Mission Control at DPG Media

Mission Control at DPG Media

2020-12-21 DPG Mission Control.pngMonday 21 December 2020

DPG Media shifted quickly to a central PMO control in an agile environment. Learn from their approach and take be inspired by their learnings and challenges.

On Thursday November 19, more than 40 members from the CEGs agile and portfolio management joined the session 'Portfolio management meets Agile'. In this session Katelijne Molenaar (Platform Manager), Dirk van Moorsel (Manager Mission Control) and Remmelt Beckers (IT Strategy Executive) of DPG Media shared their most recent experiences with the program ‘Mission Control’. In other words: a description of the journey to PMO control in an agile environment. 

The plenary presentation is recorded. Watch and listen (38 minutes in Dutch), or continue reading below for the written report. Download via the Knowledgebase the slides of the presentation. The questions that were not addressed due to time constraints are answered afterwards by Katelijne, Dirk and Remmelt. As a bonus, download the question-answer document via the Knowledgebase (in Dutch only, available for members). For example, this document includes the answer to the questions; 'To what extent does the PO still have the freedom to determine priorities' and 'How do you determine the right ratio of business and IT within a squad?'.

Agile working within DPG Media 
DPG Media has a group-wide IT support. Scrum is the basic framework that IT operates from. In which cross functional teams (squads) are active, consisting of 5-10 people. The cross functional teams consist of a product owner and different types of more technical profiles (developers, testers, devops-ers, etc.). These teams are spread over 4 large clusters, which are divided into a total of 19 areas. About 2-5 teams are working within 1 area. In total, there are about 60 squads.

How was it arranged at DPG Media 6 years ago?  
IT was organized in functional teams per domain. With people who were functionally aware with the systems and problems. They were the first contact with the business to work out solutions. From where IT project managers start projects. All development teams were placed in one large group and were asked by the functional club to carry out developments. There was one central PMO person, with the considerable challenge of making a capacity planning from the functional plans, per project, per team, per year. This gave the challenge that each new question gave a lot of time to analyze and shifts and besides this there was much distance between development and the business.

Radical redesign with agile working
The entire IT group was completely redesigned 5 years ago to autonomous squads with their own mission, own goals and direct collaboration with the business. This has helped a lot in teams to think autonomously. The counter part is that it increased complexity for the business to ask the right questions with the right teams. Also the coherence of projects couldn’t no longer be coordinated. In addition, there were few people who had an overall overview of the priorities and the current initiatives and projects. So due to a very flat organization and little central control, the limits of this new way of working quickly became clear.        

Autonomous areas as a cornerstone
With the introduction of areas, the new way of working became more powerful. A number of squads are active within an area, with an independent role and responsibility. The teams per area can decide autonomously, together with the business, what they are going to do and in which direction. Each area has 3 roles, which are also the anchor points of the agile teams to central control:

  1. Platform manager. Responsible for translating the strategy into a roadmap, securing end-to-end priorities and managing priorities to the areas.
  2. Area manager. IT responsible for the IT teams within the relevant area. Is responsible for the delivery, people management and IT budget.
  3. Platform lead. Someone from the management who has the final responsibility for the area at board level.

This is the situation that DPG Media stood for at the beginning of this year (2020) and are the building blocks on which Mission Control now continues to build upon. A challenge lies in the projects that transcend the areas. For example during product launches or integration after an acquisition. 

2020-11-19 Indeling rollen PO DPG Media.jpg

Why was there a need for portfolio management?
At DPG Media, roadmap management is the common term for Portfolio Management. Based on a situation with an ideal interaction between strategy and execution, IT can deliver what the business demands. However, daily practice looked different six months ago (early 2020). From minute 14:10 in the recording you can listen how this situation was. The desired situation is also explained in the recording. With, among other things, the condition that IT and the business understand and strengthen each other over and over again. With top level ownership from the business, so a complete overview and insights into the coherence and end-to-end process improvement was given. This creates the situation that IT delivers what is strategically important.

What was the approach to reach the desired situation?
Inspired by the article ‘The platform play: How to operate like a tech company’, which includes 'Mission Control to manage across platforms'. The article gave a lot of recognition about creating a platform structure that was already very similar to the current design. The article emphasis on having a central organ for the control of the whole of things. The origin of the term Mission Control as an internal program name has been explained by this.  

