Disciplined Agile

Using the Intake Process to Educate Leadership

Most executives are interested in:

  • mitigating risk
  • having a plan they can count on
  • knowing they will get value from their investments
  • having a resilient system so they can get some degree of predictability

Explaining the purpose of the intake process is one of the best ways to get buy in from executives on a Lean approach. Let’s see how we’d do this.

Mitigating risk

The biggest risk in developing software is that value is not delivered. Risk takes two forms – building the wrong thing, have the delivery of what we’re building be delayed. Having an intake process that sequences the most valuable work while encouraging small batches mitigates the risk of both of these. Small batches can be done faster than large ones. Limiting how much work is getting to technology to not exceed their capacity increases technology’s efficiency.

Having a plan that they can count on

Planning in Agile is important. It’s just you don’t stick to the plan when you have new information. We also don’t want to overplan. But companies have to make commitments and commitments always have a time factor to them. Lean-Agile allows for reasonably planning work. More importantly it, suggests we don’t trust our plan and continuously check to see if we are on plan so we can make corrections. The point of an Agile plan is not to keep to it, but to see when we’re off plan and adjust.

Knowing they will get value from their investments

Executives are ultimately in charge of the investments the company makes. They know it’s not always possible to make good investments. But when bad ones are made, they want to course correct quickly. Lean-Agile’s ability to provide feedback quickly can be a major competitive business advantage when used.

Having a resilient system so they can get some degree of predictability

Small changes should not cause major problems. Systems need to be resilient to changes both within the organization and to events outside of it. This requires people who are close to the work being able to make decisions.

Understanding Helps Execs Get Behind Lean-Agile

Executives often get behind Lean-Agile when they understand that it’s not just a team thing, but a business driver. Speaking in their terms and their goals is a better way to go than just talking about how Agile makes teams better.

Using the intake process to address these needs

Once we understand what executives want, we can use the intake process to educate them in why Flow will get them what they want – but that they have to cooperate :).

All four of their topmost priorities require working on what is of most value, having a plan for delivery,  validating that what they are working on has value and ensuring small mistakes don’t cause big problems. A quality intake process is essential because without one the following occurs:

  • Too many things are worked on
  • It is not possible to make good decisions when multiple parties request services from people who do not have the capacity to meet all of the demands made on them
  • Interruptions occur somewhat capriciously

Explain the intake process:

  • Sequence the work based on presumed value
  • Limit work to capacity
  • Validate our plan on an ongoing basis
  • Do not allow capricious interruptions
  • Create visibility so people can see the work coming their way

This can provide us a way to eliminate the aforementioned challenges, business folks are more likely to get engaged in a way that helps the development group.

When having conversations with leaders and managers, remember that they have a different perspective than you. Resistance may not be to the concepts you are discussing but rather due to a lack of seeing concepts you see or attending to concepts they shouldn’t. See What to say when someone just doesn’t get it for insights on how to guide the conversation.

Evaluating your intake process by seeing how effective it is to educate leadership

We often hear about the challenge with leadership and management is that they won’t get properly involved in the Agile transition.  My experience is that they are not typically spoken to from their perspective and/or the methods being adopted don’t make it clear what their role is. Since an intake process should be able to be used to educate leadership, if it is not good at this that may be an indication of the quality of the intake process. The following figure is a representation of the artifact hierarchy that FLEX suggests.


The intake process is centered around a backlog of MBIs and MVPs. Using a product backlog composed of these enables for a good conversation about how limiting what gets into the teams can increase actual value delivered as discussed above. If your product backlog is not composed of MBIs and MVPs this conversation is difficult to have.