Disciplined Agile

Creating a Roadmap with FLEX

FLEX avoids the dilemma of people needing to start with a solution while recognizing that no one-size-fits-all by taking a step-wise approach to Lean-Agile transformation. At any point in time, FLEX provides a well-defined, well-documented set of steps that have been tailored for the company undergoing the transformation. We don’t need to create a complete set of solutions or road map, just the first steps that are clearly the place to start. See FLEX’s Philosophy of Transformation for more.

What you want to achieve

FLEX applies Lean and Agile thinking to the goal of business agility: The quick realization of business value predictably, sustainably, and with high quality. A side benefit of doing this properly is that one has the ability to continuously change direction as needed when new information both inside and outside of the company is attained.

FLEX is not an attempt to “be Lean” or to “be Agile.” Rather, it uses both of these concepts to achieve “business agility.”

FLEX focuses on identifying the things a business wants to invest in. Examples include “improve the customer experience,” “retain assets,” and “improve our internal environment.” All of these are based on the vision of the company but not all of them are customer facing. Another way to think of the list of business value is “what are we willing to invest in?” This might include helping improve our people.

FLEX goes beyond Agile. The Agile Manifesto is focused around the technology side and the technology side’s purpose, creating and manifesting value. A focus on customer value is not all a business does. There is a foundation of belief in what the company doing the focusing that is not well present in most organizations. Clarity of purpose is present in all successful organizations, but is lacking in most. In order to truly transform an organization requires going beyond a customer focus. Here are other actions to take:

  • Understanding what value the organization is committed to manifest.
  • Identifying the set of strategic initiatives that reflect that commitment.
  • Aligning across the organization (video or article) that this is what the company is committed to achieving.
  • Generating the smallest chunks of work that can be realized (typically focused on target markets). We call these Minimum Business Increments (MBIs).
  • Sequencing these MBIs into a list from which to pull.
  • Allocating proper capacity to realize value from the MBIs in the quickest way possible.
  • Managing Work-in-Process (WIP) at all levels (from MBIs to features) across the organization.
  • Making all work visible.
  • Striving for quality throughout.
  • Having management lead the change by creating a great environment within which people can get the job done.
  • Continuously learn by making your workflow explicit and removing impediments to it.
  • Periodically re-evaluate your entire process to ensure you are looking at the big picture.
  • Agree to do the above via agreements of behavior.

Potential improvements

There is no one set way to start. Figure 1 illustrates a way to start. It is just a guide. The bright green items (such as Use MBIs) are typically the most helpful ones to start with. The lightest ones are typically the last things to implement. You must look and see how each of these interacts with the other because systems thinking (and experience) tells us we are in a system where each change affects other actions.


Figure 1. Example of a way to start.

Determining where to start

Factors to consider when selecting items to start with are:

  • Current culture
  • Current activities
  • Current level of adoption and understanding of Lean and/or Agile methods
  • Who is driving the change
  • The clarity the company has on what it wants to invest in
  • Difficulty of the change
  • Amount of immediate and long-term benefit
  • How this activity sets up other activities for ease of implementation
  • Whether hardware/firmware is being co-developed
  • The presence of outside regulatory agencies (e.g., FDA, insurance regulators)

Although there is no “right way” to implement the aforementioned solutions, they generally go in the order of the diagram below (from left to right).

Creating a road map

Although there is not a set roadmap of adoption, there is a definite pattern of adoption. Variations may occur in order, but mostly they occur to the degree to which the steps are adopted.

Selecting the first steps of a Lean-Agile transformation

A common adage when starting a transformation is to take the low-hanging fruit. That is, those actions that are easy to take and that return a quick investment. However, taking low hanging-fruit does not account for its effect on later changes. Sometimes starting with the wrong thing may be easy but may make later changes more difficult. For example, starting with Scrum may achieve better Scrum teams but 1) doesn’t necessarily help the bigger picture problems and 2) may make it that teams don’t want to slow down later when they need to in order to work with other teams. That is, teaching local optimization as a start can make it harder to achieve value stream optimization.

When considering what to do first (or next) one must consider the overall benefit and/or cost over time. Doing things out of order may make certain steps more difficult. Things to consider include:

  • Effort to implement
  • Benefit received
  • Does it make following steps easier or more difficult (and by how much?)
  • Effect on the value stream (global or local?)

Taking steps at the front of the value stream such as using Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) has a positive effect on the rest of the value stream. These costs and benefits vary from organization to organization so an exact order for all organizations does not exist. However, patterns from working with scores of companies and talking to hundreds of others suggest using a pattern of phases starting as close to the initiation of the work as possible.

Start with these practices

In general, it is good to start with these practices.

  • Create Visibility. This means to have all work be visible as well as the steps the work goes through. This visibility should extend throughout the value stream so those downstream can see what is heading their way and that those upstream can see the workload of those they will need to finish their work. Creating visibility is typically easy enough to do all at once.
  • Have backlogs for all of your work. Most companies already have this in place but at times work will come in and be distributed to the teams and then keeping a tracking of where it came from. This is bad for several reasons:
    • Cannot see the overall priorities of what’s being worked on
    • Teams cannot align with each other about what to work on
    • Often cannot tell how much work in process there is
  • Use Minimum Business Increments. MBIs are effective at lowering the amount of work to be done. This benefits the entire value stream. While MBIs should be defined by the business stakeholders, in some organizations this is difficult to start with. In these cases the technology group should take what is given to them and form their own.
  • Manage WIP. While managing Work in Process is equally important to using MBIs, managing WIP is much easier to do when MBI are being used. This is because business stakeholders now need to wait for smaller pieces to be done and are more likely willing to do so.
  • Use Acceptance Test-Driven Development. While full use of ATDD with automated tests is virtually always a good idea, ATDD can be implemented in stages. These are:
    • Use test specifications as an analysis tool and to validate requirements
    • Get business analysts, product owners, customers developers and testers talking at the same time.
    • Put results in a test tool/harness
    • Automate the tests
      For more information, see How to start with Acceptance Test-Driven Development.
  • Consistent Cadence Across Teams. Merely having all teams on the same cadence, say every two weeks and starting their iterations on the same day, will enable them to improve their collaboration with little additional changes.

Ensuring you are on the road

  1. Once started, FLEX provides us with a method to tell if we are reducing this waste or not. When learning how to drive a car, one of the first things you must learn is “how well are you keeping the car where it should be.” That is, are you in your lane. Yet, most frameworks guide us by how well we follow the framework. Our goal should never be to follow a framework but rather how well are you in adding value to your company and your customers. One aspect of this that you need is an understanding of the resistance you are facing. By lowering this resistance you will get more from your efforts. This is the purpose of the value stream impedance scorecard.

Looking at the end game

The reason FLEX can work is that the end game is typically the same for different companies of the same approximate size.  Variations in regulation and outside constraints do make a difference and FLEX will be expanded to include those in the near future.  If you’d like more information on what the steps to achieve are take a look at Using the FLEX Mindset and Experience to Determine What We Have to Do.