Webinar Recording: Mastering the Art of Integration: Strategic Planning and AOP with SAFe® for Agile Organizations

David Gipp & Resalin Gurka & 
| Dec 04, 2023 |  Agile,  Leadership,  Lean Portfolio Management,  SAFe

Dave Gipp and Adam Mattis AOP webinar recording


Recently, Dave Gipp partnered with Adam Mattis of Scaled Agile to discuss strategic planning.

Titled, “Mastering the Art of Integration: Strategic Planning with SAFe® for Agile Organizations”, the webinar explored the challenges many companies face when bridging the gap between strategy and execution.

Predicting results is extremely difficult in any environment, and Adam and Dave sought to acknowledge this difficulty while providing real advice around how to pivot and respond to market changes using improved efficiency and allocation of resources.

Complete the form for a copy of the dictionary of strategic planning terms mentioned throughout the webinar. 

The webinar was followed by a robust Q&A discussion with webinar attendees. Here’s the full transcript of the Q&A:

If you’d like to watch the full webinar recording, click here. 

How do you manage the introduction of a cross-functional organization in an organization used to and set in working in silos for years? 

Adam Mattis: I’ll let you take this one first, David. I’ll jump in with some thoughts. How do you start bridging that gap between managing the verticals with thinking horizontally?

David Gipp: Let’s first talk about what we mean by cross-functional because cross-functional can mean a lot of different things. At this level, let’s say that it is those pillars that exist between engineering, product, strategy, and finance. Those are very high, typical silos, right? When we’re talking about a cross-functional organization, that’s the highest level of cross-functionality that we need. We need those pillars not to operate as pillars, but to operate for the common good.

Now we’re talking about the one team sort of thing. And if you don’t know the reference, that would be, the “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” sort of behavior where, rather than protecting my pillar, I really want to, instead, instill a group of common goals around what those silos used to be. Once we examine those common goals and start operating as a whole team for the benefit of the corporation, then we’re getting to a cross-functional organization. 

Now, how do you do that? It needs to be endorsed at the highest levels. We’re talking about the CTO, the CIO, someone in technology needs to be behind it, the CFO. You’re talking about the C-suite that needs to be behind this. That’s why we need familiarity with that level and we need to coach that level.

Adam Mattis: It comes down to changing our view of the world, right? We’re not looking at the world through the lens of we make engines, you make transmissions, you make body panels. We’re looking at developing a mindset that says we’re looking at our organization through a value product-focused lens.

Until we start looking at value in that way, it’s gonna be hard to break the silos. We have to also understand a lot of the management theory behind where we’re at today. 

If you look at the Jack Welch methods for managing, which were the modern applications of, Taylorism for technology, you look at how people are treated in that system. The higher up you go in the pyramid, the more competitive it is. If you want to get promoted, you’ve got to beat your peers. 

So if you look at your organization in terms of silos, and all of those code-dependent business activities are now with people who are trying to beat each other, we’re never gonna win for the customer or for the team.

Because all of those people are trying to sabotage each other every step. When we start looking at our organization through a different lens and we stop trying to pit people against one another, and we start focusing on delivering elegant products, then, those silos become buckets of knowledge and not organizations that are actively trying to beat one another.

I think it comes down to culture and it comes down to how we view the world. If we look at our organization and manage it by silos, you’re not going to change the system. If we pivot our perspective to focus more on building elegant products that people want, then the silos and how they behave naturally begins to evolve.

David Gipp: How do you do that? That’s hard. You could get on a boat like in the Patrick Lencioni book and go in the middle of a lake until you all agree or something like that, but that group of people needs to come together somehow.

Adam Mattis: It has to be led from the top.

Can you speak about AOP and how you tactically manage it in a tool like Jira

Adam Mattis: Quick answer, you don’t, right? Jira is not meant to manage an annual operating plan. If you start looking at something like Jira Align that has portfolio management capabilities, then it becomes easier.

But if you’re looking at just a standalone Jira instance, which is essentially a code management repository with some connectivity through Confluence and then work management through the tooling, it’s not set up for that. It’s not designed for that. If you try to manage AOP in a tool that’s not designed for it at all, you’re going to struggle.

So those top end portfolio tools that can help you with the capacity allocation. You’re not going to see a bucket in there that says you know, insert AOP here. It’s how you use the inputs from the AOP to allocate capacity through your portfolio and prioritize the different kinds of work. The reporting back out of that is going to show where you did make those investments, and that can help inform success in the KPIs against that AOP.

I think in short, it’s not going to be perfect, you’re not going to see an AOP button.

David Gipp: One quick tip for you, John, to look into, and a strategy. So Jira Align supports the concept of skill sets (look up skill sets). That’s what I mean by non-fungible capacity or demand.

There is a way to express that, and it’s designed to express your needs according to the specific skills so that’s great. But I also agree with Adam, there might be some custom work or tooling that you need. 

