5 min read

Can We Talk for a Moment About Spreadsheets?

By Amanda Babb on Jul 27, 2021 11:14:14 AM

Blogpost-DisplayImage-July_Can We Talk for a Moment about Spreadsheets-

No, seriously: can we please take a moment to talk about spreadsheets? I have a very large bone to pick with them. Spreadsheet is a four-letter word to me; and don't get me started on workbooks! I recognize spreadsheets have their place in the world. I'm always in awe when I see the most complicated and fragile spreadsheet being used to manage a simple set of data to provide "insights" into the business. Even better, a spreadsheet that helps manage prioritization, planning, and execution reporting on a regular cadence. I've seen complex CountA and SumIf formulas, and Concatenate, and pivot tables, and everything else people can throw at them. And while I'm impressed at the craftsmanship, I'm also incredibly frustrated. The time it took to create and iterate on that reporting could have been spent having conversations about the work or checking in with a team or removing blockers. Instead, the extraction, manipulation, and reporting of easily-accessible, real-time data takes precedent. 

While it was published in 2014, I still reference an article when discussing data and reporting with our clients: This Weekly Meeting Took Up 300,000 Hours per Year. Yes, you read that right: 300,000 Hours. Per. Year! A single team extracting data, then aggregating it across several teams, then teams of teams, then programs, then everywhere else, all to be reviewed in a 30-minute executive meeting where the conversation was, "Are we on track? Yes? Great."  <sends weekly update deck to recycle bin>.

I hold no ill-will to the spreadsheet warriors out there. Instead, I view it as a simple case of "We've always done it this way." Well, what if I could show you a different way? What if, through the power of Atlassian, I could provide you real-time analytics? What if I could show you how to integrate Jira with a Business Intelligence solution? Or provide Program and Portfolio Management including planning and execution data in Advanced Roadmaps or Jira Align? How many hours would that save you or your organization when providing in-depth analytics to executive management? I promise you, this is all possible. 

Individual Team Metrics: Scrum and Kanban

Individual Team metrics are available for both Scrum and Kanban Teams under Reports in a Jira Software project. For Kanban Teams, both the Cumulative Flow Diagram and Control Chart provide flow metrics for the Team. While it may have been a while since you've taken a statistics class (if at all...I confess I tried hard to avoid them), spending ten minutes reviewing these reports will provide information on bottlenecks, flow trending, and backlog growth. Adding Quick Filters to your Kanban Boards will allow you to drill down into a specific subset of data on your board. Want to focus on Stories or Bugs only? Create the Quick Filters. 

Scrum Teams have nine (yes, NINE) reports available on their boards. Are you using the Burndown during your Daily Standup? Can you predict your release of an Epic or Version based on the throughput in those reports? Have you reviewed the Sprint Report to see what was added or didn't complete during the Sprint and asked why? The Scrum Reports will tell you what is happening during the Sprint (or happened, during the Retrospective), but it's up to you and the Team to ask why it happened. 

Need additional assistance to understand what these metrics are telling you? There's a training class for that. Praecipio Consulting is happy to help!

Program, Product, or Teams of Teams Metrics

Client: "Hey, Amanda, we're pretty good on the individual team stuff. Is there another way we can aggregate team data together?" 

Me: "How much time you got?" 

Three solutions come to mind for this one:

First, let's talk about Advanced Roadmaps for Jira. As always in the Atlassian tools, flexibility is key. When creating a Plan in Advanced Roadmaps, tying the work to the Teams by pulling in the scope of work is the first step. Whether it's a Board, a Project, or a Filter, aggregating data across multiple Teams, then tying the source to the execution team, provides you predictable velocity and capacity planning as well as execution reporting. 

  • You want Progress? You got issue count and story point or time-based progress.
  • You want to predict a milestone (read: release) date? You got milestone dates.
  • You want dependency maps? You got dependency maps.
  • You want to look at the Plan in a capacity view or a release view or a specific timeframe? You got custom views. 

