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Managing Stakeholders in Agile Projects

Managing Stakeholders in Agile Projects can be tough in large or old organisations. Have you heard this: “YES. We are agile. But you must tell me what I will get and when!” It’s painful.

The natural tension between Agile and Senior Stakeholder Structures

Upper management in large organisations and Programme Management structures (e.g. PMO) have a natural conflict of interests (or ‘tension’) with agile principles – i.e.

  1. Management and PMO want details on what is going to be delivered and when – i.e. Definition Up Front! – and
  2. The Agile product delivery team want to adapt and change dates and features as & when the customer/audience change – i.e. Definition When it’s NEEDED!

Addressing the tension – how to run Agile in large Stakeholder structures

So – how should we approach the comms around an Agile Project / Programme, and stakeholder management?

The Powerpoint Agile Roadmap Dashboard slide shows project status + Roadmap
The Powerpoint Agile Roadmap Dashboard slide shows project status + Roadmap

Clear “Release” / “Goal” Planning

  1. Describe your Releases (i.e. the significant product drops / deliveries) clearly
  2. Provide a clear 1-sider about each release, outlining what the business goals are

Manage expectations with “The Cone of Uncertainty”

  1. For each aspect of the release, clearly define the expected variance of estimates, according to degree of certainty
  2. So, if you have allowed e.g. 2 sprints / iterations for a feature, but do not plan to unpack the user stories until later on, assign an appropriate +/- 40% caveat to the estimation
  3. For more info
    1. see Agile 101’s understanding the cone of uncertainty.
    2. or Wikipedia’s entry on Cone of Uncertainty.

Focus on Epic User Stories / High-level Features

i.e. use High Level Requirements (EPICS / Features / Themes) to define the delivery

  1. Do not break down your Epics / Features into user stories unless:-
    1. They are about to go into iteration, or
    2. They are very high risk or unknown, and you can’t attach any estimation.
  2. So – avoid breaking down the WHOLE delivery into User Stories.
    1. It is in direct conflict with Agile and Lean to invest in definition unless you NEED to.
    2. So – only spend the teams’ time on defining user stories at the point of implementation.
  3. Keep these high level requirements flexible – this gives you agile wiggle room and scope flexibility at the point of implementation.
  4. Estimate the Epics in Story Points or T-Shirt sizes.
    1. See estimation recommendations here from Agile 101.

Keep Progress Clear

  1. Update your stakeholders regularly on where you are with Features / Epics implementation.
  2. Use a simple format (e.g. Release Plan) to explain which workstreams are delivering which features, and when.
Excel RAID Log & Dashboard Template
Excel RAID Log & Dashboard Template

Run a High-Level RAID Log and reference your Epics

  1. Use a RAID log to speak in Senior Stakeholder ‘lingo’.
  2. Keep this light, and do not go into too much detail.
  3. Update each sprint, or as serious RAID changes emerge.

Leave room to manoeuvre within your Epics

  1. When defining your high level features or “Epics”, keep the scoping high-level.
  2. Be clear and strategic about the scenarios and success criteria.
  3. Assign risk information to your Epics – raise stakeholder awareness of which features are risky / giving issues.
    1. This will enable them to help you prioritise.
    2. In healthy organisations, this provides a diologue in which to descope and reprioritise high level features.

Include High Level “Non Functional Requirements” (NFR s)

  1. Be sure to include any significant NFRs.
  2. e.g. (and not limited to-) :
    1. Ingegration requirements.
    2. Load testing, User testing, Stakeholder Acceptance testing requirements.
    3. Performance testing.
    4. contingency for all of the above.

Communicate Agile Plans to Senior Stakeholders

Here are some reporting formats that you can use to communicate Agile plans to Senior Stakeholders:

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Roadmap Styles

Business Documents UK has a variety of Roadmap Styles.

Roadmap Styles

Powerpoint Roadmap Styles

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Visio Roadmap Styles

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Keynote Roadmap Styles

Strategic Roadmap with PESTLE on the Keynote Roadmap Template with SWOT & PESTLE
Strategic Roadmap with PESTLE on the Keynote Roadmap Template with SWOT & PESTLE
Step-by-step Keynote Roadmap Template Example
Step-by-step Keynote Roadmap Template Example
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How to Score Risk Simply – the Risk Matrix

There are many ways to measure and communicate risk – this is just one that we have found useful, and easy to communicate.

The 25 cell “Impact vs Likelihood” Risk Matrix is a popular format used to communicate Risk Scores. It helps you summarise your risks for project reporting.

The Risk Score Heatmap Matrix

This 5 x 5 (25 cell) matrix gives an easy way to associate a “Severity Score” with a Risk. NB you will see a lot of variations on this – so this is just one approach of many that Project Managers can take.

Risk Matrix used in the RAID Log
Risk Matrix used in the RAID Log

Each cell in the matrix is a combination of impact and likelihood.

This allows you to group your risks, based on a score, into some Risk Severity groups:

Risk severity scoring
Risk severity scoring

This Risk Scoring approach is used in our RAID LOG template.

An approach to assigning Impact and Likelihood scores

Project Managers use a list of score definitions, to help one another assign and understand the scores for each risk.

