Setting up a SAFe® Product Management Group (PMG)

Setting up Product Management approach to for a seamless transition to agile across a large program of work at the ATO

The Situation

Standing up a Program Management Group (PMG) for the first time can be daunting. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO), a government agency, engaged ZXM’s agile coaches for a seamless transition to agile at scale across a large program of work.

A new program was set up with extremely tight timeframes for delivery. This was a project that had been attempted three times previously without success so the spotlight was on the new team leading this program of work. ZXM was engaged to assist a new branch within the ATO to stand up a Program Management Group (PMG) from scratch. 

ZXM had been working as Enterprise level coaches across the organisation and was able to leverage learnings from programs that have been working in agile ways for 12-24 months and apply these to the new program group to accelerate their maturity to have a baseline of competence within 3-6 months. 

The key to a successful outcome was a seamless sustainable approach, in line with the existing organisational agile operating model, ensuring minimal disruption to key business activities.

The Solution

ZXM consultants provided coaching support and mentoring of key program level PMG staff and business stakeholders, to develop foundation knowledge in Agile and scaling and work with them to
align to the existing organisational frameworks and apply patterns within their context.

Standing anything up from scratch is hard, especially if you have not been exposed to it before. With the three PMG voting members identified, ZXM developed a transition roadmap to assist in an effortless transition. Prioritisation of features for delivery was critical to meet the tight timeframes and WSJF (weighted shortest job first) was implemented as the organisational preferred method of prioritisation at Program level. 

Building Capability

To help upskill and build capability across the voting members, advisors and PMG support staff, ZXM ran a series of workshops including:

  • The benefits of agile and why there was an organisational need to work in this way.
  • The overarching framework, key concepts and process.
  • Understanding the pipeline funnel of work and how this flows to the PMG.
  • Their roles and responsibilities within the PMG.
  • What their stakeholders required of them (including the business, customers, other stakeholders, agile delivery teams and shared services teams).

The PMG Scrum Master (SM) role was established, as the crucial support that the PMG needed, and a PMG charter was co-created and communicated to business stakeholders, teams and program staff at this point of time.

One Product Backlog

Once ZXM had established an overarching view of the process for the major participants it was time to introduce “how” a single prioritised backlog would be developed by the voting members. This consisted of one of ZXM’s agile coaches running a number of WSJF simulation workshops whereby “real world” organisational features were utilised. This enabled a rapid assimilation of concepts in a safe learning environment.

Prior to the first PMG meeting, ZXM assisted in preparing communiques and fielding questions to ensure that business and other stakeholders understood why and how the PMG would work.

ZXM utilized behavioral modeling and a ZXM coach co-facilitated the first few PMG meetings and provided feedback to the team on improvements and what was working well. By supporting the PMG Scrum Master and PMG voting members in such a way, business and
stakeholders knew what was expected of them, quality standards were inherently built in and process flows were established and maintained by all involved. 

The learning curve for all was steep and the first few meetings were slow. However, by establishing a regular cadence and with the support of the ZXM agile coach; the stakeholders became comfortable with their roles and responsibilities and the throughput of the features soon picked up to a sustainable pace and met the definition of ready for the Delivery area planning meetings.

The Results

As a result of supporting and establishing the PMG, nine months into their journey the PMG went from a slow jog to a steady run;

  • 118 Features have been prioritised in order and sequenced to optimise value and limit cost of delay.
  • Business stakeholders have transparency and visibility of what is coming through the pipeline.
  • PMG members and advisors are clear on what is required of them and what they in turn will receive from this Agile Release Train (ART).
  • Processes, procedures and cadence are working smoothly.
  • A learning and improvement mindset has been embedded within the group; constant throughput established and succession planning implemented.

In the future this will lead to the PMG’s seamless expansion as the organisation moves towards a product based model. A number of artefacts have been developed and learning from these have been shared across programs and through ATO’s Agile HQ coaching network to ensure other new programs can leverage off this experience and accelerate their own capability uplift.

Increased transparency

Visibility of the whole pipeline in priority order across the program of work

Product governance

Clear understanding of decision making responsibilities of PMG group and their alignment to Strategic Initiatives

Reduced set-up time

PMG up and running within weeks by leveraging experience and learning from approach from other program areas.

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