Agile Portfolio Management:
Designing for Multi-Team Engagement 
One of the values of the Agile Manifesto is Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation. At Conteneo, we conveniently shorten this value to: Collaboration. Quite simply, collaboration is the core of getting things done in Agile teams, and Lean/Agile Portfolio Management is no exception. 

The goal is to scale collaboration so that we get better results. Participatory Budgeting is based on engaging as internal stakeholders and decision-makers in the budgeting process (and typically far more numbers of people that traditional approaches to budgeting. Roadmapping through Prune the Product Tree/Prune the Future scales collaboration even further, inviting external stakeholders (customers, partners, suppliers) into the process of identifying a better future for all. And Buy a Feature provides critical insights into the key priorities of internal and external stakeholders. 

However, scaling collaboration requires Agilists to consider various design options about how to structure the collaboration among groups. In this newsletter I will explore various designs that Weave customers are using to scale collaboration events. 
 
A Single Weave Forum

A Weave forum is designed to support the most fundamental size of a team: 4 to 8 people. The size limit is based on decades of research in organizational behavior that proves that humans simply do not collaborate in large groups. This guideline informs the recommended size of Scrum teams, SAFe Agile teams and even the infamous “two pizza” team size from Amazon. 

Weave forums can be scheduled or started on an ad-hoc basis. Unlike a phone call or a teleconference, a Weave forum is a durable object that can be stopped and if need be restarted. Weave forums provide fine-grained security controls on who can participate in the forum and who can review the results. All forum data, including the event streams of the participants, are available for analysis.

Special Forum Sizes

There are two notable exceptions to the standard size of a forum. The first is a solo forum, when a single person is using a framework. Typical motivations include a person preparing data for other participants before they join or simply using a framework to help them understand a problem. 

The second is when a single forum is designed to have more than 8 participants. Consider BMW, a Weave customer that uses Weave to engage a global product team in strategic portfolio planning. The product team is organized into different product areas called swimlanes. The swimlanes have naturally cohesive structures (e.g., a swimlane for Journey Management; another for Vehicle Services; a third for aftermarket sales, and so forth). The goal of the portfolio team was to establish a common framework whereby each swimlane had a collaborative workspace to do plan their work while simultaneously providing insight and visibility into the other swimlanes. 

Accordingly, we created a single Weave framework that included space for each swimlane and invited more than 45 participants from around the world to collaborate in the same forum. The results enabled the swimlane teams to collaborate with each other while gaining the advantage of seeing the work of the swimlanes in realtime. You might imagine a “big virtual room” where multiple groups of people worked in their own part of the room, but could see the work of others.

Scheduling Small Numbers of Forums

If the natural structure of a single collaborating team is 4 to 8 people, then we can use this as the foundation for managing larger events: Simply schedule one forum for each team.

We recently helped a global payments company prioritize their FY2019 budget. We had 42 people in the room organized into 6 tables. We scheduled 6 forums, labeled quite simply “Table 1”, “Table 2”, and forth.

We shared the forum identifiers with each table and each table then proceeded to use our Budget Engine to work on their budget. Each table was able use Weave to capture their choices and at the end the group was able to project the prioritized list to the entire room. The use of Weave also meant that the organization had a permanent digital record of their choices that they could use and share with the rest of the organization.

Scheduling Large Numbers of Forums

Individually scheduling a small number of forums is fine for many projects. But if you really want to scale collaboration scheduling each forum separate is going to become overly tedious. 

Weave Galas are multi-team collaboration events. They are explicitly designed for a larger number of people. A gala works by presenting a single URL to all of the facilitators and participants. When a facilitator accesses the URL, Weave starts a new forum. This forum is pre-configured to accept a certain number of participants into “seats” or “slots” that are designed to accept participants.  

When a participant accesses a Gala URL, Weave searches through the list of active forums associated with the gala and automatically adds the participant to the first forum that has an open seat according to the placement policy chosen by the producer. If there are no forums with open seats, Weave creates a new forum.

Both forums and galas have a guest list, which is a list of email addresses and/or domain names eligible to participate in the forum, and a black list, which, as you’ve probably guessed, is a list of email addresses and/or domain names that are ineligible to participate. Guest lists can be further configured to require participants to authenticate their identity via their Weave account or their email address, giving you a very high degree of confidence that the participants are exactly who you approve – and no one else. 
While 45 or more people in a single forum or creating hundreds of simultaneous forums from a single Gala are likely to exceed the limits of other systems, we’re rather proud that Weave can easily scale to handle these creative designs. That said, just because you can have a lot of people in a Weave forum doesn’t mean you should. Let the natural structure of your collaboration event determine which of the designs I’ve shared are best for your needs.

And please know that we're at your service if you'd like to explore design options for your portfolio management event.
This newsletter series is focused on Agile Portfolio Management. Hold me accountable if I miss sending you one of these - and let me know if you want me to add something to the series.

Aug 27, 2018: Kickoff: Essential and Advanced Roadmapping
Aug 30, 2018: Participatory Budgeting and Stakeholder Engagement
Sep 6, 2018: Building Alignment on Personal and Portfolio Goals
Sep 13, 2018: 5 Core Frameworks for Product Portfolios
Sep 20, 2018: Designing for Multi-team Engagement
Sep 27, 2018: Reserving and Allocating Budgets