Meghan Kutz, Adaptavist Senior Business Consultant - AIS, and Aha! Roadmaps expert explains how Aha! Roadmaps can support teams to be more agile at an operational level, and why they might want to consider adding it to their agile tech stack as part of their agile transformation.
Listen to the interview or read it below
Real-time visibility helps to define responsibility and accountability
Using agile methodologies, businesses can help manage uncertainty, mitigate risk, target and achieve specific outcomes and clearly define responsibility and accountability (Forbes); how do tools like Aha! Roadmaps help with this?
Responsibility and accountability are central to an organisation's ability to achieve outcomes, but they're also critical to agile's values and principles, like collaboration and psychological safety. Aha! has designed in its software all sorts of ways to ensure you're clearly defining responsibility and accountability at every layer of your organisation, thereby supporting those agile principles. First off, visibility is paramount. Operationally, even though development teams may be getting work done in another system like Aha! Develop, or a third-party application like Jira, Aha! Roadmap's integration capabilities make those epics, features, stories, and requirements visible in Aha! Roadmaps are populated with up-to-the-minute data. You can see in Aha! Roadmaps who are working on those items help hold those teams accountable.
But you can also see how that epic or feature nudges progress on a high-level strategic initiative because it's been directly linked to it in Aha!. And that strategic initiative has an assignee, too: someone tasked with authoring and tracking progress on that initiative. But they're also responsible for authoring a good initiative that links up to a company initiative, let's say—not just in the direct Aha! link but in its language and outcomes—and one that can be broken down into the epics required to achieve it. You have to be able to understand, articulate, and estimate the work involved. And the team members who are responsible for that strategy are assigned and visible in Aha!.
So a product manager might be in charge of epics, and their scrum master is in charge of the user stories the development team works on. Then you have folks in charge of initiatives at the program level, solution level, portfolio level, and finally, at the company level. Each of those must form a legible, bi-directional path from company goal to user story. And each of these strategic and operational items has a card in Aha! Roadmaps with an assignee. There's visibility all the way down, but also, in the pursuit of outcomes, you're ensuring collaboration through that accountability and visibility. Everyone does their part to move the business forward, and how they're responsible for that is made visible in Aha! by design.
Manage uncertainty and improve motivation by eliminating 'why am I doing this?'
How can Aha! can help with roles and responsibilities within a team. For example, take the Ocean's Eleven films, where there are 11 individual experts who each have their expertise and work independently, adding value to the overall mission but jointly achieving the team goal (11 is the ideal agile team size also)?
At the crux of it, this deceptively simple question, "what should I be working on today?" can lead to all sorts of confusion and anxiety because, all too often, it's not all that easy to answer confidently. And to inject one of the many complicating factors into that question, you're one individual completing tasks either independently or with a team. Still, other individuals and/or groups are completing other tasks that somehow are supposed to marry up and collectively add value to the overall mission. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right? You mention Oceans 11—eleven individual experts in their field who more or less work independently but jointly achieve a goal. At an organisation, you've got individuals, teams, and departments doing the same thing: working independently according to their expertise and collectively and collaboratively to achieve larger goals. And there can be a lot of uncertainty there.
You've got a backlog that might answer, "what am I assigned to today?" but will it also answer:
· Why am I doing this?
· How am I contributing?
· What value am I adding?
And if you can't answer that, motivation can really suffer. So knowing the purpose can be key, especially if your day-to-day priorities shift. Which, let's face it, can happen a lot.
When that happens, Aha! really help you assess the impact and manage uncertainty. If you're running agile well, reprioritisation can be less disruptive and intrusive, and Aha! is built to facilitate priority and schedule shifts and send that change right to your development system. But, because strategy is linked to your epics and features in Aha!, it also lets you say, "if I move this forward and this back, what's the risk to my strategic initiatives? What's the impact of achieving that goal this year?" And operationally, "what does this do to my team's capacity?" It's all in the reports.
Other teams can see that, too: there's that same real-time visibility across functions: the marketing department can see when new features will be launch-ready and prepare for it; sales will see when they can communicate anticipated features to customers. When things shift, everything is updated in real-time, and teams know as soon as possible to pivot their functions accordingly.
Further, Aha! allows you to set up the integration with your development system so that estimates for features or stories only flow in one direction: from the development team to the product manager. Not only does this guarantee more accurate forecasts, but the people doing the work on the estimate are protected, ensured by the integration. For operational agility, that's a fantastic way of ensuring psychological Safety built right into the technology.
Shift priorities and see the impact on teams straight away
How does Aha! Roadmaps allow you to see in real-time how shifting priorities can impact risk and outcomes. Is it right there and visible to the director and the developer?
