In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of project management and how the Massachusetts EOE has chosen to modernize their practices by implementing a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). We explore the ways in which this helps to improve resource allocation and project outcomes, and why it is important to take a structured approach to project management.
The Massachusetts EOE is a group of state education agencies that have previously attempted to implement SAFe, but the adoption process was not successful. To improve the chances of success this time, leadership asked software teams what changes needed to be made to ensure a successful SAFe implementation. These were the top responses from the team:
- Direction and support from leadership throughout the adoption of SAFe
- Agile training for software teams
- Effective Communication throughout the adoption process
With feedback from the teams, EOE leadership began to build a vision for the new agile implementation that included the commitment, training, and communication that teams need to be successful.
Leveraging support from AEM and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Massachusetts secured an agile transformation coach to plan their SAFe implementation. The transformation coach worked with leadership to understand the need for change and helped to document the new agile processes necessary to meet the overall objectives of the initiative. An onboarding plan that included agile training, a set of standard agile ceremonies, and project tracking guidelines was used to standardize agile practices across teams. As teams were onboarded to SAFe, leadership collected feedback to refine agile processes and ease adoption.
Scaled Agile in Practice
As part of a SAFe implementation effort, project portfolio visibility is an essential component of the framework and can provide valuable insight into the success of projects and the effectiveness of resource allocation. It can also help organizations identify areas of improvement, identify areas of risk, and optimize project portfolios.
The Massachusetts EOE has deployed a unified project portfolio that is updated in near real-time from their centralized project tracking tool. Collecting project management data using the framework and tools have made it possible for the state to be more effective and efficient when managing its limited resources. These efforts also help to modernize project governance by enabling impacted groups to be heard and decisions to be made in an organized way. The portfolio provides a high-level executive summary of projects while providing the ability to drill into a single unit of work. With these centralized reporting capabilities, portfolio managers receive a summary of status updates and drill into project details to help mitigate project risks.
In addition to establishing a portfolio of projects, Massachusetts has adopted a set of guidelines for teams to mature their agile practices. The guidelines include best practices for conducting backlog grooming, sprint planning, daily standup, and sprint retrospective meetings. The guidelines are shared with all software teams to follow, and the SAFe transformation leaders help teams adopt the agile standards as they are onboarded to a common two-week sprint cycle.
Massachusetts also conducts Office Hours each Monday afternoon for teams to receive the latest agile framework updates, and ample time is available for teams to share successes and challenges to help grow their agile community. Sharing experiences with others can be a great way to learn. It can help gain perspective on different situations and provide insight into how to handle similar situations in the future. Also, sharing experiences can be a great way to build relationships with others and create a sense of community.
Facilitated by the leadership team, a Scrum of Scrums is conducted every two weeks to bring teams together, discuss project dependencies across teams, and plan upcoming sprints. Each SAFe team is asked to send a representative to the Scrum of Scrums to share their team needs. The meetings add value to the implementation by addressing resource needs before work begins and reducing project delays.
Massachusetts Executive Office of Education - SAFe by the numbers:
- 5 education agencies are onboarded to a scaled agile framework.
- Approximately 15 software teams participate in the same two-week sprint cycle.
- Approximately 100 people are practicing the scaled agile framework.
- At any given time, about 75 projects are actively tracked in the unified project portfolio.
- In a typical SAFe sprint cycle, more than 350 user stories are completed across teams.
Next Steps for Massachusetts
The Massachusetts EOE plans to grow their agile community by continuing their Office Hours and Scrum of Scrums meetings. Further, they plan to conduct quarterly planning meetings to increase the alignment of software projects to longer-term business objectives. They also have plans to expand their project portfolio to include a risk registry to improve risk management.
More on the Modernization and Future Readiness Initiative
The Modernization and Future Readiness Initiative is designed to create capacity, time, and space for State Education Agencies to keep up with the growing demand for education data services.
Leading this effort, AEM and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are focusing on the intersection of interoperability and privacy—leading to the ability to better acquire and adopt secure solutions that maximize the use of data and technology to inform teaching and learning.
In the first year, we provided California, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Nebraska with the opportunity for a facilitated assessment. Building on our prior efforts in developing the Interoperability Maturity Model and Assessment Rubric, we are supporting the states to determine where they are and to help build an individual state implementation plan for where they want to go.