Disciplined Agile

Leading Lean Governance

There are many behaviors and that leaders may choose to adopt to enable successful governance:

  1. Lead by example. People take their cues from their leadership teams. If your governance strategy is streamlined then whatever it governs will inevitably become streamlined. Conversely, an onerous and heavy governance strategy will lead to onerous and heavy strategies by those being governed.
  2. Be a servant leader. The primary function of governance people should be to prevent roadblocks, and better yet to eradicate them as soon as they arise. You should strive to get teams the resources that they need and then get out of the way. Wait a minute, isn’t that the job of the Team Lead on a Disciplined Agile team? Yes, but who do you think that they work with to actually get that done?
  3. Be a great host. People who have fun at work, who enjoy what they do, are much more productive than people who don’t. In this respect being an effective governor is like being a good host at a party — as host it’s your job to see that everyone has a good time and gets along well with each other, and to swiftly deal with any problems that arise.
  4. Learn continually. Good governors learn as much as they can about what they’re governing so that they can make better decisions and can make effective suggestions to the people being governed.
  5. Communicate continually. Effective governors communicate what the priorities of your organization are and what is expected of people. It is crucial to set realistic expectations in an open, honest, consistent, and regular manner.
  6. Streamline collaboration. Governors should help teams collaborate effectively with others. This not only helps them to achieve their goals but also supports enterprise awareness.
  7. Ensure personal safety and experimentation. Senior leadership needs to promote a “can do” and “no blame” culture where it is not only safe but highly desirable to learn via experimentation. Senior leadership should be there to help when things don’t work out and to celebrate the learnings from both successes and failures. Create psychological safety and ensure diversity is an important promise of the DA Mindset.
  8. Promote self-organizing teams. Senior leadership should push decision making authority down to the execution level, with teams being responsible for customer outcomes. An implication is that teams need fast access to resources and must be able to grow or shrink as needed, with senior leadership playing an enabling role in doing so. In a DAE, teams are not only allowed to self-organize they are pushed to do so. Leaders should challenge local strategies and plans, motivating teams to improve and excel and to ensure risks are properly considered. Create semi-autonomous self-organizing teams is one of the guidelines of the DA Mindset.
  9. Prefer guidelines over edicts. Plans and procedures don’t hold organizations together – clear purpose and values do. People are not going to read detailed procedures, and even if they do it’s unlikely that they will follow them to the letter. With self-organizing teams, leaders may fear that teams will get creative in some way and cause trouble, and to ease that fear you need to create clear and pragmatic guidelines within which people should operate.
  10. Create sandboxes. Sandboxes are safe places for people to play, that have clear and reasonable boundaries within which teams can operate. Because sandbox boundaries can be hard to anticipate you will find that teams will often stumble across a prohibition or across another team’s boundary and will then have to work through what the boundaries and interfaces actually are.
  11. Mission command over rigid instructions. There is a style of military leadership called “mission command” that defines the operational goals that a team is to achieve and then puts as much responsibility and authority into the hands of the team as possible. Mission command is based on several principles: Do not command more than necessary, or plan beyond foreseeable circumstances; Communicate to every team as much of the higher intent as is necessary to achieve the purpose; and ensure that everyone retains freedom of decision within bounds (their sandboxes).
  12. Collect actionable metrics. A good metric provides insight, it motivates you to change your behavior. If you don’t use a metric to improve or make better decisions then it is a vanity metric and therefore overhead. BUT, at the same time you can’t manage solely by the numbers. Instead use metrics to identify where you need to have conversations about what is(n’t) happening. Adopt measures to improve outcomes is a guideline of the DA Mindset.
  13. Prefer real-time automated intelligence. The real goal of course is self-service business intelligence (BI) where you can quickly identify emerging trends, make predictions, and take prompt action in an informed manner. Effective BI can also provide an “early warning” strategy for identifying potential marketplace changes. Will you always get it right? No, but you will make better decisions more often than if you didn’t have BI. An important nuance is that the purpose of measurement is to reduce uncertainty, it isn’t to gain certainty. 
  14. Measure customer outcomes. A DAE measures outcomes, not outputs, because you cannot guide effectively without confronting the facts. Potential measures such as total customer profitability, cycle time, attrition, and market share are all outcome based. Because it is difficult to forecast accurately, your predictive metrics should be quoted in ranges that reflect the uncertainty of the base data.
  15. Manage for throughput, not utilization. As Tom DeMarco recommends in his book Slack, if you want to maximize the throughput of a team (and thereby reduce time to respond to opportunities) you need to have slack time built into the way that you work. When people are fully utilized they are more likely to become bottlenecks for the people they are supposed to collaborate with, and they have no capacity to quickly respond to a new opportunity when it arises. The DA principles are to Optimize Flow and Be Awesome, not Fully Utilize Staff and Be Busy.
  16. Transparency for everyone enables control. Allowing everyone to see the same information at the same time will enable people to ask the right questions and make the right decisions. This includes giving people access to strategic, competitive, and market information that would have only been available to executives in traditional organizations. How can keeping people ignorant be a good idea? Furthermore, keep numbers in their raw state – when you “fudge them” or modify them to look good you reduce the opportunity to have open and honest discussions about what is really going on. The good news is that when everyone sees the numbers at the same time there is little opportunity for people to fudge the numbers. Make all work and workflow visible is a principle of the DA Mindset.
  17. Provide audit guidance to teams. People fear being audited, rightly or wrongly. Although audits can be a great learning opportunity for teams to identify where they’ve missed addressing important risks this is often overshadowed by the threat that they will get in trouble and may even be punished. A Disciplined Agile governance team will provide pragmatic advice to teams about what they need to do to pass audits, ideally providing real-world examples of how teams passed audits within your organization in the past.
  18. Govern by exception. Executives should look for exceptions or unusual patterns and trends that might reflect changes in customer behavior or poor behavior on the part of teams.

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