The Quarterly Business Review
Organisations who practice Agile need a structured way to plan work within and between Tribes. The Quarterly Business Review (QBR) is a big room planning ceremony that links the business strategy with the quarterly planning. It is a continuous process often used in Spotify based reference models.Authors: Anne-Marie Zeghers, Jens Desmet & Sonja Noben
Before the QBR: from Strategy to Tribes
On a yearly basis, the company’s strategy is translated into a vision for the upcoming three years. Based on this vision, the company’s board decides the investment appetite and prioritises the customer journeys they want to create, develop or sustain. This will determine the Tribe budgets and supply needed in order to achieve this pre-determined vision.
The QBR Process
The goal of the QBR is that every Tribe prepares a QBR memo that is in line with the overall strategy. Each Tribe is fully responsible for executing this quarterly exercise. In a mature agile organisation, this is bottom-up process with Squads in the lead.
Squads will be informed by Tribe Leadership of the objectives and priorities put forward by the board. This ensures that they know what is expected from their Tribe. Squads make the link between expectation and purpose in two ways:
- They translate the job requested from them to fulfill the strategy into epics.
- They generate extra ideas that they will also translate into epics.
The QBR Memo
The QBR Memo is an artefact that is produced every quarter by every Tribe. It takes on the form of a fixed template document in which you find:
- Generic information: Tribe Name, Quarter, Tribe Purpose, Tribe Lead, …
- Look-back: previous quarter delivery engagements versus the actual delivery
- Planned outcomes: delivery engagements for next quarter
- Dependencies: all dependencies agreements to secure delivery engagements
The QBR Preparation Day
The QBR Preparation Day is a ceremony used to prepare the QBR memo within a Tribe. The Squads of the Tribe come together for a full day in one location, yet not all Squad members need to be present. Generally, Product Owners accompanied by some experts should suffice. At the end of the day, a first version of the Tribe QBR memo is ready.
The day starts with the respective Tribe Lead that explains the priorities for the upcoming quarter as determined by the board, also explaining what these priorities mean for the Tribe.
Based on this briefing, the Squads (ideally regrouped by customer journey or by area) decide their main goals for the upcoming quarter. These goals are translated into objectives and key results. Risks, issues, and dependencies are also identified.
By use of a carousel formula, Squads are asked to challenge the work of all other Squads. This ensures that all priorities are met and a realistic planning is set forth. Their feedback also enriches the risks, impediments and dependencies already listed. Tribe Leadership and other Tribe members not part of a squad also participate to this exercise.
After the QBR Preparation Day, Product Owners have the responsibility to inform all Squad members of the outcomes. Simultaneously, Product Owners agree upon dependencies between Squads within or outside the Tribe. If an agreement is not reached (e.g. because of non-aligned priorities) then an escalation happens towards the Tribe Leads. They resolve cross-Tribe issue during the QBR Market.
The QBR Market
The QBR Market is a ceremony used to finalise the Tribe QBR memos by having discussions cross-Tribe. All of Tribe Leadership comes together for a full day in one location. It is advised to also invite Board Members, Architects, Risk Specialists, a Facilitator and/or several Agile Coaches. At the end of the day, the Tribe QBR memos are ready to be shared with the organisation.
The day starts with Tribe Leadership Teams explaining their main achievements of the previous quarter and what they have planned for the next quarter. They also discuss in detail the dependencies for which an agreement is not yet reached.
The presence of Board Members ensures that the QBR market does not end before priorities are completely clear, decisions are made on all dependencies, and agreements are reached in terms of company roadmap.
- Organisations with high Agile and automation maturity attain the full benefits of a QBR process. When Tribes can operate autonomously, a flexible process better fits their characteristics and needs.
- While the QBR memo has a fixed template, Tribes are free to collect and process input in any way they want. This is especially useful in complex and heterogenous environments.
- Make sure your Tribe Leads are qualified to discuss dependencies during the QBR Market. As they are often no expert, they tend to only discuss high level issues and agreements. Keep a technical expert on call to avoid surprises down the road.
- As Coaches and Scrum Masters often facilitate the QBR process, they need to have a clear and deep understanding of the ins and outs. Their knowledge and guidance can facilitate or harm the exercise.
- Product Owners often get completely lost in the Portfolio Planning. Ask a facilitator to keep the helicopter view, gather lessons learned and help with continuous improvement.