Space for Thinking in a Big Room


To survive the Digital Transformation, companies will have to respond quickly to changing markets and customer needs. This is “business agility” and can only happen when cross functional units leave their silos and unite in joined up thinking to achieve shared business goals.

LittleBlogAuthorGraphic  David Hodgson, Feb 12 2016

One of the last things I did at CA before I left, was join in a “Big Room Planning” session to help prioritize goals and initiatives for the Mainframe Business Unit. As the name implies, the basic idea of Big Room Planning is getting a lot of key people together physically in the same room to do strategic planning for the business. It needs a big room to accommodate all the necessary participants! Our guides and facilitators were two expert consultants from the Rally Software group, now a part of CA Technologies through acquisition.

The Quest for an Agile Business

Agility is delivering customer value faster. The adoption of Agile development methodologies has been an intrinsic part of the Digital Transformation that we are experiencing in the IT industry. Big Room Planning is part of the next wave of Agile adoption; extending it from just transforming the development process, to using the same principles to transform the way a business is run. It is a natural next step for companies adopting Agile because it soon becomes apparent that delivering successful products involves the whole company, not just the engineering teams.

SAFe – the Scaled Agile Framework

Big Room Planning at the portfolio level is really an extrapolation of one part of Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe. Championed by Dean Leffingwell, SAFe itself will have to be a subject for a future blog as it is too big a subject to cover here. Suffice it to say that it is the application of Lean principles to scale Agile for large enterprises that have multiple products and many development teams. An essential element of SAFe is Product Increment planning where cross functional teams agree the direction of a product roadmap.

The power of cross functional teams thinking together

Big Room Planning takes PI Planning up a level and expands the audience to include more business and operational functions. It allows a business to take two days out to set an annual strategy that everyone understands and is bought into, because they helped create it. Quarterly follow-up meetings allow the team to track progress and tweak the strategy responding to new information; the better understanding of obstacles, or changes in market conditions and customer requirements.

CA’s Mainframe BU was doing Big Room Planning for the first time. We were all learning together and there was a general sense that the team would do it better the next time! Some things you can only learn by doing however much preparation you do before hand, watching videos and reading primers. In fact it is central to Agile philosophy that the team learns together by doing and that the learning crucible is what forges the most valuable results.

What I saw in this first stumbling attempt was colleagues learning to work together in new ways. Functions like Sales and Marketing getting to understand and validate the roadmap before Dev start building anything. In fact those functions helped to prioritize the roadmap alongside Product Management with the advice of Architects to help size and weigh the impacts of alternatives. These deep interactions between multiple functions can help large companies behave like small companies i.e. help them truly be agile.

A Competitive Advantage for You Too?

Rally could be one of the best things that has happened to CA. The acquisition brought a great new product that will surely drive growth for CA where there will be synergies and operational multipliers. But the bigger impact could be in a company-wide evolution if the Rally culture can help fuel agile adoption at CA. If their new practices are adopted across CA’s business units we could see a unified company delivering successful organic products from ideation with prospects to successful implementation by customers.

But more importantly, what about you? Do you have a vision for your company as an agile business? Could the concept’s of Big Room Planning be a starting point for you to gain competitive advantage in the markets you serve? Check it out.


Image credit: CA Technologies

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