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  • Saahil Panikar

Writing Effective PI and Iteration Objectives

Agile is disciplined; not reckless.


Understanding Objectives

Writing useful Program Increment (PI) and Iteration Objectives requires focus and discipline. Bad objectives are probably the most common reason that some organizations feel that they are not worth the time investment to create and stop using them. This guide will help you to write better objectives that everyone will appreciate.

In order to write an effective objective it’s important to understand what an objective is for. It’s common for organizations to treat objectives as a summary of the features or stories that are being committed to in the PI or iteration, and that represents a misunderstanding of the intent behind them.

Objectives represent the Agile Team’s commitment to delivery in the PI or iteration. They create a feedback loop from the Business to the team to ensure a common understanding of the alignment to organizational vision. Because teams neither commit to all of the features brought to PI Planning nor do they commit to whole features, it’s important to understand what Business Outcomes the features are intended to create. As a result, teams sequence stories and features into a possible delivery plan that leads to delivering Business Outcomes that are communicated in the objectives as a summary of the business and technical goals that an Agile Team or Train intends to achieve in the upcoming PI or iteration.

After understanding what objectives are for, we must also consider who objectives are for. PI and Iteration Objectives are not written for the Product Managers (PMs) and Product Owners (POs) who manage the backlogs, the PMs and POs know what work they asked for. The objectives are written for the Business Owners and key stakeholders to communicate and collaborate on what business outcomes the team may create and why they matter.


Writing Meaningful Objectives

Now that we’ve identified what objectives are, and who they’re for, we can look at PI Objectives from the field and consider whether they are a good example of what we now know PI Objectives should be.

Implement Jenkins

Build 2 APIs

Build a database

Design a template


We can see that these examples do not effectively communicate the business outcomes that the work is intended to create. In addition, these objectives, like many other real examples, are written solely from the perspective of development/engineering and have no connection to why the work matters. If the objectives just restate the names of the features, they are a waste of time and energy.

Let’s take a look at how to create a meaningful connection between the technical work and the business. We start by acknowledging that all of our objectives should be SMART.

S

M

A

R

T

Specific

Measureable

Achievable

Relevant

Timely

Be clear and specific so your goals are easier to understand.

Measurable goals can be tracked and help you know when you’re done.

Are there concrete steps within your control to getting it done?

Does the work align to your values and long-term goals?

By having an end-date there is a clear timebox to achieve the outcome or pivot.


In addition, we can consider that a good Objective has five components to effectively communicate a business outcome and why it matters:


1. Activity: What will we be doing?

2. Scope: What are the boundaries of the work we will touch?

3. Beneficiary: Who is the intended recipient of the new work?

4. User Value: Why does this work matter to the new user?

5. Business Value: Why does this work matter to the business?


Examples of how each component may be used include:


Activity: Create, Implement, Define, Design, Enable, Modify, Etc.

Scope: App, API, Mobile, Web, Database, Dashboards, Etc.

Beneficiary: Customer, End-user, System Team, Mobile Users, Etc.

User Value: Faster, Better, Cheaper, Enhanced, New Features, Etc.

Business Value: Reduced Call Times, Increased Sales, Increased Data Efficacy, Reduced Loss to Fraud, Etc.


Now let’s put it all together and see what a good objective may look like.

Consider this example for a financial services company:

Activity: Add

Scope: 3 New Methods of e-Payment

Beneficiary: so that Mobile Users with Digital Wallets

User Value: have an improved checkout experience

Business Value: to drive a 3% revenue increase

“Add 3 new methods of e-Payment so that mobile users with digital wallets have an improved checkout experience to drive a 3% revenue increase.”


Or how about this example for a Digital Transformation team:

Activity: Create

Scope: an Agile Ways of Working Guide

Beneficiary: so that {Company} Employees

User Value: have clear guidance on implementing agile behaviors

Business Value: to enable faster flow of value with higher quality delivery

Create an Agile Ways of Working Guide so that {Company} Employees have clear guidance on implementing agile behaviors to enable faster flow of value with higher quality delivery.”


And an example from a team building a new customer data platform:

Activity: Create

Scope: a single-source of truth customer database

Beneficiary: so that customers who call us

User Value: have an improved customer experience

Business Value: with 25% shorter time to resolution

“Create a single-source of truth customer database so that customers who call us have an improved customer experience with 25% shorter time to resolution.”


Can you see how that is a much more powerful statement of business value that a business owner or stakeholder would care about? In addition, because our Agile Teams are the ones writing these objectives, we are creating greater alignment between the teams and the business in terms of organizational strategy and clarity. When writing objectives, the team may even want to consider writing the objectives in bulleted format to provide a SMARTer view of the objective.

Once we understand that PI and Iteration Objectives are meant to create a feedback loop between the teams and the business to assess whether the work the team is delivering aligns to the organizational goals in both the short and long term, we can see the steps necessary to improve the implementation of these objectives.

Do you have stories of good or bad objectives in your organization? Please feel free to share them with me so we can improve Objective writing for everyone.






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