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May 12

Enterprise Agile Planning (EAP) Tool. What to Look for?

Enterprise Agile Planning tool

Until recently, in many organizations agile planning tools were coexisting with PPM software. One might even say that agile planning tools were “reporting” to the “upper-level” classic Project Portfolio Management applications. Now that the agile transformation trend has gained momentum, Enterprise Agile Planning (EAP) tools are advancing to the portfolio level. Let’s go over some unique features of EAP software. Who are the market leaders? What specific traits, qualities, or features to look for in EAP tools? We will also elaborate on value stream support, a trait that will eventually make EAP tools so much different from classic PPM tools.

Why are Enterprise Agile Planning tools catching on?

The ‘Enterprise Agile Planning tools’ term has surfaced in the course of agile transformation. Contrary to what the ‘Enterprise’ prefix might suggest, the EAP category was born at the work-team level.

Until recently, senior executives were reluctant to use agile software at the strategy level. Initially, only work teams were freely using agile tools, such as Jira or Trello, for operations and development. Directors, in turn, preferred to rely on proven, timeline-based, classic PPM software. Now that agility has advanced to the strategy and portfolio levels, the Enterprise Agile Planning software category is gaining traction. What exactly EAP is and in what direction is it evolving?

EAP today and tomorrow

The perception of Enterprise Agile Planning tools is changing. Surprisingly, EAP tools of today do not necessarily cover all three levels of management – the top, middle, and operative levels.

Today, according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, both Jira and Jira Align belong to the EAP category. Those familiar with the Atlassian ecosystem must be aware of how utterly different the two tools are. Jira is a “granular” issue tracker, yet raisable to the portfolio level by a third-party PPM plugin or Advanced Roadmaps, a Jira Software Cloud Premium feature. Jira Align (formerly AgileCraft), on the other hand, is a true portfolio-level, yet 100% agile software package. Despite the differences, both tools were included in the EAP Magic Quadrant. Certainly, as of today, the EAP category is not that strictly defined, and one could only guess where it is heading.

What we think will be going on tomorrow, is that the Enterprise Agile Planning category will narrow down to only those tools that (1) cover all the management levels, including the portfolio level, and (2) support value streams, rather than programs and projects. The latter stems from the fact that the business world is transitioning from the project to product approach. For instance, SAFe – the most popular agile-at-scale framework in the world – promotes ‘Transitioning from Projects to a Lean Flow of Epics’.

New normality will see senior executives do their long-term, strategic planning the agile way. This is how the aforementioned Jira Align does its planning job already. Let’s look closer at the value stream support, which will likely be a key distinguishing feature of the EAP category in the near future.

What will be the core features of EAP software in the near future?

Before we move on to specific features, let’s outline where should lie the center of gravity in EAP tools.

It should lie in value streams, rather than in projects. The Project Management Institute defines a project as a temporary (short-lived) group activity designed to produce a unique product, service, or result. The products and services of most organizations tend to be long-lived, and value streams have the same long-term orientation. The phrase “concept to cash” is often used to describe value streams.

How do value streams work in practice? —Focus on the most value-adding activities, rather than on planning, is the essence of any value stream – says Jerzy Sekula, product manager at SoftwarePlant. —Rather than scheduling projects, senior managers assign funds to value streams, which resemble large “backlogs”. With the EAP tools of the future, it will not be just C-level executives, but also mid-level Product Managers who will perpetually decide which features of a product receive funding from the annual value stream budget, and which features are lesser and can wait.

Now, which aspects of the EAP software category have solidified already, and will not change in the future?  —The “from PPM to PPM+EAP” transition is the right perspective to comprehend the Enterprise Agile Planning tools category – says Jerzy Sekula, product manager at SoftwarePlant. —A simple test of whether the EAP software of the future is right for your organization goes as follows: are we embracing agility selectively or collectively – all teams, executives, and top managers? The EAP software suits the latter case better.

Specific functionalities

The sweeping migration from project management to product management (with its value streams) is the key reason for the Enterprise Agile Planning tools gaining market share. Let’s put together a complete list of areas and specific modules/features, that any quality EAP tool of the future should have.

Table 1. Areas and modules/features of Enterprise Agile Planning software

Areas Modules/Features
Strategy level

Support for value streams

Managing product portfolios

The middle level, such as Solution train and ART in SAFe. Ideally, support for SAFe.

