Disciplined Agile

Part II: The Goal Is Business Agility (with exercises)

There are currently two different popular ways of improving an organization. The first is to adopt a framework, such as SAFe or LeSS.  The second is to start where you are and make a series of small changes, each designed to provide some level of improvement. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Neither attends to the culture of the organization particularly well except by happenstance. FLEX uses a combination of both so that it can match the culture of the organization.

An advantage of the first approach is that it provides clear guide on what to do – something many folks want. If it is an established approach, it may be easier to get people in their organization to buy into it. However, because the framework is preset, it may or may not fit the company adopting it – either its culture or needed practices. Also, all too often, the framework, which should be considered a starting-point becomes the targeted end-point. There are all too many cases of SAFe adoptions that started out well only to stagnate later or that stagnated early because they were wanting to do SAFe “by the book” but the book didn’t fit. Also, the initial change of adopting a framework in one big lump may be more than the organization can bear – and by attempting too much, it may backfire making a retrenchment necessary and a future retry much harder.

The challenge with starting where you are and only doing small changes is that is misses the opportunity to break some existing practices that have a stranglehold on improvement. Also, if an organization doesn’t already have a culture of small changes it may be that nothing is done.

There is now a third option, resulting from the deeper understanding of Flow and Lean that has emerged in the last decade. This involves:

  • creating a vision of the future for what an effective organization looks like
  • seeing the difference between this and where the organization currently stands in comparison with that
  • creating a roadmap to close the gap between the current state and the desired future state

Taking this path has several advantages over the first two by providing:

  • An established starting point tailored to the company adopting it
  • A roadmap which can provide context for the series of small steps to take
  • A vision that will likely never be reached but provides impetuous for continuous improvement

As a thought leader in XP, Scrum, Lean, Kanban and SAFe, I’ve used all 3 methods. I have found the third option most effective for those wanting to take it. This part of the book discusses what the effective enterprise of the future looks like. We have found that even though companies are different and the way they will manifest their ideal vision will be different, that how companies need to be structured, decide what to work on, allocate their capacity to these work items and then realize value for themselves and their customers to be surprisingly similar.

Chapters in this part of the book

  • The Business Case For Agility. Agile is often described as iteratively building software in increments. This is a focus on the team and the mechanics of how they work. It is more effective to focus on the reason for being Agile – achieving business agility. Business agility is the ability to deliver highest business value quickly, predictably, sustainably and with high quality. Building software is not our goal, realizing business value is. Software is often a component of this, of course.
  • What is flow? Flow is not new, but  many people are not familiar with it. The best description of it is Don Reinertsen’s Principles of Product Development Flow: 2nd Generation Lean Product Management.
  • The value stream of the effective organization. This chapter goes into detail of what the value stream of the effective organization described earlier in this part looks like.
  • Strategic Planning and Lean Portfolio Management. Strategy is critical. But it’s also an opportunity for alignment. Too many organizations only have clarity on their strategy at the business levels.
  • Lean Product Management. The purpose of Lean Product Management is to:
    • enable quick realization of business value predictably, sustainably and with high quality
    • identify the most important work to be done
    • create visibility on this work to help people align around the realization of value from it
    • create clarity on who is involved in this work – not just building it, but any delivery, marketing and support required as well
  • The importance of Having an Intake Process. Having a quality intake process is essential for any level of effectiveness. It can also be used to educate product management and leadership as discussed in the following chapter.
  • Planning, Collaboration, and Dependency Management. Large scale planning events are often over used. When used, it is important to realize they are more about collaboration and dependency management that the actual plan.
  • Implementation and Integration. There are many ways to keep teams in sync with each other. SAFe has popularized a method developed by us and others over a decade ago. There are other approaches as well.
  • Release and Realization. The goal is not just release, but also realization. Many organizations plan for the development and release of value but forget the critical, non-development, parts required for realization of value.