Sharing all this information from Advanced Roadmaps in Confluence is amazing. While native in Confluence Cloud Premium, you can download and install the free app from the Atlassian Marketplace for Data Center. If you would prefer to simply share a link to the specific view of the Roadmap, that's available to you as well. 

Second, EazyBI. We constantly hear of clients looking for a more robust way to cube and concatenate data across their Jira instance. However, our clients tend to revert to what's comfortable: the spreadsheet. Instead, using an OLAP analysis and multi-dimensional calculations, EazyBI can provide the complex reporting when Jira's native Reports and Dashboards just won't do. EazyBI started as a purpose-built solution for Jira: it recognizes Jira's data structures and surfaces field data you may not be able to work with in native Jira. Since it's a unidirectional sync, EazyBI will not change your Jira data either. EazyBI can also integrate with other data sources including (sigh) a spreadsheet. 

Third, Jira Align. Here at Praecipio Consulting, we love Jira Align. The Program Room brings together all the information from multiple teams, i.e. an Agile Release Train. Every bit of data from Jira Software is aggregated to provide a clear understanding of the pace of the Train. The Program Board, the current implementation Roadmap with risk indicators, the investment data, the actual execution data, all of it is available in the highly-configurable Program Room. Burnups, Burndowns, progress by Epic, this is all available in Jira Align. In fact, there are over 180 reports available in Jira Align. And if that's not enough, Jira Align BI extends the already-robust reports into your existing visualization tools or your enterprise data lake. 

Enterprise Business Intelligence Integration

You may already have a Business Intelligence solution. Quite frequently at Praecipio Consulting, we hear our clients mention PowerBI, Tableau, or data lakes such as Hadoop or Snowflake. These powerful solutions are likely already embedded in your organization. And there's probably a SME out there just waiting to assist. Enterprise organizations usually have an integrations team to help connect Jira and other data sources. In fact, we worked with a large organization to consolidate Jira instances to better connect data to their business intelligence platform. In just 12 short weeks, they were able to analyze and report on their current execution progress simply by being able to feed consolidated Jira data into their business intelligence platform. 

At Praecipio Consulting, we have extensive integrations experience across a wide-range of technologies. We can recommend Atlassian Marketplace apps as a fit-for-purpose solution or we can work with third-party integration engines to help you map data for enhanced metrics. 

Take a moment to step back and really examine your use of spreadsheets. While, again, they have a purpose in this world, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The spreadsheet is dead. Long live the spreadsheet. 

Topics: atlassian blog best-practices kanban scrum reporting support-live-music eazyBi jira-align advanced-roadmap business-intelligence
3 min read

What is Jira Align: A Primer

By Amanda Babb on Jun 30, 2021 4:45:59 PM

Blogpost-DisplayImage-June_What is Jira Align- A PrimerA couple of years ago, in Atlassian's annual flagship event formerly known as Summit and now known as Team, I was in a room full of people for two days providing training on Advanced Roadmaps for Jira on behalf of Atlassian. If you've never attended a live Summit event, the Kickoff Keynote is always a sight to see. One year, Scott and Mike dressed as Daft Punk and mixed music as DJ Kanban (I still nerd out on that one), you see announcements about the expansion of Pledge 1%, and, of course, new product announcements. Jira Align was acquired by Atlassian and announced at Summit 2019. I. Was. Floored. You see, we here at Praecipio Consulting were looking for a larger agile-at-scale solution for some of our largest clients. 

Enter Jira Align

After becoming a SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) in 2015, I spent a lot of time with clients understanding intake and execution processes and facilitating them through the Atlassian product suite. These clients were either just starting their SAFe® journey or had been the earliest adopters and already implementing SAFe®. After implementing Advanced Roadmaps (then known as Portfolio for Jira) to support SAFe®, becoming the Atlassian University On Demand "voice" of Planning with Advanced Roadmaps, and guiding the course content with Atlassian, I was in love with Advanced Roadmaps. And I still am. Advanced Roadmaps is a powerful data aggregation, roadmap, and scenario planning tool for small- to medium-size organizations either as standalone entities or within an Enterprise organization.

