Dennis Jones is an Agile coach who specializes in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Program Increment (PI) Planning. To help organizations become more Agile, he has introduced Lucidchart to companies such as Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Trinity, Travelport, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Dennis Jones gets the call when a business needs a little guidance, or maybe some serious help to build and deploy quicker. He is an Agile coach who specializes in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Program Increment (PI) Planning, which typically revolves around face-to-face conversations. Dennis helps companies with their timebox processes, where a team decides what they can accomplish in a three-month period. Proper communication is necessary if teams want to fulfill their deliverables on time.
To help organizations become more Agile, he has introduced Lucidchart to companies such as Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Trinity, Travelport, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"I think Lucidchart is crucial for any company doing anything that requires collaborative modeling and especially if the team members are not co-located. The real-time updates are critical in these cases."
Get everyone on the same page
When initially engaging with an organization, Dennis recognizes that IT delivery has been performed by project teams using traditional project delivery and project management strategies. There may be some level of Agility adoption and perhaps the formation of Agile teams (five to nine members). However, to scale agility across the enterprise, individual team delivery must now include delivery through a team-of-teams that conduct big-room planning (similar to a JAD session), which is common in most Agile Frameworks. This is what Dennis helps the organization realize.
Dennis works with leadership to determine what information to include regarding team performance and issues that can impede value delivery. Timeliness of this information is a prerequisite for prudent decision-making. To begin, teams create a physical board on a wall. Each team is represented, along with their deliverables and dependencies from other teams, delineated with Post-Its and string. This process is great for all co-located members in the big-room planning process. However, it’s not convenient for distributed teams. So, Dennis shows them his program board template that he built in Lucidchart, which mimics the physical board and looks similar to a dynamic scrum board.
“It’s a big, visual, living information radiator,” says Dennis. “It keeps track of when a feature is going be completed and when the dependencies from each team should be delivered.” He proposes the program board as an alternative. “Give that a try, see if it works,” he encourages the teams. “And it's like a no-brainer. They immediately take to it,” says Dennis. The teams across multiple time-zones can quickly realize the benefits of a platform where everyone can easily access and add information.
The entire big-room planning process (SAFe calls this PI Planning) is typically a two-day event. If the organization is international, the teams Dennis works with include remote teams and stakeholders from drastically different time zones in the United States, Europe, and India. The timing coordination is very valuable, with only a few overlapping hours. During planning, the teams agree and commit to what will be worked on and fill out the program board accordingly, reflecting the next three months of work, broken down by two-week sprints.
Coordinate and collaborate with data and hotspots
Dennis uses data at program levels to identify metrics for planning and plan execution purposes, to spot unplanned work, and to determine when the teams are over capacity. “In Lucidchart, you can integrate data links from an Agile tool like JIRA,” says Dennis. This capability helps teams stay coordinated and provide continuity across different tools in their tech stack.
“Within the board, you can click on a feature with an external link, and it literally goes into their agile tool, thereby leveraging existing tools,” says Dennis. “I also use Lucidchart and hotspots for any kind of modeling. There are so many different modeling software out there—Visio does an okay job, but you just can't collaborate."
He introduces Lucidchart with the program kanban workflow because it allows multiple people to access the information and work on the boards at the same time. “It's a very dynamic conversation,” says Dennis.
The program board helps teams visualize fluctuating capacity, whether it’s down due to vacations or holidays or up for reasons such as an increase in membership. “Each program increment can really have some variability in how much capacity the team of teams have,” says Dennis. “Then that's reflected in the math and the data management capabilities in the Lucidchart version, which is just fantastic. It allows teams to plan, adjust, and deliver accordingly.”
At the end of each iteration, the teams deliver their progress. An overall coordinator (SAFe refers to this role as the Release Train Engineer or RTE) reviews the progress from each team and either manually logs the information or conducts a data load to the program board. Then everyone can see what was completed, blocked, or moved, identify when/if new stories were added, and tackle the next iteration.
Dennis provides teams with the template he built, so all they need to do is edit each iteration layer with the appropriate information, always preserving the baseline. Typically, about 100 people revolve around a single program board. “But not all 100 people contribute to it, right? There's only maybe five or six that really need to get into it, a dozen tops,” says Dennis. “So those editors then send a view-only URL of the program board to the hundred people that are on the team so they can look at it at any time they want.”
Adapt to change with layers
It’s not uncommon that teams discover unplanned—yet necessary—work after they begin. Dennis leverages Lucidchart to help the teams adapt quickly to ensure the plan isn’t compromised. “You maintain the baseline plan, and through the use of layers, you can show how the plan changes and you can go back in time and see how it all comes together,” says Dennis. “It’s not just a single snapshot in time—it tells a compelling story. That’s what has been great about Lucidchart.”
Dennis has about 20 layers on his Lucidchart program board, to manage the feature evolution from plan-to-done. The number of layers may vary depending on the number of iterations in an organization’s overall program increment.
“I think organizations realize that Lucidchart is the tool of choice because of its visual modeling, layering, math functions and collaboration capabilities. Nothing comes close.”
See the big picture
Introducing Lucidchart has truly helped Dennis and organizations deliver tangible results. “Having that whole systems thinking helps you see the bigger picture—it just helps you put things into context better,” says Dennis. “If we didn't have Lucidchart and this program board, then these distributed teams would only have their team activity information without any correlation to evolving PI objective delivery.”
“Without question, using this online board with distributed teams makes the coordination and sync meetings increasingly productive because everybody's talking the same language, from the same model, with the same viewpoint."
Lucidchart helps fill in the gaps for distributed teams but also brings teams together in one place to review and approach their work from a new, holistic perspective as they move from iteration to iteration.
At the end of each sprint or 2-week iteration, the teams conduct a “system demo,” where working software is demonstrated (rather than talked about). Aside from feedback, the teams reassess what was completed and what may move to a future sprint that was not completed. As tasks are moved, it is critical and to be transparent with every stakeholder, which is why the program board is such a logical place for these updates.
Historically, the program board is a planning artifact only, but Lucidchart changes this construct by adding execution capabilities. “The point is to leverage the program board to where you can show you're moving the bar in delivering the value, the true metric you want to have at the end of three months,” says Dennis. And through this program board, Lucidchart provides insight into why specific items were not completed so teams can improve, do better, and continue to deliver true progress on real working software—even from across the world.