My biggest advice when using a tool like this, is to remember that you are not incrementally carving away capacity to meet demand. You don’t do that a little bit at the time. You need to keep it all separate. Think about what happens if you carve away your capacity for particular demand, what happens to your prioritization? This is where you start to get into some healthy behaviors.

Keep the capacity you have separate from the demand that’s coming in. Use your prioritization to figure out which efforts go forward.

You want to keep that a flexible equation until the end. I do find that some people tend to mash those two concepts together. Their capacity plan means that they’re, you know, a little bit for this, little bit for this little bit for that.

No, the plan is a scale. Here’s all the stuff we want to do on this side, here’s all the capacity we have on this side, and let’s choose the best stuff. That’s where that yearly plan becomes healthy and turns into a roadmap.

In the framework, how do organizations practicing SAFe® expand capacity? Case in point, the pandemic, required quite a bit of change that was not the AOP. But we cannot drop much and had to comply with all the regulatory changes that were coming from the federal and state authorities.

Adam Mattis: I think expanding capacity is pretty easy, right? If you’re talking about adding an ART to the portfolio, adding teams to an ART, that’s additional capacity to produce stuff faster. I think the pandemic is hard because that’s an atypical situation for anybody anywhere. 

Success during the pandemic required completely changing everything that you thought you were going to do, and you probably had to. There were a lot of organizations that just completely torpedoed their AOP and started over based on things they didn’t even know. 

David Gipp: We did. 

Adam Mattis: We did too; we completely replanned. And I think that wasn’t uncommon for people. If you think of some of the biggest customers that we have like CVS. The things that CVS Pharmacy was able to do in 2020 a hundred percent were not in their plan in February, March. 

They had to crash it and they had to crash a significant portion of their strategy. They completely had to change their strategy to meet the demands of the pandemic. So it was a new strategy, new AOP. I know they launched new solution trains because the world had changed. A lot of what Dave and I have talked about comes back to hearts and minds.

Had they not been in a place where they were embracing new ways of working for years up to that point, how they responded may not have been as dynamic as it was. 

They understood the need to be dynamic. They need to change. They need to pivot. They need to ignore sunk costs to meet the demands of the world that was ahead of them. So I think when we talk about regulatory and compliance, and the need for capacity to respond to change, if I’m a C-whatever, I’m not thinking of those things.

I trust the organization to figure out compliance. I trust the organization to figure out regulations. If I need to change how we’re behaving so that we can survive and thrive as an organization, those are not conversations that we’re having.

David Gipp: You know what we do need those C-suite people for though? I’m going to introduce the word “displacement.” If you have a regulatory challenge, something needs to not happen. If you just leave it, if you just add work to the system, everything is going to slow down. 

We all know this about WIP (Work in Progress), right? You need that executive support to actually say, “no, we do have to do this regulatory thing, that’s why this other thing will not happen.”

We can’t just add work to the system; it’s got to displace something in order to maintain. 

Adam Mattis: 100%. And that’s a part of capacity allocation too. It’d be a constraint within our system. When I say executives aren’t necessarily focused on it, [executives] know that I built a system that will keep us compliant. I trust that the system has allocated people and capacity to make sure that we are. We shouldn’t always be asking ourselves, if this thing specifically is going to be compliant? We should trust that it is.

What are indicators for success for the AOP and how do I know that my AOP is adding value?

Adam Mattis: I’ll throw this out there. The AOP’s job isn’t to add value. The AOP’s job is to assure that value is being delivered. So indicators for success are that we’re delivering upon those expected outcomes.

So when I create an AOP, it’s based on the strategy of the organization. I’m going to have my own [metrics], (they could be OKRs, they could be a lot of things) that are spawned from that strategy. 

So the AOP is the guardrails we put in place to make sure that we can meet our strategic imperatives that are assigned to us by the organization.

The AOP itself, I wouldn’t look at it and say that it’s valuable and customers are happy that we have it. It’s more or less a guardrail that helps us make sure that we’re delivering value against the things that are most important to the organization.

I think, success factors, you’re going to have some sort of an output metric. Did we do this thing that we meant that we needed to do in order to satisfy our strategic comparatively organization. But it’s not going to be like a certain percent of compliance. It’s not going to be that the AOP has these things and if we meet these AOP specific metrics then we have a good AOP because it’s not about the tool itself.

The tool is a tool that provides guardrails that help us be more certain that we can be successful with our bets.

David Gipp: I think another way of saying that, that serves the needs of the people responsible for the revenue is: “no surprises.”

An indication that you are doing the right thing in your planning process is that people are now not surprised. They know about things well in advance. They know not to make promises too far in advance. And they can rely on the things that are in that roadmap.

So I think maybe that’s just a subjective way of measuring it, no surprises.

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