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When implementing Agile development practices at the enterprise level, business executives and Portfolio Managers should consider looking at How Work Happens within the organization. This technique provides a good tool to assess where you stand and where to focus.

How Work Happens includes all the processes and practices it takes to move a digital product from idea through to implementation and ongoing support.

This is a high-level process diagram that illustrates “How Work Happens” in a typical organization following Lean and Agile practices. The diagram includes the four main steps or rituals as work moves through the process of getting done.

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Strategic roadmap development is designed to ensure you can both:
— Focus on right things
— Fend off wrong things

The ritual anticipates that the Strategy Management Team and Product/Demand Owners representing the different areas of the organization (typically including Product, Channel, Platform and Technology) will bring their imperatives and strategic initiatives to the planning table. Each idea will be passed through a Prioritization Framework (PFW), which will ensure that only those initiatives that must and should be done are included for consideration. The PFW filters initiatives as follows:

  • Must Do (Imperatives)
      — Regulatory, Technical, Business
  • Should Do (Discretionary)
      — Strategy-Aligned, ROI-Positive

All other ideas that do not meet these tests are not considered candidates for roadmap planning. Individual sources of demand roadmaps will be merged into a Portfolio Roadmap, and “Elaboration Ready Work” initiatives will be placed in the Portfolio Backlog for Elaboration.


Elaboration teams, comprised of skilled roles including User Experience, Business Analysis, Design and Architecture, work in priority order to execute time-boxed elaboration “projects” that mature initiatives. The intent is to ensure unknowns are resolved and estimates are refined before passing work to development. “Shovel Ready Work” is placed in a backlog for release cycle or Program Increment (PI) planning and build.


The Plan and Build teams conduct their rituals, release cycles and Program Increment (PI) Planning to optimize the distribution and coordination of “Shovel Ready Work” within their Program Backlog. They look for imperatives that must be completed, high-value and low complexity items that should be completed, and dependencies that must be addressed. They commit to their plan, and through their Product Owners, communicate clearly back to Product, Channel, Platform and Technology Management the status of their development Sprints.


This step includes activities around integrated testing, release management and DevOps, supported by a Release Train Engineer, release management team, systems team, DevOps and other Build Team members. The Lean-Agile principles of continuous feedback, constant learning and relentless improvement are the primary focus, relying on feedback from users during testing and release of product features. A continuous feedback loop from users is integrated back into ideas and strategic initiatives considered during Strategy and Planning. Additionally, enablement initiatives for things like Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, Test Automation and Metrics may be part of the feedback loop as well.

Creating this view of How Work Happens in your organization provides a good tool to assess where the gaps are within the process of how things get done. It becomes easier to identify the areas that could benefit by adding Agile processes and techniques by looking at your organization from this perspective.

Agile Techniques Series

We have worked with many large organizations to help implement Agile development and business demand processes at the team and enterprise level. Our Scaled Agilist experts have created a series of thoughts to help companies identify practical ways to address Agile business transformation in their own organizations. If you would like to discuss these techniques in more detail, please contact us. Enjoy!

Read our other articles in this Series: Work maturityTop-down estimation; and Quantify effort across teams.

Certified Scaled Agilists:

Mike Simon

Mike Simon 
Principal Consultant

Derek Riddle

Derek Riddle 
Creative Services Director

Bryan Galloway

Bryan Galloway 
Business Analyst

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