Here is an example approach:

ASSIGNING RISK LIKLEHOOD VALUES
ScoreTitleLikelihood% Chance
1RareRare. A very unlikely event. It could happen, but probably never will.Below 5%
2UnlikelyNot expected. Slight possibility.
An improbable sequence of events.
5% – 25%
3PossibleModerate likelihood. Foreseeable. May have occurred in projects like this before.25% – 50%
4LikelyStrong possibility. High likelihood.
An easily foreseeable event.
50% – 75%
5Almost CertainVery likely.
Almost certain without any intervention.
Above 75%
ASSIGNING RISK IMPACT VALUES
ScoreTitleOutcome / Impact / ConsequenceCost / Time / Scope
Implications
1InsignificantThe project will have to make some minor changes to scope. Resolvable by management team.Can be managed. Acceptible.
2MinorSome changes to deliverables.
Outside of Project Tollerances or Contingency.
Adjustment to scope with some impact.
3ModerateOne or more areas likely not to deliver as planned. Descoping required.Significant impact.
4HighSignificant descoping required.Major Impact.
5ExtremeSerious failure of project objectives.Disastrous Impact.

Example Guidance for Project Managers according to Risk Severity

GENERAL GUIDANCE ON RISK MANAGEMENT
ExtremeEscalate immediately to project authorities.
Include recommendations.
Actively control.
HighManage immediately.
Inform project authorities.
Act on mitigation and ensure you have response plans ready.
ModerateManage risk and escalate in normal reporting.
Watch carefully for change in exposure.
LowManage risk.

Problems with Scoring Risks with a Matrix

There are many ways to allocate weighting to risks, and to group severity, with no right or wrong answer. The allocation of severity groupings helps you give summaries to your colleagues, but the groupings you choose will need to vary depending on the project type, size and environment.

See more here on Wikipedia about the problems with Risk Matrices.

Project Managers manage their Risks in a “RAID Log”.

RAID Logs are used by project managers and programme managers to track and manage project risks.

Many projects have 10s and sometimes 100s of Risks to manage, and so it is essential to keep track of severity, status, next steps, and who owns each risk.

RAID is an acronym that stands for

  1. Risks
  2. Assumptions
  3. Issues
  4. Dependencies
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Status Report

Status Report with Dashboard

The Status Report is an important Project and Programme -level reporting tool – it should give all the important high-level project information on 1 page.

Status Report Dashboard

This image shows a Status Dashboard Template slide, which can be found in the Status Template pack.

A Status Report Dashboard may literally show some dashboard dials (as this figure shows), or may just be displaying key information, like a conventional dashboard.

The key similarity with a Dashboard is that you can get vital information AT A GLANCE – i.e. ON ONE SIDE.

Status Report Formats

  1. Dashboards
  2. Dashboard Dials
  3. Charts
  4. Agile Burndown
  5. Highlights
  6. RAG – Red Amber Green
  7. RAID
  8. SWOT
  9. Next Steps

Status Report Dials

Some status reports use the “Dial” format (i.e. just like a car dashboard speedometer dial).

Dial formats give a good sense of minimum, maximum, and where our “status” is in that spectrum. This is far better than just a numerical value.

Project Status Report Templates

 

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Define your Product Rollout Plan

The Rollout Plan Template - Powerpoint Presentation
The Rollout plan Powerpoint Presentation

Planning your Product Rollout is crucial. You need to design the workstreams, and put project controls in place to be sure your rollout stays on track.

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You can see our ready-made, tried-and-tested Rollout Plan Template here.

How to Plan your Product Rollout

Define “Success” – Your Rollout Objectives & KPIs

  1. What does success look like? – you must document this with measurable success criteria.
  2. Once you have this, you can identify some points in the rollout when you expect to be able to measure the “Performance” of the rollout.
  3. You can record these as Milestones, and as KPIs to focus the team on.

Understand your Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies

  1. In order to ensure the best possible rollout, you to understand what might affect your success negatively, and manage each of these factors.
  2. In project management terms, this is your RAID log, and includes documenting and managing your:
    1. Risks
    2. Assumptions
    3. Issues
    4. Dependencies
    5. View RAID templates here
  3. Track, mitigate and manage your RAID items through the Rollout process

Define your Phases & Timeline

  1. With the above points in mind, set your timeline for the Rollout.
  2. Base the timeline on a realistic and achievable timescale, and with your RAID items in mind.
  3. If it makes sense to the whole project, split your timeline into Phases, and name them

Define your Milestones

  1. Along with your KPI points, set milestones so that you can monitor project progress
  2. Be sure to get regular Status Updates, and ensure the wider team and stakeholders get Status Reports

Set out your Workstreams & Project Activities

  1. In Agile projects, and in larger Programmes, your team and activities should be arranged in Workstreams
  2. Each Workstream should represent a team, or a particular area of delivery; e.g. “HR”, “DEV”, “CATERING”, “FINANCE”
  3. Plan the project activities, and the KPIs out into these workstreams, along the timeline
  4. Ensure the Workstream participants have contributed, and helped form each workstream plan

Communicate your Rollout Plan!

  1. Agree the Timeline, Workstream, KPI and Activity plans with your team
  2. Create a Rollout Plan Presentation, with your team
  3. Present to all teams and stakeholders
  4. Give your team and Stakeholders Status Reports frequently throughout the Rollout

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Business Documents UK Rollout Templates

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Project Plan

Powerpoint Project Plan Template

The most effective Project Plan presentations are individually tailored for your audience – one size does not fit all. Browse these plan formats.

Project Plan Template showing a 2 year timeline, workstreams and milestones
An example Project Plan – showing 2 years timeline in a roadmap format; milestones and workstreams

Your Project Plan – Who are you showing it to?

Be very clear about your audience – you will need different project plan approaches for each scenario:

  1. For executive audiences use a Roadmap format to show project plans: Powerpoint Roadmap Template, Visio Roadmap template.
  2. For Product Manager audiences, you should use a Product format: Powerpoint Product Template, Visio Product Template.
  3. To show your product team workstreams what they are doing, use a Project Plan Template format.
  4. For your developers, you should have a release plan, showing activity per iteration.

Some Agile Release Plan Formats