Team Brainstorm

How to Successfully Implement Jira Align & Unlock Enterprise Agility

December 2, 2022
Peter Jessen

There are currently very few people who understand Jira Align well enough to implement the enterprise platform well. In our last article on Jira Align, we discussed the different layers of Jira Align’s value proposition and how to maximize this enterprise platform to deliver value faster. Now, we’re breaking down what it takes to implement Jira Align and how to do it successfully. 

In every Jira Align implementation I have been a part of, I’ve found myself sharing the analogy that implementing Jira Align to its fullest in many ways is like building a Boeing 787, but making it look like a Cessna 172 to start. The secret is to begin learning to fly a Cessna 172 while having the vision of a 787 and picking up additional flight capabilities as your organization evolves. The same applies to a Jira Align implementation. Because the process involves so much change, you must learn to alter on the fly (no pun intended!). 

In other words, you are learning to fly the plane, becoming more competent and confident through training and coaching, then adding new flight capabilities, and repeating the process again until you reach your desired final configuration of capabilities. This is why Jira Align deployments are so challenging, but when done properly, the return is  340%+ ROI.

Determining Your Jira Align Readiness

Before you even carry out an implementation, you need to determine if your organization is ready for such a powerful platform. This first begins with understanding the intricacies of the platform. Many companies purchase Jira Align thinking it is a reporting tool, but it is so much more. Jira Align enables organizations to achieve true agile transformation by scaling Agile principles and connecting strategic vision to work execution

In addition to having a profound understanding of the platform and how it will support your organization, you will also need to determine your organization’s readiness. This checklist is a good place to start:

  • Leadership Vision - In my almost 7 years of implementing Jira Align in firms ranging from 10s to 100s of teams, a leadership team with a clear vision for an agile transformation is the top indicator you’re ready. If you want to implement Jira Align and don’t think you are on the path of an agile transformation, then you aren’t ready.

  • Executive Champion – An executive champion’s active leadership in a Jira Align implementation and the concurrent agile transformation will significantly improve the odds of success with both. An executive sponsor is not enough.

  • Active Change Management – Adopting Jira Align requires significant change in organizational thinking and processes. Change on the scale of adopting Jira Align will result in significant discomfort. It both enables and forces change in process and mindset. “No pain. No gain.” The gain is worth it.

  • Realistic Timeframe Expectations – An initial pilot at the program (team of teams) can be implemented within 3 months. A full implementation modeling the firm from Enterprise/Strategy to Team levels will take at least 9-12 months. Scaling out and coaching everyone on adopting and internalizing the related mindset, processes, and practices will take as long as a typical successful agile at scale transformation: 18- 36 months. The payoff is worth the investment.

  • Training & Coaching Funding – Purchasing Jira Align is more than just a technical investment; it also means investing  in changing your company's mindset. The funding for training and coaching for both Agile-at-Scale/SAFe and Jira Align best practices should be on par with a transformation.

Next Up: Implementing Jira Align

If your organization is prepared to take the next steps in unlocking enterprise agility with Jira Align, we recommend working with an Atlassian Solution Partner to ensure your project’s success. When you have a partner to help with the heavy lifting, they bring years of experience and technical expertise. Additionally, they possess the know-how to resolve any challenges or issues that might occur.

When deciding on an Atlassian Solution Partner that is specialized Agile at Scale, here is what you need to successfully implement Atlassian’s dynamic enterprise platform:

  • Tier 1 Consulting Skills – First and foremost, any qualified implementer must demonstrate an ability to elicit client needs. Each successful Jira Align implementation follows patterns but must meet the client’s specific needs. They also need to have the knowledge of the Jira Align patterns and anti-patterns. Not many can demonstrate this combination of skills and knowledge.

  • Mindset Shift Coaching – Mindset coaching is one of the most critical skills needed by an implementation team because clients are undergoing a transformation while they simultaneously deploy Jira Align, whether they are aware of it or not. This starts with a team that can demonstrate a proven ability to help clients build a mental model of where they are to where they are moving from a uni-dimensional model in Jira and other team tools to Jira Align’s multi-dimensional model. 

