusive and distracting. At the virtual PI Planning event, leaders like Cameron could listen in the background and chime in when appropriate without changing the dynamic of the conversation. It also offered the opportunity for structured time with executives. Planview CEO Greg Gilmore spent 30 minutes with the virtual team communicating his vision while taking questions to create engagement.

The team’s visualization tool of choice also made a big difference to virtual PI Planning. Agile Coach Steve explained, “LeanKit became essential, enabling us to visualize the whole plan across the entire value stream. Each team had a section to develop their plan during breakouts based on a two-week delivery timeframe. We used colors and cards to quickly visualize the work of each team and connected cards to see dependencies. Boards included links to Zoom breakouts and Slack channels, so from one board, you could get to wherever you needed to go. We used LeanKit before, during, and after the event for everything from readouts to the final confidence vote. It is a powerful tool and a key enabler for pulling off a successful event.”

After the event: Hardening, validation, and continuous improvement

Following the successful conclusion of the four-day virtual PI Planning event, the team focused on validation. “We spent the next week on hardening our plan,” Brook said. “We dedicated time to reviewing and overcommunicating our plans to make sure everyone was on board.” This included readouts in numerous business steering meetings, all the way up to the Board of Directors. The team used its LeanKit boards in those conversations to demonstrate its plans and achieve further alignment.

With their plans validated, the GTM ART went into execution ceremonies and cadences. Immediately after the virtual PI planning event, they hit the ground running with an LPM T-minus calendar. They plan to drive continuous improvement through ongoing communication and collaboration with the business and consistent metrics deep dives that show how they are performing mid-flight, not only at the end of the PI cycle.

Top 5 lessons learned

  1. Prepare thoughtfully and thoroughly. Focus on vision, context, and programs during preparation to create the guardrails that help define plans but resist the urge to go too far into tasks and items before the event.
  2. Create a visual collaboration space. Enterprise-class tooling is critical. Rethink how you can use tools like LeanKit to replace whiteboards and sticky notes and enhance collaboration.
  3. Utilize cross-team breakouts. Every participant in the GTM ART’s virtual PI Planning event found tremendous value in the cross-team breakouts, from tactical benefits to greater empathy for their colleagues.
  4. Engage your executives. An engaged but unobtrusive executive presence demonstrated commitment to the process and the people involved in PI Planning.
  5. Respect your team’s humanness. Virtual PI Planning only worked because its leaders thought hard about the experience. From the four-day structure to frequent breaks to mitigating Zoom fatigue to greater inclusion of global teams, all participants agreed that the event worked well because they were intentional about how it was structured.

“If you’re doing Agile and you’re thinking about doing PI Planning, but you’re hesitant because of the virtual workforce, just do it,” concluded Cameron. “Think about the prep work, visual collaboration, and technology enablers. Have clear outcomes, objectives, and roles. As a business, you can’t wait weeks or months hoping that it will go back to the way it used to be; alignment, shifts, and changes are too important. It may be messy, but there are a lot of things that are better in an all-virtual environment.”

About Emily Peterson

Emily Peterson

Emily Peterson is a demand-gen strategist for Planview’s Lean & Agile Delivery Solution and serves as a part-time RTE for the Go-To-Market Agile Release Train. She uses her professional experience in Agile marketing to leverage new ways of working across the organization, connecting all parts of the business to the overall goals of the organization.

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Inspect and Adapt: How a 30-year-old PPM Company Became a Case Study in Agile Transformation

Agile Transformation

In 2017, Planview (a Scaled Agile partner) realized that its customers and market were evolving beyond their traditional product lines. A leader in project portfolio management (PPM) solutions, Planview recognized the need to adapt both strategically and operationally and looked to Agile to power a much-needed transformation. (Read the full story in Harvard Business Review).

While the development departments had practiced Agile for some time, the larger Planview organization really began its forays into Agile starting in 2017 via the acquisition of a company with strong Agile DNA and a powerful Kanban product. Sporadic successes after the acquisition, however, didn’t translate to the change the company needed. Planview knew that real transformation required a top-down commitment, and in late 2018, established a company-wide goal to rewire its organization through a new Agile Growth Initiative.

