Policies describe common ways of working across an organization and what should be avoided. They are the rules that help the team move work toward value realization. They form the basis for continuous improvement: knowing what behavior was expected and what outcomes we hoped for helps the team make intentional adjustments to their way of work.
Making policies explicit means describing what to do in the right amount of detail and those descriptions making them visible to everyone. Explicit policies can serve as conditions for moving work forward in a visual control environment.
Everyone in the agile/lean organization can be involved in creating explicit policies.
What To Do
To get started, look at examples of explicit policies that are already in use in the organization or on other teams or other parts of the value stream.
Here are some ideas to help write explicit policies.
- We own the processes. The processes do not own us.
- Be pragmatic. Describe the policy in just enough detail to be useful to the audience. The goal is common behavior and agreed upon ways of working.
- Use the questions below to help get started. We might write one policy per question, or might combine them into a few larger policies. It depends on the context.
- Create a visual control that allows us to see what work is in process, and the steps it must go through.
- Enforce the policies on every work item that moves through the process’s visual control.
- Policies should help semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams to thrive and to develop relationships. They are not rigid enforcement mechanisms.
- Continuously improve the process. No policy is perfect. It needs to evolve as we learn more or as the context changes. Writing explicit policies should follow the DA advice to “start where you are, do the best that you can given the situation that you face, and always strive to get better.”
Here are some questions to help get started in writing explicit policies.
- What categories of policies are in use?
- What policies does our team or our area need to have?
- What is included in the definition of done?
- What is included in the definition of ready?
- What is our glossary or list of common terms or naming conventions we will use?
- How do we handle urgent items?
- How do we handle items with the same priority?
- How do we handle items with different priorities?
- What happens when an item gets blocked?
- How do we manage defects?
- What are the criteria to move work items from one activity to another? For example, “Acceptance criteria have been written per <guidelines for acceptance criteria writing>, before story moves from “requirements” to “design” column in kanban board.
- What should team members do when they are not able to pull new work?
Explicit policies can be written and revised at any time according to management requirements and the needs of the context in order to realize new system behaviors. Changes should be done with care and carried out in a Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) fashion: making a change and giving time to see the impact.
Explicit policies help shape the environment so that work is done consistently in the key areas that determine its quality and suitability.
Policies are necessary, but almost never effective in a traditional environment. A visible and explicit mechanism is the only way to gain the benefits available with good policies.