Solving the Agile Intake Problem

Agile Intake
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

A multi-tier approach to Agile intake

Many companies that scale Agile eventually begin to experience problems with their intake process. It is a common growing pain associated with enterprise implementations of agility. The key to solving it is having a streamlined plan for intake at every level. Below you will find a short video guide to how the multi-tier intake model works.

Agile intake at every level

Often as organizations scale their Agile practices they begin to struggle with intake. This is a simple and scalable model for intake at multiple levels. It helps to prevent bottlenecks that often occur when there is only one front door for intake.

First, New Ideas are submitted to the Product Portfolio level intake team for consideration and prioritization by the product leadership team. In a small organization, this may represent the company’s leadership team however in enterprise organizations this level would represent one product or product line. For example, it could be the home lending portfolio for a financial services company.

Portfolio refinement takes place between the product leadership and the program team normalizing the size and scope of new work into Epics that fall within a single program’s capability to deliver. If more than one program is required to deliver an Epic it must be broken down further until there are no external dependencies. In hybrid organizations that still rely on some teams that operate independently from the Agile workflow, separate Epics or Features may need to be carved out to represent the work undertaken by those non-agile teams.

The Program level teams build out the Epics with design and content artifacts and once approved they break Epics down into Features based on the type of work, dependencies, and delivery order. It is important to call out here that the design and content work is accomplished at this stage allowing the delivery teams to truly be focused on the development of the product rather than being caught up in the design decisions and approvals. This is a key way in which you can ensure you are providing clean fuel for your teams in terms of work they can execute and deliver quickly.

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Feature refinement takes place with input from the Program and Team levels where the work is broken down into Stories that can be executed and tested in 2-3 days. Having a clear definition of ready-for Features is a key factor to the success of the refinement process. The delivery teams need to be included and consulted as the Feature is fleshed out to highlight any timing or dependency issues that they may face during development.

Teams will host demos or reviews where they share the work they have developed with stakeholders and representatives of the customer. Defects, Bugs, and Feedback Items from these reviews and demos are submitted directly back to the teams that are involved. This allows for the most expedient delivery of improved solutions.

Small enhancements to existing work items are submitted to the Program level. Note the wording “Existing Work.” It is an important call-out to prevent scope creep. Program level teams are right-sized to quickly deliver Features and small enhancements to those Features but only if they are within scope and funding parameters. New work no matter how large or small must come through the front door as a new idea.

Finally, we come to Legal, Risk, Regulatory, or Compliance issues which are submitted to the Product Portfolio level for awareness, consideration, and prioritization. These types of issues are likely to come from the top in any case but having a built-in process helps avoid anti-patterns like leadership shoulder tapping teams and individuals in order to address such issues outside of normal channels, but in a mature organization, they refrain from doing that and simply pass those issues down the intake funnel as they would with any other new work.

So there you have it a complete intake process for your organization that addresses work at every level. I would love to read your thoughts or answer any questions you may have regarding this so please leave your ideas or questions in the comments section below!


Joe Burroughs

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