  • Technical Expertise - The Achilles heel of every Jira Align implementation is the Jira integration, which is why skilled Jira admins are critical (or ADO admins if using ADO) on both the client and implementer side. In addition, you need technical expertise to support the configuration and integration into your existing technical ecosystem. Implementers who don’t understand the integration often configure it improperly, resulting in syncing issues, improper data models, impacts to reporting, and more. This improper configuration leads to frustration with Jira Align. Praecipio has a proven, repeatable approach to implementing Jira Align from a foundational starting point and then building upon it with options that are tailored to the client's specific needs and make a tangible impact on value delivery.

  • Configure First, Customize Later - Many organizations make the mistake of customizing the rest of their tool stack before they properly configure their Jira Align platform. Unfortunately,  when things aren’t working due to bad configuration decisions, the blame is put on Jira Align. Jira Align is highly configurable, but it is not customizable like Jira and other team tools. 

  • Strategy Development & Modeling - Modeling strategy in Jira Align can be done multiple ways. Each client’s strategy approach is unique. One of the greatest challenges is that clients often don’t have a strategy that can be executed in a systematic way. There is no way to directly tie a specific goal to a specific set of funds and back to specific work efforts. Instead, there are many-to-many interconnections that end up causing confusion. Alternatively, the strategy may have been created in a single dimension view in slideware by a strategy firm that doesn’t understand the platform and tool stack the client has in place.

  • Value Stream Modeling - Jira Align is designed to support value flow thinking and metrics vs. utilization-based thinking. Fundamentally, in alignment with SAFe, Jira Align is designed to support the model of work flowing through stable, long-term sets of teams-of-teams that deliver value to end customers. This is the fundamental difference between project management and agile development.  Whereas agile development is designed to bring work to the people (in stable teams), project management brings the people to the work, constantly breaking up and reforming short-term teams that can never perform.

  • Financial Modeling – Jira Align’s financial capability is robust and can be implemented in several ways. Many companies will start with project-based budgeting where the portfolio epic is a proxy for a project. More mature Agile-at-Scale companies will use strategic themes and theme allocation to drive PI-based budgeting, which allows easier pivoting and other adjustments on a quarterly basis, if needed. 

  • Product Development and Modeling - Enterprises are moving to or interested in moving to product-driven development. Jira Align has many features of a product-centric approach, including personas, product visions, product roadmaps, and product distinction. Product-driven development requires a different mindset and approach than most current forms of development which are currently in use.

  • Business Process Optimization - We are modeling a complex enterprise into a value-delivery based platform. Many get it wrong by modeling the management organization in Jira Align vs the value delivery structure. Companies need the management hierarchy for stability, but the value delivery network is far more important for visualizing and delivering value. Servant leaders understand the difference and embrace the value delivery approach modeled in Jira Align . 

  • Professional Experience – Book smarts and classroom training can’t replace years of professional experience with strategy and process engagements gained over multiple implementations. Jira Align requires an apprentice/journeyman approach when learning to implement successfully. The implementer needs to be a well-rounded unicorn with strategy, process, and technology experience. Jira Align is incredibly powerful and to unleash that power requires a level of understanding that comes from the combination of classroom theory and proper mentoring.

Final Thoughts & Next Steps

Every company deserves a proper Jira Align implementation, and if you follow the path laid out above, you'll have a less stressful, faster and more successful deployment. Also know that you don’t have to do it alone. There are Solution Partners within the Atlassian ecosystem that are specialized in Agile at Scale and Jira Align implementations.

We think you may also be interested in our whitepaper on Jira Align, "The Connected Enterprise: Close the Gap Between Business Strategy & Execution."

After supporting hundreds of enterprise clients in scaling their businesses, Praecipio is here to help. Book a technical call and we can discuss how you can tailor Jira Align to meet your organization’s specific needs and help achieve your strategic vision. 

Jira Align Whitepaper

Learn More About the Connected Enterprise