Communication Cadence - The Heartbeat of Scaled Agile

Em Campbell-Pretty
Mar 25, 2014

17 January 2024 - Updated to align with SAFe 6.0 terminology.

In my life as a business sponsor of software development programs, I spent innumerable hours in program meetings - project status meetings, RAID meetings, Steering Committees, Governance meetings, “Come to Jesus meetings”, you name it. When I was appointed to my first role on the delivery side of the fence, I thought running these meetings was essential. After all, every IT general manager I have ever worked with has followed this practice.

Everybody hated these meetings, particularly the three-hour Monday morning Program Review. Twenty-five people and a 100-page status report made for a long start to the week. The morning’s discussion would revolve around the true status of the Watermelon Projects (green on the outside and red on the inside) and the lack of action taken from one week to the next on the seemingly endless list of actions. From the day I inherited this meeting, my coach was on at me about getting rid of it.

Lean enthusiast and budding Release Train Engineer Wayne was quick to suggest I could forgo these meetings in favour of daily stand-ups.  My first response was to tell him he was an idiot (not for the first time, I may add!), but I went on to say that I was open to the concept.  He would just need to prove it before I discontinued the weekly program meeting. Ever the avid reader, Wayne had come across Henrik Kniberg's Lean From the Trenches and was inspired by the concept of the “Daily Cocktail Party”. Henrik’s model has three tiers:

  1. The Feature Team Daily Stand-up
  2. Sync Meetings per Specialty
  3. Project Sync Meeting

Our first attempt at “Cocktail Hour” was very closely modelled on Henrik’s approach. Over time, it has morphed in various ways until we landed on the model we use today, which has been consistent for some time now.

9:15 am Feature Team (aka Stream-Aligned Teams) Stand-Ups

All six stream-aligned teams hold their daily stand-up. Facilitated by the Scrum Masters, these sessions generally follow the traditional scrum format.

Feature Team Stand-Ups
Team Stand-Ups

9:15 am Leadership Team Stand Up

This is attended by me and my direct reports, the managers of Pipeline Services, Development Services and Deployment Services. This is a fairly informal operationally focused session, used to help us understand each other's priorities for the day ahead.

9:30 am  ART Sync

Some days, it feels like every man and his dog comes to this standup. It is attended by all the ScrumMasters, all the technical leads, all the Project Portfolio Managers, our deployment manager, a system team representative, my leadership team, myself and any other interested party.

Feature Wall Stand Up (aka ART Sync)
ART Sync

9:45 am Pipeline Services Stand-Up

Taking input from ART Sync, the Project Portfolio Managers meet at the ART Kanban and determine their priorities for the day.

9:45 am Deployment Services Stand Up

Similar to the Pipeline Services stand up, the Deployment Services hold their stand up factoring in takeaways from the Feature Wall.

This ritual runs every day except Unity Day.  For me, the ART Sync is the heartbeat of the EDW Agile Release Train. Every morning, the who’s who of the train share their progress and challenges with their peers. Visitors are always quick to comment on both how transparent everyone is and the energy of the team. The stand-up is always peppered with lots of good-humoured jibes and comedic antics designed to start the day with a laugh. Of course, the real magic is the speed of the information flow. Within the first hour of the day, all the blockers across all the teams surfaced, and the remedial actions commenced.

Feature Wall (ART Sync) Antics
ART Sync Antics

I may have thought Wayne was losing the plot when he cooked up Cocktail Hour, but he was right. The difference in latency and action orientation, when compared to the weekly program meeting, soon resulted in the program meeting ceasing to exist. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I hosted or attended such a meeting. For those wondering how this fits with our use of the Scaled Agile Framework, I see our communication cadence as the embodiment of SAFe Principles 5, 6 and 7.  Or, more simplistically, “SAFe's ART Sync on Steroids”.

For a more in-depth explanation of the ART Sync, go to my post on Scrum of Scrums with Feature Flow.

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