Jira Align, however, brought forth a whole new realm of possibilities. Bringing robust framework expertise and combining it with an easy-to-use interface, Jira Align is THE solution for Enterprise organizations running agile-at-scale. Don't believe me? Atlassian is considered a Leader in the Gartner Enterprise Agile Planning Tools Magic Quadrant as of April 2021. Experience and third-party accolades aside, why is Jira Align so amazing? Let's take a closer look. 

Jira Software Integration

Unlike Advanced Roadmaps, Jira Align is a standalone product hosted either in multi-tenant or single-tenant cloud infrastructure. While there is an on-prem solution, of course, there are a lot of additional considerations if you have to choose this deployment. The connection between Jira Align and Jira Software supports both Data Center and Atlassian Cloud instances. The most critical part of the integration is the Jira Software Epic. Epics can be created in Jira Align and pushed to Jira Software or created in Jira Software and pulled into Jira Align. Keep in mind, when creating the integration, best practice is to isolate Epics into their own Jira project. Bringing in Stories and Sprints is also easier if a Jira project represents a single team. 

Rooms at Every Level

Whether you're just starting out with a single Agile Release Train (ART) or are running multiple ARTs, Jira Align provides the Program Room for each ART. This is the central hub for tracking the current Program Increment (PI) and planning the next one. Sprint Progress, investment runway, intra-ART and inter-ART dependencies, PI Burndown, it's all centralized within the Program Room. This provides Business Owners, RTEs, and Program Managers a clear view of the progress of the work in the PI. 

Jira Align also provides the Portfolio Room and Strategy Room. These rooms provide the progress towards Strategic Themes, Portfolio investments, progress toward long-term goals, and status updates. When properly connected to Epics in the Program room, Teams and ARTs can open the "Why?" tab on the Epic and see how their work is contributing to the overall strategy. 

Everyone's Favorite: Reporting

Jira Align has over 180 out-of-the-box reports. Each layer in Jira Align has a Track section pre-populated with the more popular reports for that section. For example, in the Program section, Jira Align provides Program Increment tracking, Program Increment insights, and Dependency Maps. If you're not sure what type of report you're looking for, simply click the Reports menu and ask a question in the search box. 

For those organizations that need to integrate with other systems or need more robust business intelligence, Enterprise Insights can be added to Jira Align. 

Want to know more? We here at Praecipio Consulting would love to walk you through how Jira Align can support your agile-at-scale transformation. Contact us!

Topics: atlassian blog scaled-agile integration reporting jira-align safe advanced-roadmap
6 min read

Using Advanced Roadmaps for Jira

By Amanda Babb on Oct 15, 2020 12:15:00 PM

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As an Agile evangelist and a Digital Transformation-ist, I am asked this question from time to time. My first thought is, "Of course you're Agile...you just don't know it yet," but before I can actually answer that question, I have to understand the process. Every organization and agency in the world takes something, does something with it, and produces an end result. It's the process that is key for you and your organization to understand before implementing the Atlassian tools and specifically, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira (formerly known as Portfolio for Jira). 

At Praecipio Consulting, we call ourselves a bunch of process nerds that just happen to use the Atlassian tools to facilitate work. Think about making a pot of coffee: there are specific steps you have to take in a specific order to be successful. Starting the coffee pot before adding water and coffee doesn't work. Adding water and starting the coffee pot (without coffee) doesn't work either. There's a specific process that you need to follow to produce a pot of coffee. 

When it comes to work, what's the first step? How does the organization take in work? For those running traditional models, you may know this as Requirements. We have an idea that we'd like to propose, gather the requirements, and define the project scope. We then move to Design: expected function and architecture, and then to Implementation: actually putting the requirements into place in a product. In each of those phases, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira can help! 

What is Advanced Roadmaps for Jira? 

