Disciplined Agile

Part V: Using FLEX to Transform Your Organization (with exercises)

This section discusses how to use FLEX to start a transformation to business agility. Just like Part I, this part includes exercises so that you can use this part to help guide you in using FLEX for your organization.

Why we need adaptive frameworks

Most frameworks are adopted in one way.  Scrum has immutable roles, rules, events and artifacts so any start will attempt to have those. While you may vary things inside of it, this makes it somewhat of a static framework. SAFe’s implementation roadmap is the same regardless of the organization using it, taking a bottom level up approach since that is supposedly simpler. Neither take a look at where the organization is with the exception of some minor adjustments within the framework.

Taking this approach has the following disadvantages I’ve mentioned before:

  • there is a tendency to focus too much on the framework at initial training – leaving less time on what the organization really needs to learn.
  • when challenges arise people tend to look at the framework for answers, when a basic understanding of Flow and Lean would suffice
  • the framework often doesn’t fit the organization adopting it well for any number of reasons and often does not fit the company’s culture

The result is that they only fit a certain number of organizations and those are typically the ones where teams are easy to form. A framework that adapts to the organization adopting it is critical. This increases adoption speed and value achieved while avoiding resistance.


Creating a starting framework

It is important that people be given a set framework to start with. However, this framework must be tailored to the organization. This is not difficult as most companies follow reasonably well known patterns. The method used to create a starting framework can also be used to adjust the framework as the organization evolves.  This is FLEX’s approach – start with something specific to the organization adopting it and provide guidance on how to further improve.

The starting framework is decided upon by looking at both where the organization is and including these factors:

  • what parts of the value stream should be focused on in the initial adoption
  • what practices should be used
  • the company’s culture. This affects:
    • what the order and speed of adoption these improvements should take
    • how to define and name any changes to the roles required
    • how to have management shift from their traditional roles to Lean-management


What parts of the value stream should be focused on in the initial adoption

While systems are not a collection of their components, it is useful to think of FLEX as a set of different areas you can start with.  These are shown in Figure 1.

These areas each have their own set of improvements. While we’d like to start as early in the value stream as possible, we may not have the support of the required people. Figure 2 shows the improvements that usually make the biggest difference to an organization.

It is best to start as far up the value stream as possible. When a company is focused on its strategies everything works better. Alignment is easier to achieve and efforts don’t get as distracted working on things that are not of greatest importance. We, of course, don’t want to do everything we can at all levels. “Boiling the ocean” is virtually never a good thing. But because each of the parts of the value stream affect all of the others, it is important to consider that the earlier in the value stream we start the more positive change we can make. The trick is not to overload any role but to select those changes that will work together in a synergistic fashion.

When changes are made how they will impact other areas must be considered. Although all of these recommendations have patterns of success and science underneath them, they should always be considered to be experiments as organizational improvement is a complex undertaking.

The areas of FLEX adoption

FLEX portfolio

If you’ve got sponsorship from the C-suite or business stakeholders start at the portfolio level. This doesn’t take a lot of effort on their part, but doing so will enable tying the work being done to the strategies of the company.  See now Strategic Planning & Lean Portfolio Management solves many of the common challenges the organizations face.

FLEX product management

FLEX Product Management incorporates taking both work from initiatives as well has defining an effective intake process that captures all work in the organization. This involves both decomposing initiatives and combining this work with the rest of the work the development group must do. The end result is a backlog of sized (mostly MBIs, some MVPs and MVRs) and sequenced work.

See Have an effective Intake process for more.

FLEX development

The most common place to start is with the development group.

  • Organize teams around a product mindset
  • Train teams in Agile integrated with Acceptance Test-Driven Development*
  • Program Level Planning *
  • Cadence and synchronization of teams *
  • Shared Services

FLEX realization

Getting software developed does no good if the customer doesn’t realize value from it. This requires including ops and marketing during development so that they will be prepared to release and market the products/services as well as support them. Telemetry to validate the value achieved should also be prepared for.

What else to include

Wherever you start, all parts of the organization downstream from there in the value stream should be included. However, this is sometimes not possible. Understand that when that happens you will need to create visibility on the interaction between the parts being improved and those that interact with it but are not changing.


What practices should be used

Each area will require a different set of improvements. For some of these, there are best practices that we can use. But for many others there will be a fair number of options that depend upon how the challenges of the organization.  Therefore, when considering what changes to make, the practices selected should be those best suited to where they are being adopted.

The order and speed of adoption the improvements are done is important

While there are patterns to the order of improvements, there are variations depending upon:

  • current skill sets
  • culture of the organization (in particular the rate of change it can withstand)
  • attachment to roles
  • HR’s involvement
  • leadership’s involvement


Here are the chapters in this section.

This part is undergoing a major revision and not all these chapter may be in it when it is over.

  1. Setting up a Transition Monitoring Team. No matter how carefully you prepare for a transition, you are going to be handicapped by the fact that there is no way to foresee all of the effects of the change or all of the reactions to it. That’s why a Transition Monitoring Team (TMT) is so useful. Even when people are looking forward to the change, someone needs to make sure how it is going.
  2. The Purpose of an Assessment. Assessments are not about where you are. They are about where you want to go. By seeing where you are and what challenges you are having a roadmap for improvement can be made more effectively.
  3. Using FLEX to Perform an Assessment for Mid-Scale Organizations. This chapter reviews how to do an assessment at mid-scale. It builds on the foundation that was laid in the previous chapter about assessing small-scale organizations.
  4. Using the Intake Process to Educate Leadership. A quality intake process can be used to lower risk, eliminate waste, and set up team coordination. These all contribute to predictability of throughput. All of these are also what leadership and product management want the teams to achieve. The intake process can therefore be used to educate these people both in what the development group is trying to achieve as well as how to interact with them.
  5. Attending to Flow Through the Development Group. Attending to flow is required to shorten the cycle time of the work going through the development organization.
  6. The assessment timeline for a development group of less than 125 people.
  7. Creating a Roadmap for Improvement. Before actually starting the implementation of your adoption it’s important to create a roadmap so that people understand what is happening.
  8. Improving your company’s culture.