Tag Archives: Scaling

Five Stages To Organizational Agility

Building on the previous blog post about the importance of focusing on and continually improving flow, quality, and value delivery, we can turn to the stages to achieving organizational agility. Achieving organizational agility involves deliberately improving the following (in order):

  1. Visibility
  2. Predictability
  3. Time-to-market (Flow)
  4. Value / Outcome driven
  5. Organizational Agility

All steps are underpinned by cycles of: assessing, defining the improvement strategy, training, and coaching.

1. Visibility

Visibility presupposes a culture of transparency, openness, and safety (protection from retribution and loss of reputation, health, money, and relationships). Without such a culture, you will not have true visibility and visual management will be a sham. Michael Ballé, in The Lean Manager, defines Visual Management as “seeing together, so we know together, so we can act together.” When information is hidden, people cannot see together and are likely to act in sub-optimal ways.

2. Predictability

With clear visibility you can begin to gauge and improve the predictability of your overall process. Predictability implies the ability to accurately answer, “When will it be done?” Making your processes more predictable and being able to reliably and consistently meet delivery commitments is the first step in building trust with business partners, stakeholders, and customers. Predictability can be gauged by studying Cumulative Flow Diagrams and work item completion cycle time scatter plots. These give you a baseline from which to start your improvement efforts.

It is important as a first step to regulate the arrival rate of new work to the completion rate of work by the teams. Work should not be started at a faster rate than work is completed. If it does, then you are faced with a situation of ever increasing work-in-process (WIP) and lengthening cycle times — the perfect recipe for increasing unpredictability. Stabilize the system (i.e., prevent cycle times from increasing) to have any hope of achieving the goal of predictability.

3. Time to Market (Flow)

Once you have a baseline and a sustainable stable system, you can begin experimenting with a view to increase flow and predictability. A fundamental approach is to begin by removing impediments. Use the scientific method. Determine what to improve, propose a hypothesis (an impediment to remove), plan the implementation, define expected outcomes, implement the change, compare the actual results to those expected, and then determine next steps: persevere, pivot, perish (or kill).

Improving flow (to shorten the cycle to discover ideas, develop and deliver solutions, and validate learning) can be discerned by the increasing rate of progress of work items from left-to-right on the team’s work-flow visualization board and by the lack of large buildups of work somewhere in the process. Flow is enabled by ensuring alignment around intent while granting autonomy around actions — state the goals clearly, but let teams navigate towards the goals by determining the best approach locally.

4. Value- or Outcome-Driven

While value is important, it has been mentioned fourth for a reason. If the delivery system is broken, inefficient, or unpredictable, it makes little difference what is fed into that system or in what order. With a stable, smoothly flowing, system you can now really start focusing on ensuring that you are providing the most value possible.

Improve your capability to define and deliver working solution increments that meet customer needs and solve their problems. Use a clearly defined purpose and these sequenced increments to align business, technology, and operations. You will now likely run into challenges with how funds are budgeted and allocated to projects and/or products. Having conversations with Finance about alternate approaches will now be much easier because you (IT) already have a track record of execution and predictable delivery.

Being value- or outcome-driven implies building the right thing, being focused on product rather than execution, and having the skills to figure out earlier what to make. Start with the end in mind then ask, “What experiments can be run to affect the outcomes?”, “What capabilities do we need to develop to realize the outcomes?”, and “What behaviors do we need to develop?”

5. Organizational Agility

There is a laser focus on identifying measurable goals, determining probable success factors, identifying necessary conditions for those factors to occur, and implementing a plan that helps create the required necessary conditions. Leaders are proactive in designing organizational structures, rules, and policies that enable agility throughout the organization. Agile practices have permeated the culture and have eliminated most or all of the business pain points. Finance, budgeting, HR, and governance groups are all agile and can work with agile artifacts for satisfying audit/governance needs.

Everyone understands the dictum that “Lean is not about removing waste but about problem solving towards a vision!” and without prompting continually strive to improve himself, the process, and the organization. This is also where leaders can set challenging goals for teams and help them improve via self-development learning cycles.

An Approach to Achieving the Agile at Scale

Table 1 provides a little more information on steps 2-4 discussed above for improving your organization’s ability to deliver value to customers. Over time move from Level 1 to Level 3 for the three areas: Product, Team, Management.


Table 1. Steps to realizing Agile at Scale

This journey is not easy and can easily take you a couple of years or more to become truly nimble and customer-focused. There is significant additional detail about the practices recommended and behaviors required for each of the nine cells above.


While this blog provides a high-level view of the approach we recommend, it doesn’t go into all the detail needed to move from stage-to-stage (visibility to predictability to flow, etc.), what aspects to pay heed to, and how to sell and implement the changes.

We would love to continue the conversation with you. Reach out to us if you’d like more information or if you think you aren’t seeing the business benefits you had originally envisioned before starting on your agile journey.


Posted by on February 8, 2017 in Agile


Tags: , , , ,

Scaling and Lean Portfolio Management

The term scaling, as used in the Agile industry, can cause confusion as it can mean two things: (1) getting more and more people to adopt a new practice or paradigm in an organization, and (2) more people working on larger and larger initiatives. There are numerous frameworks like Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), DAD, SAFe, etc. that can help address the first sense.

The second sense of “scaling” implies bigger projects with more and more resources, time, effort, and people. Larger initiatives lead to batching of requirements that creates a situation where you may have to delay the release of the most important request in the batch until the least important one is ready. Additionally, the time from idea to delivery keeps getting longer and longer. The drivers of this view of scaling often are minimizing cost and maximizing staff utilization.

The justification, I often hear, is along two lines:
1. Large organizations have far more people (100s and even 1000s); therefore, the development approach has to be able to work with this larger crowd.
2. We have to do all these things together because our clients are asking for all of this and we can’t deliver in a series of smaller releases.

Lean Portfolio management on the other hand calls for smaller batches in order to deliver business value faster (shorter lead times). This calls for smaller projects, an emphasis on MMFs and projects (or opportunities) that provide the most value, limited work-in-process, and a balance between demand and the capacity of the delivery organization. The focus here is on speed of delivering value to customers, obtaining feedback frequently, and on realizing ROI quickly.

Lean Portfolio management thinking is along the lines that identifying and prioritizing opportunities based on business value, developing the next most important feature, minimizing wastes and delays, ensuring flow, and delivering chunks of value sooner is paramount; this does not need larger and larger teams and scaling may be unnecessary.

However, introducing lean portfolio management concepts isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is a lack of appetite to make meaningful change (e.g., to restructure teams and move away from existing silos), to accurately define value for requested functionality, to focus on end-to-end value streams, or to question existing beliefs and assumptions (e.g., work cannot be split into smaller opportunities and simplified or that smaller releases won’t be acceptable to clients). This is frequently exacerbated by a lack of understanding of the true goal — is it minimizing unit cost and maximizing resource utilization or is it delivering business value faster — and by an inability (or lack of desire) to recognize and remove delays that impede product development.

Companies can benefit by having an experienced coach guide the transition to a lean way of portfolio management. The coach can provide training and advice and also prevent serious mistakes in implementation.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Agile


Tags: , ,