Advanced Roadmaps for Jira is a planning and roadmapping tool from Atlassian. It was first released in 2015 and has since developed into a powerful visualization tool for small-to-medium-sized organizations. With Atlassian's dedication to maintaining framework flexibility, it has evolved to become the tool of choice for many organizations, regardless of their self-proclamation. By supporting three estimation statistics (Days, Hours, and Story Points), Advanced Roadmaps for Jira can provide you with the best chance of success for understanding cross-team and organizational dependencies and answering the most important question, "When will this be done?" Purpose-built for Jira Software, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira supports mixed methodologies as well as framework-specific organizations. Add in the concept of multi-layer hierarchies, and you've got yourself a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) as well as the ability to automatically schedule timelines based on Team capacity or velocity. 

Advanced Roadmaps for Jira adheres to the concept of the Iron Triangle. What is the scope? What is the timeline? Who are the resources (people) involved? Based on the estimated scope of work, the timeline in which I need to get it done by, and the people I have to do it with, will it be available on time? Simply choose the estimation statistic to calculate a schedule and you're off! Well, almost...

Scope: Where is the work being tracked in Jira? 

When creating a Plan in Advanced Roadmaps for Jira, the first thing to understand is the source. After establishing your hierarchy, determine where these Jira Issues exist. Where is work being performed in Jira? Is it in a specific Jira Project? Or perhaps a Kanban board for process visualization? Or across multiple projects? These are the sources for creating a Plan. You can use Jira Projects, Boards, or Filters as the source for a Plan. You can also use any combination thereof. However, aim for simplicity: use a Jira Project or a Board when you are able to instead of a complicated Filter as a source. 

We recommend using Filters as a source only when you need to manage stage-gates in your process. Using the example above, If the Statuses in your Jira Workflow are Requirements, Design, and Implementation, consider creating a filter that excludes Requirements. Just because it's a good idea, doesn't mean we will pursue it past the Requirements stage. In a Plan, we only want to see those things that made it through the stage-gate into Design. It's in the Design stage we will determine if or when we can get it done based on the timeline and people before moving into Implementation. We are not ready to Plan an effort until we've passed Requirements. 

Resources (Teams and Team Members): Who is doing the work in Jira?

While it's a bit chicken-egg, determining who is doing the work is critical to determining scope. In a Plan, we connect Teams and Team Members to the Sources in the Plan. This eliminates the need for clicking or typing or trying to assign a piece of work to the correct Team in a Plan. By connecting these, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira will determine the scope for the Teams and Team Members based on the source of the Plan. You also have the ability to tie multiple Teams to a single source. As an example, if you have two Teams managing their work in a single Jira Project, you can use the Project as a source for both Teams. By adding Team Members to the Teams, you can guarantee assigned work will be directed to the correct Team. However, unassigned work will be divvied up based on the next Team Member's availability. We recommend creating a single source per Team if both Teams cannot be assigned each others' work. 

Moreover, by adding Team Members to your Teams, you can determine the hourly capacity of each member. We see this most frequently used when specific job functions are split across Teams (e.g. QA or Design). By default, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira calculates 100% capacity at 40 hours per Team Member. If you need to split capacity across Teams, simply adjust the Team Member's capacity to 20 hours (50%) on one Team and 20 hours (50%) on the other Team. By using the Auto Schedule function in a Plan, you can then recalculate the timeline based on the change in capacity. 

Time: When will it be done?

This is where the power of Advanced Roadmaps for Jira truly shines. By using Releases (aka Versions), the Plan can calculate your probability of completing the effort on time. The Plan can also calculate when an effort will be complete based on Scope and Teams. For example, if I estimate my effort will take 4000 hours and the Team has a capacity of 200 hours, it will take 20 weeks to complete the effort. If my Release finish date is in 10 weeks, I will be off track by 10 weeks. The Plan will highlight this in red. 

Don't think of Releases as traditional "software releases". Instead, these are milestone dates for a specific Jira Project or across multiple Jira Projects. They can be calendar quarters, fiscal quarters, or even a specific date-driven event. By designating the Finish Date of a Release, you are determining the amount of time the organization has to complete a specific (or the entire) scope of work. 