Improvement of the roadmap process
Every quarter of a year a roadmap day and a preparation day were organized. In the new situation, all roadmaps of the 19 areas are collected in advance and then the most important parts per roadmap were verified with the management against the strategic pillars. What really helped in this was the fixed rhythm - the drumbeat - of, among other things, the roadmap days and additional meetings with the management. The drumbeat runs through all strategic, tactical and operational levels. With this, top-down and bottom-up are tied together. In an agile way, the first steps of realization have been taken, named 'Flight 1'.

What was the first to improve?

  1. Made an inventory of key initiatives & end-2-end (key)roles. These are major initiatives of strategic importance with great impact.  
  2. Key initiatives are placed in a portfolio in relative to each other for the overview. 
  3. If there is a good baseline, how do you deal with new big initiatives? Light intake process, with the big difference that each platform lead can start an initiative, with and veto from the other platform managers. 
  4. Indication capacity of agile teams. After all, there is no 100% building capacity availability besides day-to-day work. Number of categories of work types are defined. 

Appointment guiding coalition
A guiding coalition is a group of experts from business and IT. This group gives feedback on the process and have the eyes and ears on the work floor so that there is a good view on the organization. For a fresh and critical look at the changes!

Mission Control: how does it work now?
Recently (at the end of 2020) a roadmap steering group was set up. IT and Business sit together to manage easily and quickly on the strategic pillars, priorities and conflict issues. What's anchored now? There are clear strategic pillars, for which a roadmap and budgets per area are defined.

What else do we have to do?

  • Coaching of the crucial roles in Business and IT is necessary to create flow and streamlining of delivery.
  • Securing the delivery from the various areas, where is the blockage and can we help?
  • The most important initiatives were first looked at, now there is attention for all other activities.


  • Just do it! Just get going. Don't be hindered by restrictive beliefs thatit's too big, too complex. Give a small cross-functional team the mandate to start, IT & Business together, and keep it simple.
  • Learning by doing. Make sure you maintain the autonomy of the teams. Don't put too much central. Please note that not everything goes well in 1 time. If something fails, keep what's going well and adjust to 'You're wrong' whenever necessary. Don't pick up too much at once.
  • Engagement and engagement. Engage the whole organization: both the top and the work floor. The management has to be ready for change. It's important to have support from the CEO. You need to know what's going on in the organization, or you're managing blindly. The Guiding Coalition has an important role to play. That the organization sees what and that something happens, that builds trust and support.

What were the challenges to stay on the right path? 

  1. In addition to finding a good way to prioritize end-to-end over the areas, also limit the dependencies in delivery as much as possible. Coordinate when necessary, without compromising autonomy. Mastering this triangle is a major challenge.
  2. Historically, the areas are heavily focused on brands and a single (technical) platform. The challenge now is to shift the focus to the end-to-end customer experience of the product/brand.
  3. Where ambitions have been strongly driven from the areas, where one has a good idea of one's own priorities, the challenge now is to bring alive the priorities that lie further away from an area. The use of targets and deadlines should help to grow the broader perspective, in order to create a movement that is broader than the areas themselves.

Break-out with statements 
The participants then split up into break-out groups to exchange their vies on the following 3 statements. As a wrap-up, we would like to share the most important takeaways:  

  1. Agile working also demand for a central body to ensure top priorities between managements and teams. The buy-in from the management is necessary to change; someone who supports you, including the content. Please be aware that the smaller projects do not block the top priorities. In the longer term, focus on the top priorities in particular and trust that the smaller projects will fit in. For example, via a strategic Kanban board.  
  2. Position the autonomy layer in the organization is essential, as long as management can determine the strategic frameworks and the priorities of what is being developed. Let the teams fill in the 'how'. Working on outcome and objectives, rather than deliverables.
  3. Deadlines for major initiatives are needed to create focus across autonomous teams. Making deadlines visible helps to provide insight for both business and IT. And from there the dependencies between the major initiatives get clear. Please note that the definition of 'deadline' for IT (MVP) and business (fully rolled out product) can sometimes have a different meaning.

We look back on a very successful meeting. In which the participants and speakers were very enthusiastic about the exchange of knowledge. Important message: "Get started today, take a first step and learn from the process along the way!"

The questions that were not addressed due to time constraints are answered afterwards by Katelijne, Dirk and Remmelt. As a bonus download the question-answer document by the Knowledgebase (Dutch). 

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