Boosting agility across teams and geographic locations

Monitoring progress of Kanban and Scrum teams

Product roadmap

Backlog management

Program Increment and iteration planning

Release and version management

Time tracking

Risk management

Integration with:

  • third-party task management tools, such as Trello, Azure DevOps, or Google Calendar
  • collaboration tools, such as Atlassian Confluence (EAP widgets within content)

The areas and modules/features in table 1 are all it takes for a tool to bear the ‘Enterprise Agile’ label. The table contents reflect the fact that the architecture of an agilely scaled company should remain horizontal. Below the middle level, an EAP tool might integrate with work teams’ beloved tools, such as Trello or Jira. Alternatively, an EAP tool itself could provide task management capabilities and a wiki.

Checklist

Review the following checklist to determine whether a software package belongs to the ‘EAP of the future’ category or not. Can you perform the following actions with your EAP tool candidate?

  • enter strategic objectives
  • set up a value stream
  • assign a budget to a value stream
  • ensure that value streams can favor the most value-adding tasks; within the backlog, can you move tasks up and down to reflect their changing priority? Also, can you abandon less important tasks once the annual budget has run out?
  • deviate from the comfort of your agile methodology. Can you set up a hybrid project, for instance?
  • Work team-level support is a must, be it built-in boards, or an integration with a third-party work manager, such as Jira.
    • Scrum support is a much-desired feature
  • are ‘Release’ and ‘Version’ items available in your EAP tool? Or at least, does your EAP tool integrate with an application development life cycle management (ADLM) tool?
  • Can the software present a panorama of risks threatening your portfolio of products? Is there a risk matrix available?

These are must-haves for Enterprise Agile Planning software of the future.

The more (agile methodologies supported), the better?

Should a good Enterprise Agile Planning tool be capable of a number of scaling agile methodologies? Or, perhaps, should a decent tool be more selective and focus on just one particular method, such as SAFe, LeSS, DAD, Nexus, or Spotify?

As a rule of thumb, it’s your organization that should stick to a single scaling agile methodology, so it doesn’t matter how many other methodologies your EAP tool is capable of. But: your EAP tool of choice must be configurable enough, as you always “risk” diverting from what your scaling agile framework recommends towards building your own in-home methodology.

What KPIs for Enterprise Agile Planning software?

What key performance indicators to use with EAP tools? As far as the KPIs are concerned, your industry, and not the scaling methodology, is the decisive factor. For instance, an insurance company could designate ‘New insurance policies count’ their KPI. When deciding on your own KPIs, again it’s helpful to launch the value stream thinking. Consequently, KPIs will derive from the “budget to revenue” type of thinking that is characteristic to value streams.

EAP plugin or a standalone tool?

Enterprise Agile Planning software comes in two flavors: plugins for popular issue tracking software and standalone solutions. Both have their pros.

Table 2. Enterprise Agile Planning plugins vs. standalone tools

EAP plugins EAP standalone tools
An organization can keep workflows it has developed over the years.

A more relaxed approach to agility

Lighter, cheaper, easier to implement

Better support for high-level agility

User interface, nomenclature tends to be more agilish.

“Leads around users by the nose”.

BigPicture Enterprise, an EAP plugin for Jira Jira Align

What third-party software should EAP tools integrate with?

Integrations are a topic in itself, and integrations you will need obviously depend on your particular circumstances. Rather than going into much detail, let’s just signal two areas on which Enterprise Agile Planning tools could integrate with third-party software:

  • Resource and HR planning software, financial accounting software, and time tracking software. Note that these three categories do not fall into the project management domain. Seek integrations with the three categories optionally – if you really wish to retire your PPM software.
  • Issue trackers and simple project management tools, such as Jira or Trello, the ones that are already present in your company. Integrating with such software is a must-have for your EAP tool candidate if the EAP tool itself does not support the low level.

Where to look for EAP tool collections?

It’s worth mentioning that not all Enterprise Agile Planning tools advertise they belong to the category. The market is still in its early stage. The EAP category sort of implies premium pricing and some tools obviously target smaller and medium enterprises, too. One good example is BigPicture, an Enterprise Agile Planning add-on for the Atlassian ecosystem.

However, these are EAP collections we found:

  • Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Agile Planning Tools
  • IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Agile Project and Portfolio Management Vendor Assessment

Selecting EAP vendor

When selecting an Enterprise Agile Planning tool for your organization, direct your attention to “young adult” vendors, so to speak. Avoid mature solutions – they might have roots in the 80s and 90s and might have difficulty adapting to the 2020s realities.

Choose a vendor that made a public roadmap available for their software, such as BigPicture Mid-term Roadmap. Check the roadmap against high-level reporting, portfolio-level aggregations, finance- and budgeting-related features. Give preference to relatively young EAP solutions, such as BigPicture, especially if your organization is in the process of agile transformation.

 

About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.