Dependencies and Scenarios

Critical Path is a common concept in a traditional WBS. These larger milestone issues drive the entire schedule. If one moves, the rest move as well. In Advanced Roadmaps for Jira, we can manage this via Dependencies. By linking issues together, the Plan will schedule work using a finish-to-start dependency. Issue 1 must be complete before Issue 2 can start. Moreover, since items at the lower levels of the WBS drive the size and duration of the critical path, you can visualize a schedule slip based on the progress of the lower levels. 

Not sure you're ready to commit to a specific Plan? When trying to understand the "What if?" in each Plan, you can enable Scenarios. The Initial Scenario (default name) is used to understand current state: what the are Teams currently working on, the progress, schedule, and release dates. Creating additional Scenarios allows you to Plan for best-case or worst-case scenarios. What happens if I add capacity to the current scope of work? Will I be more likely to hit my Release (aka milestone) dates? By adding a Team to a Scenario (thus increasing capacity), you can Auto Schedule just that Scenario to determine if there is any impact to the overall schedule and any milestone dates. If you like what you see, you can update Jira Software from that specific Scenario and any other Scenarios will update based on the underlying Jira data. 

Want to know more? 

As an Atlassian Platinum Enterprise Solution Partner, Praecipio Consulting can help you determine the best way to leverage Advanced Roadmaps for Jira to support your intake, planning, and execution processes so that your organization can become more Agile. We have extensive experience in the entire Atlassian product suite and implementing Agile frameworks that provide a great foundation for your organization or agency. 

Topics: scaled-agile homepages agile advanced-roadmap
5 min read

Jira Align vs. Advanced Roadmaps: The Difference

By Amanda Babb on Sep 15, 2020 8:15:00 AM

How Jira Align compares to Advanced Road for Jira

As organizations continue to scale Agile practices, our team at Praecipio Consulting is frequently asked which Atlassian product will best support the effort. Principal Consultant, Brian Nye, put together a great webinar describing the differences between Advanced Roadmaps for Jira (formerly known as Portfolio for Jira) and Jira Align. As Praecipio Consulting has expanded our Jira Align practice, we'd like to take a moment to compare and contrast these products to help guide you in making the right decision for your organization. 

Your Agile and Digital Transformation Journey

Your organization can't talk about your Agile transformation without talking about your digital transformation and vice versa. After all, the Atlassian products are meant to support Agile frameworks as well as your digital transformation. Many organizations have embraced remote work as a result of the global pandemic and have fundamentally shifted toward online planning, roadmapping, and execution management. 

Your organization may also use non-Atlassian applications to manage planning and roadmapping. You've chosen to integrate these products with Atlassian for execution management. While this may be a great solution in the short-term, I challenge this as a long-term solution. Many of the frameworks guiding agile-at-scale exist because we're trying to bring strategic planning closer to actual execution and back again. Ask your organization the hard question: does maintaining these integrations follow the organization's digital technology vision for the future? 

Advanced Roadmaps for Jira (formerly Portfolio for Jira)

Available as an App for Data Center/Server Deployments and packaged with Jira Software Cloud Premium, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira (Advanced Roadmaps) is a great way to bridge the gap for small- to medium-sized organizations. If you currently have fewer than 500 agile team members executing their work in Jira Software, Advanced Roadmaps for Jira can provide visibility within and across teams. First, define the hierarchy above the Jira Software Epic. We use Initiative most frequently when deploying this for customers because of the reference documentation from Atlassian. However, you can choose whichever naming convention you'd like as long as there is a corresponding Issue Type. For example, create an "Initiative" Issue Type and link it to a Hierarchy level in Advanced Roadmaps called "Initiative." We also strongly recommend the Initiative Issue Type live in a separate Jira Project from all other execution work. This helps your Agile teams focus on the current backlog of work while the Initiative moves through its own review, decision, and backlog refinement process. 

