Delivery Services | Article

Is it time to bid farewell to Big Room Planning?

Joanna Cox
on November 26, 2023
How do you get more value out of Big Room Planning?

Many organisations have been on their agility journey for quite some time now, and the appeal of certain ways of working, especially Big Room Planning (BRP), can come into question. In fact, some have gone so far as to declare that BRPs just don’t cut it for their organisation, deeming them a costly overhead.

If this sounds familiar, the real question you should be asking is how do I get the most value out of Big Room Planning as we continue to mature as an agile organisation?

And while there are different approaches you can take with quarterly planning, our experience tells us that if you have external dependencies and want to create sustainable cross-functional alignment then Big Room Planning is still one of the most impactful ceremonies available to connect strategy, OKRs and value delivery by teams. 

Let’s delve deeper into the evolution of BRP adoption within organisations to understand what levers you can pull to get the most value out of this approach to quarterly planning.

The 4 Stages of BRP Maturity

Stage 1 – BRP Adoption

When organisations first embark on their journey towards new ways of working, everything is novel. They embrace fresh agile practices, such as work breakdown, estimation, and prioritisation. The introduction of new ceremonies to their calendars generates a mix of excitement and apprehension, especially when they’re gearing up for their first BRP. There is usually a high level of support and education for both the leaders and teams required, but a great opportunity for a coach to build and grow internal capability. 

Typical Challenges:

  • Not everyone is well-versed in agile practices, and team backlogs might be underdeveloped.
  • Convincing senior leadership to allocate two days for BRP can be a tough sell.
  • Preparing for the initial BRP often feels chaotic and involves a steep learning curve.

Stage 2 – BRP Consolidation

The second BRP sees increased engagement and enthusiasm, with organisations embracing this planning approach more wholeheartedly, as teams understand more about what is expected and can engage in improvements from learning through the initial BRP. 

The lead-up to this event usually includes a more focused quarterly prioritisation effort, and teams become more adept at navigating the process. Improvements start to take root during the second BRP, but teams also strive to create more sophisticated roadmaps and identify dependencies earlier.

The role of coaches evolves during this phase, as delivery teams become more proactive in preparation, and product owners concentrate on aligning and crafting product visions and roadmaps.

Typical Challenges:

  • Teams start discussing product roadmaps, but their maturity in this area remains low.
  • Alignment issues persist between organisational strategy, OKRs, and team alignment.
  • The growing complexity of inter-team dependencies, both within the value stream or tribe and across other parts of the organisation, poses challenges.

Stage 3 – BRP Ownership

Facilitating the third BRP becomes more manageable, with teams becoming more self-sufficient in their preparations. Organisational vision and priorities take centre stage, and teams begin to connect more deeply with them.

Some organisations experiment with the BRP format, running fully virtual events, hybrid gatherings, or breaking the event down over several half-days. The coach typically takes a back seat as ownership of BRP transfers to the rightful leaders. This is when the essential aspects of BRP start to solidify, but it’s also a time when teams start to question the way forward. It is important to remember at this stage that with each BRP facilitated, it’s an opportunity for the organisation and its teams to grow and evolve.

Typical Challenges:

  • The ongoing cost of in-person events, especially if function rooms are being hired, becomes a point of scrutiny.
  • BRP exposes issues in the organisational operating rhythm, creating tensions among high-demand teams.
  • The demands on key capabilities and personnel start to emerge.

Stage 4 – BRP Mastery

The fourth phase of BRP can be the most challenging and is when organisations often question the value of BRPs. What once excited organisations during the initial adoption phase, the newfound transparency, can turn into a spotlight on what’s not working, often with BRPs taking the blame.

This tension point, however, holds the potential for substantial improvement. BRPs illuminate not just team dynamics during quarterly planning but also systemic bottlenecks and complex team structures.

Typical Challenges:

  • Managing or reducing complex webs of dependencies remains elusive.
  • Capacity and demand on critical capabilities and personnel impede organisational priorities and team success.
  • Traditional stage-gated projects or waterfall release cycles clash with the quarterly cadence of BRPs and other portfolio ceremonies. The need for quicker release cycles becomes more evident.
Mastering BRP for Enhanced Business Agility

Over the years, the enthusiasm for agile practices, particularly Big Room Planning, has waned for some. However, this is where mastery comes into play. It’s an opportunity for organisations to reevaluate their approach to prioritisation and planning and consider how they extract value out of quarterly planning events. 

BRP, by design, serves as an opportunity to align on quarterly priorities, reaffirm the organisational mission, and connect strategy, OKRs, and value delivery by teams. These factors remain as crucial as ever, but it’s now a test to see if the organisation can elevate itself to a new level of business agility.

The era of isolated product teams or technology teams is shifting, requiring a broader perspective, encouraging organisations to have a more “system thinking” lens. By looking at the system as a whole, the thinking changes and you start to see where the interconnectedness and complexity truly lies. Relationships, interactions and patterns become important as you assess how information and value flows through the organisation. By actively focusing and resolving organisational bottlenecks and points of tension,  business agility allows organisations to be more adaptive to changing priorities and to grow and change as the environment around them does. 

 

At this juncture, it’s worth pondering some key questions:

  • Has your organisation fully embraced business agility and lean practices? Can it swiftly adapt to market changes, new demands, or innovative technologies, or is it static?
  • Does customer-centricity drive your organisation? How quickly do you learn, gather feedback, and adapt and grow?
  • Are your teams guided by a common vision and empowered to deliver without complex dependencies? Do your teams align with the value stream and have autonomy to achieve customer outcomes?
  • How quickly can you bring new products and services to the market?
  • Can you measure the value you deliver, establish feedback loops for learning and adaptation, and make informed decisions about initiatives?

 

While scrutinising business agility, this doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your BRP approach to make it more streamlined and efficient – of course you can and we encourage organisations to continue to learn and adapt accordingly. Only after understanding and mastering something can you decide how and when to modify it. However, remember the benefits it brings and adhere to key guiding principles to ensure you don’t lose the benefits:

  1. Meet Teams Where They Are: Tailor your approach to teams, whether they are new to BRP or seasoned. Each BRP should be a learning opportunity, so set realistic expectations.
  2. Embrace Transparency: Transparency extends beyond showcasing visions and delivery plans; it’s about identifying organisational bottlenecks and opportunities for greater efficiency.
  3. Actively Address Tensions: If recurring obstacles and blockers persist, proactively work to resolve them. Otherwise organisations risk remaining stuck with slow, suboptimal processes that can’t pivot and adjust quickly.

 

In conclusion, the evolution of BRP within an organisation is a natural progression. While the appeal of BRPs may dim over time, it’s a valuable tool for testing and enhancing an organisation’s agility and its ability to adapt and deliver value in a dynamic business landscape.

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