Part 4 of 5
Previously I wrote an article titled “Five Common Pitfall When Scaling Agile”. These pitfalls are:
- Not Having a Clear WHY
- Not Seeing This as Organizational Change
- Not Being Principles Based
- Not Keeping All Levels of the Organization Aligned
- Not Measuring What is Important to the Organization
This article is part four of five and will provide remedies to overcome the fourth common pitfall, “Not Keeping All Levels of the Organization Aligned.” The final article will provide remedies for the fifth pitfall and provide a summary for all five pitfalls. This pitfall is not about the organization structure when it is looked at through the lens of an organization chart but rather the white spaces within the chart. It is about ways of working.
NOT KEEPING ALL LEVELS OF THE ORGANIZATION ALIGNED
The Pitfall (from Five Common Pitfalls)
There will be friction and waste if all levels of the organization are not kept synchronized with the iterative changes happening at team, program, and portfolio levels of the organization. A telltale sign of this, for example, is when a program adopts a particular cadence but supporting teams are on different cadences. This will create friction and waste, especially if releasing a feature that crosses teams. Friction often occurs when the organization starts funding a team or program, but other teams are funded through projects. Prioritization of work is different due to being funded or not. If work crosses these funding models, releases may be missing features. In turn, this could lead to more waste, such as missing a marketing campaign or a contracted date.
Let me first emphasize ALL LEVELS. No matter how you define or classify the levels in the organization, when it comes to flow of work, there needs to be an understanding how each works together. There are connections from one area to another. A customer supplier / provider relationship exists. This is system thinking and the relationships involved.
Let us consider a couple of automobile examples with the focus on the driver and the transmission for customer supplier relationships. A driver will use the transmission to regulate the power to the wheels to go as fast and safely as they decide. We see this as the race car driver is manually changing the gears as he rounds the track. More power on the straights and less on the curves. While driving in snow a driver can shift to a lower gear which provides less power to the wheels and helps the wheels from spinning (friction, reduced flow). Each situation involves regulating the flow (power to the wheels) as the situation (system thinking) changes for the same purpose. Friction in flow (accidents) can happen if these two elements of system thinking and relationships are not in alignment.
Customer supplier has three components, knowing all the relationships, what conditions of satisfaction there are, and by when.
The first component is no one has a full view of the customer supplier relationships. Is there clarity as to who you need to complete your request for all the way to the end customer who will consume the work. Are all the performers known and not just to whom you submitted your request? This network of performers which traverse the levels of the organization completes the flow. If you cannot answer these questions that is a sign of the pitfall potentially happening. It happens when there is a change in flow of work and now you have the situation where you completed your work, and it is not accepted by someone you did not know needed to accept it. It could be architecture, finance, or procurement who needs to approve it that did not before. This is when you have hard stop in the flow.
The second component is conditions of satisfaction which translate into acceptance criteria. Both the customer and supplier have these. Many times, the acceptance criteria are stated by the customer but not by the supplier. If the supplier’s criteria to complete the request is not known and agreed upon then it is not a request, but an order and you are an order taker. This sign translates into a supplier not accepting (committing) to the work. Team velocity is usually not predictable because of not really committing. Another example is if acceptance criteria change the request needs to be redone to obtain acceptance by the other party. A sign would be if finance changes their criteria to fund work without gaining acceptance from those needing to complete the work. There is friction in the flow. First finding out about the change and secondly adjusting to the change that may cause additional work. A third situation is if there are gates that slow down the flow because an approval condition is there however the outcome is “yes.” An example would be if the structure has architectural approval of all work, but a particular type of work is always approved, that impedes flow. This is still about conditions of approval but from the perspective of structure.
The third component is “by when.” This is just as important as the first two. This piece tells the others in the relationship when they can proceed with what they need to do. This is seen when you do not have commitment dates on when the work will be done by and then when a change is made earlier in the customer supplier relationship the supplier communicates when did those dates change and why they were not informed. People in the flow either spike to get it done or commitments are not met. Friction in the flow.
How to Overcome
To overcome this pitfall there needs to be a governance model in place. It would provide the coordination and alignment of changes along with the removal of unnecessary gates. This ties back to the second pitfall to recognize this is organizational change that needs to be enabled.
First capturing the understanding of these customer supplier relationships and what conditions are needed to satisfy the other party or parties and secondly when changes are planned to be implemented. The other parties’ requirements, their conditions of satisfaction. Prior to making a change determine what the consequences may be and address those with the other parties. This may result in the other party accepting the consequences or negotiating a change that supports them as well as your needs.
Make sure there are commitments to when and for how long the changes are expected to be in place. This will support making future changes as you evaluate the outcomes of the current change. That is the second part to overcoming this pitfall.
When there is a large-scale change typically there will be phases, iterations, or implementing change in steps or a series. By identifying what is in these steps all parties are better able to plan and execute what they need to do. Another party may be able to accommodate a negative impact for three months but not for six. As changes are executed and commitments honored, trust is improved, which supports making future changes with less friction.
Scaling agile implies applying this to the enterprise. That means how people work together to execute a request. Their requirements to perform their work to satisfy their customer. You first need to understand the requirements of this network of people so that when you make changes, these requirements can also be changed to improve the flow of work. Having a governance capability is the vehicle to drive the coordination of scaling agile to reduce friction by keeping all levels of the organization aligned. What to measure is also critical. This is the fifth pitfall that will be the topic of the last article in this series.