Creating a Plan is as simple as defining your source data (Jira Projects, Boards, or Filters), tying the sources to Teams, and choosing Releases from your source data. Honoring the Iron Triangle of project and program management, you may either choose to have the Plan dictate your schedule or, when planning for the next business quarter, you may choose to drag and drop the Gantt-style bars to schedule work. There is also an option to blend the calculations. Meaning, if a Sprint already exists and is pre-filled, let the Scrum Board be the source of truth. Have the Plan calculate any Empty Sprints going forward. The same is true for Releases and Teams: the Plan can auto-schedule a Team or a Release based on the relative rank of the backlog in the Plan. 

If you're looking to understand the impact of shifting priorities, you can enable Scenarios in a Plan. This will allow you to pull the source data from Jira Software and blend it with additional planning while maintaining the current execution schedule. You can add new Initiatives, Epics, and Stories, as well as adjust Release Dates, and observe the impact of adding, removing, or reassigning Teams to work. If you have the Server or Data Center App, you can group Plans together into a Program to understand the overall health of multiple Plans and Releases in a single view. 

Jira Align

As its name implies, Jira Align brings strategic planning and execution together in a single product. Pulling execution data from Jira Software and blending it with Agile-at-scale frameworks, Jira Align ties your strategic vision to tangible work and is best suited for organizations with more than 500 Agile team members executing their work in Jira Software. Instead of trying to define a hierarchy, Jira Align provides a pre-set hierarchy with flexible language. Whether you're running SAFe, LeSS, Scrum@Scale, or your own model, Jira Align's seamless integration with Jira Software provides visibility across multiple Portfolios and Programs. 

Jira Align comes in three deployment options: multi-tenant Cloud, single-tenant Cloud, and on-premise. While we recognize the allure of an on-premise solution, Praecipio Consulting recommends either the multi-tenant or single-tenant Cloud deployment. This provides the robust functionality of the product without the additional IT infrastructure management as well as managing routine maintenance such as upgrades. Jira Align also comes in two licensing models, Standard and Enterprise, billed monthly per user. Standard provides your organization the ability to run Programs (also known as teams of teams) whereas Enterprise adds the Lean Portfolio Management and financials into the mix. In addition, each Jira Align seat comes with four Jira, Trello, or integrated users. Another key difference between the two license levels is integration. With Standard, you can integrate a single instance of Jira Software with Jira Align. This is perfect for the organization that is large enough but lacks maturity in their Agile-at-scale framework. Enterprise provides unlimited connectors, which in the case of some of our clients, allows them to avoid the pain of merging multiple instances of Jira Software before deploying Jira Align

The Jira Software Epic is the lynchpin of the integration. Teams will still work with Epics, Stories, and Sub-Tasks within Jira Software whereas Product Managers, Release Train Engineers, Portfolio Managers, and Executives work within Jira Align. The robust permissions within Jira Align also focus the right role in the right data. A Program Manager may care about the execution of the program, whereas the executive wants to understand how you're tracking to the annual corporate strategy. By aggregating and rolling data upward, Jira Align provides health and status monitoring of quarterly, yearly, and long-term goals. With over 180 out-of-the box reports, every role at every level can access the right information at the right time to ensure your organization's success. Jira Align also has Enterprise Insights, an optional App, to take business intelligence to the next level. 

Which one is right for my organization? 

The first questions to answer while you're evaluating either tool are around Agile transformation maturity, digital transformation maturity, and user discipline both across and vertically in the organization. Because both options rely on teams to perform their execution work consistently and with good data integrity, either product can be a blessing or a curse. 

  • How long have your Agile teams been executing within an agile framework? 
  • How long have your Agile teams been executing within Jira Software? 
  • How consistent are your teams across the organization? 
  • Do your teams and your business understand one another and communicate well? 
  • How well has your Jira Software instance been governed since it was deployed?
  • How much chaff do you have in Jira Software? 

While this is not an exhaustive list, implementing either Advanced Roadmaps for Jira or Jira Align requires you to ask tough questions of your organization. Praecipio Consulting can not only help you assess your current state, but we can also provide guidance and recommendations to accelerate your digital transformation. If you are ready to take the next step in your digital transformation and Agile journeys, let's chat!

Topics: scaled-agile jira-align agile advanced-roadmap marketplace-apps

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