Transformation Backlog

The strategic vision for agile change is implemented using a Transformation Backlog. This is an ordered list of changes. Each change item on a Transformation Backlog ought to be structured according to an "Action Plan" for its implementation. A suitable plan can be structured in three parts as follows.

1. Selected patterns

Remember that change isn't done just for the heck of it. There must be a rationale, and in an agile transformation each change that is brought into effect should be expected to improve innovative potential in some way. Each item on the Transformation Backlog will therefore implement one or more agile patterns or practices that have been selected by a sponsored Rollout Team. Antipatterns may be included if they represent organizational impediments (dysfunctions) for removal. Antipatterns are best tackled if they are treated as epics, and subsequently broken down into the good patterns and practices which will eliminate them.

2. Target beneficiaries

Each Transformation Backlog Item must be applied to specific organizational components in support of a measured and controlled program of sponsored agile adoption. Coaching, training, and mentoring from the Rollout Team will facilitate this, as can support from peers. By the successful application of a change, each "target” for that change will demonstrate, empirically, the improved agile behaviors which the associated patterns and practices represent. Their ability to manage their own agile way of working will improve and, as they mature, less assistance will be needed and the Transformation Team can prioritize change in other areas of the enterprise. Any pattern or practice may be repeated across multiple items in the Transformation Backlog, as the same pattern may need to be applied in different contexts and at different times.

Note that the use of the word “target” can be misinterpreted or misrepresented as being confrontational. It may be necessary in some transformation initiatives to replace this with an alternative euphemism such as "change beneficiaries".

Now, although a Transformation Backlog Item can leverage multiple agile patterns and good practices, its application should be deliberately limited in scope. This is another way of saying that it should target as small an area as possible, and that at any one time the transformational Work In Progress should be correspondingly limited. It is better to clearly and unambiguously facilitate small improvements than to bite off more than the people who are affected can chew. To this end, the Action Plan should include an estimate which indicates the likely effort and complexity of implementing the change. A substantial change may preclude bringing other changes into progress before it is completed and retired.

3. Acceptance Criteria

Each Transformation Backlog Item must have clear Acceptance Criteria. These are the evidences that prove the change has been applied successfully. They are often expressed in terms of roles, demonstrable behaviors, events and their outputs, qualities of specific artifacts, and (ideally non-lagging) indicators and metrics. Identifying good Acceptance Criteria is hard and it is arguably the most challenging of transformation skills that one can develop. Understanding the intent, structure, motivation, applicability, consequences, and implementation of each pattern is instrumental to this ability. It requires the joint input of the sponsor, the backlog owner, and the coaches to frame acceptance criteria successfully, although as delivery teams mature they will increasingly demonstrate this capability themselves.

This implies that enterprise transformation must be considered at a strategic level. Although a strategic vision for organization-wide agile practice is important, it is not enough. There must also be a clear means for implementing the vision if agile transformation is to succeed in practice.

Executive sponsorship is an essential pre-requisite for agile adoption at enterprise scale. Only narrow tactical improvements – those which affect individual teams rather than the whole organization - are likely without the clear and unambiguous support of senior management.

Action Planning should be completed on a Just In Time basis for each Transformation Backlog Item, i.e. for each change, as and when its implementation becomes imminent. Before then, the item’s plan may exist only in sketch. The highest priority items should therefore have mature plans that are sufficiently detailed for their respective patterns to be achieved, whereas lower priority items might be planned only at a cursory level with broad estimates that allow the backlog to be roughly sized. The overplanning of low priority items is potentially wasteful and must be avoided. As long as the items bring a sense of scale to the work remaining to be done, and allow it to be ordered, then that is sufficient for the purposes of refinement. This is because the value of each Action Plan can be expected to decay over time. Precociously specified details may no longer be appropriate once the item becomes a priority for implementation. It is also possible that the proposed change may be obviated by events and removed from the backlog altogether.

Note: An Example Transformation Backlog is available (XLS format).


Change Backlog, Pattern Backlog, Practice Backlog

Action Plan Refinement

Action Plan Refinement is an ongoing activity during which the “Action Plan” is created and subsequently improved for each item in turn. The item's Action Plan describes what needs to be done in order to effect a change so that appropriate Acceptance Criteria can be met. Remember that the greater part of this is likely to involve coaching and mentoring, and these can be expected to feature heavily in the plan. The plan for each change item will include a relative estimate of the effort required for its completion. At any one time, the Transformation Rollout Team should action only as many items as they expect can be handled concurrently. Work In Progress must be deliberately limited.