The initiative focused on five key objectives:

  1. Infuse agility into the organization by increasing Agile DNA throughout
  2. Admit we couldn’t do it alone and bring in outside coaching support
  3. Embrace Agile practices and ceremonies from leadership to the teams
  4. Reorganize people and teams to focus on customer value
  5. Empower everyone to have a voice and do their best work

Led by the marketing department, Planview brought in external Agile experts as guides and kicked off its first Agile discovery session. When the team asked sales, marketing, and product leaders to list their top priorities, every department was different. It became clear that scaling across functions was the organization’s biggest challenge—and most promising opportunity.

Planview accelerated its Agile initiative by creating three cross-functional Agile teams that comprised the first Go-to-Market Agile Release Train. Through Program Increment (PI) Planning events, the teams shared, according to Harvard Business Review, “… some hard conversations that ultimately resulted in reorganizations and the realignment of people and funds.”

The result: a new emphasis on solutions vs. products that enabled the organization to provide value to their customers in meaningful, innovative ways. With Agile, Planview successfully shifted from a 30-year-old PPM company to an Enterprise Agile Planning Solution Leader. That’s true transformation, although for Planview, it’s simply one more step in a continuous process of inspecting and adapting.

Read the full story of Planview’s transformation in Harvard Business Review.

About Brook Appelbaum

Brook Appelbaum

Brook Appelbaum is the Director of Product Marketing for Planview’s Lean and Agile Delivery Solution. With nearly 20 years of marketing experience, Brook has led many different product and digital marketing teams. However, her favorite leadership role is that of a Product Owner. As part of an Agile marketing team inside Planview, Brook drives the campaign and product marketing strategy for the Lean and Agile Delivery Solution. And she thinks LeanKit is the coolest.

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5 Reasons to Attend the European SAFe Summit – Agile Leadership

SAFe Summit

How do you get stakeholders to collaborate on a roadmap? What are the seven deadly sins of Agile portfolio management? How do you avoid a “train” wreck with your ARTs? What are some techniques for managing the modern workforce? How did Travelport create psychological safety among its C-level leaders?

The 2020 European SAFe Summit, 10-11 June in The Hague, will answer all these questions and more: each day we’re adding new sessions designed to make this Summit the best one yet. The European SAFe Summit is the largest conference for the top SAFe practitioners, experts, and thought leaders working in Agile today.ay.

Last year’s attendees gave us a diversity of reasons why they appreciated the European SAFe Summit—from the informative keynotes and practical sessions to the helpful staff and delicious food. But here are my top five reasons for why you won’t want to miss it.

1. Gain access to SAFe insiders

From the SAFe founder Dean Leffingwell to the SAFe Fellows and SPCTs, the Summit gives you the chance to learn from and share feedback with the SAFe leaders whose experiences and thinking to shape the framework. Come to the SPCT coaching station to sit one-on-one with experts and discuss solutions to your unique challenges.

2. Hear from SAFe customers

Come and hear from some of the largest organizations in Europe about how they’re using SAFe to improve their planning, portfolio strategy, product quality, and time-to-market. Leaders and change agents from Europe’s top companies will be presenting their experiences, learnings, and advice for making SAFe work inside your own organization.

3. Learn best practices

We know, and you know, that organizations are complex, messy, and resistant to change. That’s why it’s so helpful to hear what works—and what doesn’t—across different types of environments. We invite SAFe customers, trainers, and framework experts to share their insights at the Summit because attendees tell us again and again how valuable SAFe best practices are in accelerating adoption and supporting a culture of change.

4. Make connections that support your business

As Agile adoption has expanded across Europe, the Agile community has become dedicated, tight, and strong. The Summit unites those of us practicing, leading, and experiencing Agile at scale so you can easily make connections and build your network with other coaches, thought leaders, and change agents. Meet other people working with SAFe, identify opportunities to cultivate working relationships, and evaluate service or platform companies that can accelerate your work.

5. Get in-depth training

Stay through 12 June for a dedicated day of hands-on workshops. Enhance your results—and your professional skills—by diving deep into specific topics including business agility, SAFe for really big systems, Agile product management, and Lean portfolio management.

These are just five of the reasons why the European SAFe Summit has become one of the best-attended Agile conferences in Europe. This conference sold out last year, so don’t miss your chance to attend, learn, network, and grow.

Register now.

About Andrew Sales

Andrew Sales is a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer

Andrew Sales is a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) and a member of the Scaled Agile Framework team. He has been supporting organizations with their Agile transformations for the last 10 years and is a regular speaker at Agile conferences and contributor to the Agile community. Andrew previously led the Agile Services Practice across EMEA for CA Technologies (formerly Rally).

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