Priorities change, and this is the nature of business; Aha! Roadmaps help realign strategic goals, allowing enterprises to refocus and reprioritise where needed. The lines are a little blurred between operational and strategic agility. In the middle, there is a place where they meld into each other, the 'friendly zone'. It's about when priorities need to shift; for example, a high-level customer comes and asks for a specific feature right now, not in 3 months. You can shift the priorities and see precisely how this will impact the day-to-day tasks and any other strategic initiatives at a higher level or respond to disruption - like a global pandemic that might need to shift your priorities at all levels of your business.
So that is reactive, and you can see through capacity planning that Aha! has team and individual capacity planning built-in. So if you shift priorities and suddenly Ben has a million things on his plate because you just assigned him a new epic, so now you have to figure out his workload. All of that is visible in Aha! Roadmaps. So you can help mitigate risks and see the direct impact of shifting priorities that you are reacting to.
Aha! Roadmaps also allows you to be proactive in shifting your priorities. It enables business leaders and people in charge of innovation and finding the next new thing to look for new opportunities and figure out how they can bring those into the business. From an operational perspective and confidently say, 'let's capture the market with this new feature; I think we can do something with this. I'm going to pull in an epic. We can see how it will fit our overall strategic goals by understanding when we need to be more agile at a strategic level to make this fit in or respond with agility from an operational perspective to get this into the next release.
So, you create this new feature epic, Aha! has a great capacity report where you can see at an individual level - Ben, what is his capacity?
Priorities do change: that's the nature of any business. Aha! Roadmaps help with realignment by filling in that often "fuzzy" area between strategy—high-level goals and initiatives—and execution—the features teams develop and release. If those two are not connected, and you shift a revenue goal, how do you know you're delivering the right features to meet that? And if you shift priorities on your releases, how do you know you're still on target to meet your goals? With Aha!, you directly link strategy to execution: every feature or release is connected to a strategic initiative. Once you do that, the roadmaps do the rest.
Say, for example, you have a high-priority customer who requests a feature release next month rather than three months as scheduled. In Aha!, you look to shift other things around, and your roadmaps and Gantt charts will show you how that affects your dependencies and timelines for your releases at the operational level and their associated goals and initiatives at the strategic level. Essentially, Aha! lets you answer the question, "how will accommodating this customer affect the rest of our portfolio? How risky is this?" And that can be for any market opportunity you pursue, reactive or proactive.
Mapping these shifts in Aha! also show you how capacity is affected: move this epic up, and suddenly Ben is working a sixty-hour week, or you're in danger of not completing all features in the sprint. That has a domino effect all the way up; if you don't complete the feature, you may not achieve its strategic initiative on time - especially if that feature has links or dependencies - which may have an impact on expected revenue or growth for the quarter.
Clever reporting lets you see the big and detailed picture
What is your favourite feature of Aha! Roadmaps?
For me, it's the way you can see how an individual feature or story contributes to the larger picture. Just as you can see how one individual is part of the larger team, and their individual contributions strengthen the overall business. That context can be really motivating. Aha! lets you see both the trees and the forest.
When talking to customers about Aha! Roadmaps what aspect of the tool makes them excited, creating that all-important 'Aha! Moment'?
It's usually the roadmaps. Setup and configuration are critical in Aha!—it has so much flexibility that lets you configure the software according to how you, the organisation, and your teams, need it. So that takes some consideration and a little bit of time, and while you're in the throes of consideration, you aren't always able to take a step back and see how it all connects. Then you build your first roadmap, and it's always an Aha! moment (sorry, I had to!).
And the capabilities are not just for roadmapping your big-ticket items for the year: from an operational perspective, you can get detailed pivot reports and roadmaps that are tactical and actionable. For example, I recently created a custom pivot report for a client of mine they just loved. It showed all features by release and product portfolio, their internal and external release dates, who they were assigned to, and the last comment. I then created a calculated column in the report that looks at the due date and says, if it's past today, "overdue"; if it's the same as today, "due today"; if it's due within seven days, "due soon", etc. Features are grouped by those values and colour coded so you can see at a glance where you need to triage, who you need to reach out to, and what's the context. Need more details? You can easily navigate over to the product space's kanban board or Release timeline.
The C-suite needs reporting to be clear and concise, not just at an operational level; how does Aha! Roadmaps enable that visibility at all levels?
You can take that detailed operational-level report and tweak it, roll up the details into a higher-level roadmap: this, again, is where the links made between execution and strategy really shine. You can show only the details someone like a VP needs and how that execution connects to the strategic initiatives they're accountable for. You're not bogging that VP down in execution-level details that distract from the bigger picture and the kinds of decisions they need to take. This also helps mitigate micromanagement—often, we're showing a crazy amount of detail to our executive leadership because our ability to create the reporting they need isn't there.
It's the same for external stakeholders, like customers or board members. Aha! allows you to create reports and presentations from those same roadmaps but with specific details hidden. So you can have a roadmap based on the external release date (Q3 2022) but withhold the internal release date (15 April 2022). You can tailor the right report for the right audience, which allows leaders at all levels of the business to make strategic decisions: to launch a new feature, or a new product, or acquire a company.