On a misty October morning on Pall Mall, executives from across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors congregated to hear the solemn announcement that Agile is dead.
Left isolated in the IT organisation, the living, transformative potential of Agile atrophied and withered to automaton-like Agile processes that became an end in themselves. But there’s room for hope: Long live Agile.
The essence of Agile remains – the mindset, the way of being and behaving, the drive towards value. And increasingly we’re seeing organisations understand the necessity to embrace the Agile mindset across the whole enterprise – something often described as Business Agility.
That’s why we were delighted to welcome to our Executive Breakfast Briefing Fin Goulding — International CIO at Aviva Group and author of several books, including Flow: A Handbook for Change Makers, Mavericks, Innovation Activists and Leaders — to share his insights on new ways of working that are emerging in high-performing businesses through which they are manifesting Business Agility and achieving their goals.
IndigoBlue’s co-founder, Rob Smith, then shared a range of techniques and approaches that organisations can use to identify and focus on true business value and to optimise flow in order to deliver that value.
Fin explained that Flow gets to the essence of Agile, eschewing heavyweight methodologies and processes. It’s a minimalist framework which brings Executives and Customers into the heart of the Agile way of working, extending Agility across the organisation. It helps organisations focus on what is truly valuable to the customer and the business, and then drives the early and frequent delivery of that value.
At its core is a cyclical process to support the flow of work – from the Adaptive Portfolio, through Lean Software Development organised using Kanban, moved along the DevOps pipeline into Continuous Deployment, which enables Customer Feedback to then loop back into the Adaptive Portfolio.
Flow requires what Fin calls extreme transparency – the prominent visualisation on office walls of all of the organisation’s strategic work. This tends to compel the executive team to take notice and get involved; the walls are representing their work, after all. But it also socialises the strategic work more generally – it encourages everyone to get involved in understanding and shaping the work and improving ways of working.
Flow focuses on the frequent, rapid delivery of value, requiring work to be broken down into small increments of value and moved through the cycle. The key metrics then become lead time (the time it takes from the task being created to the work being completed) and cycle time (the time it takes from work starting to work being completed). Flow is achieved through reducing these, resulting in big productivity gains.
Fin expands on Flow in this video published by IT Revolution. Following his introduction to Flow at our briefing, he shared with executives his insights around the biggest challenge to achieving Flow and Business Agility: the culture of an enterprise.
Transforming the culture
Start-ups often have the potential to set themselves up to accomplish Flow from the beginning, but any large, established enterprise needs to hack its own culture to achieve Flow – and this is not easy. In Fin’s view, organisations too often try to buy transformation “off the shelf” – introducing new processes and values for some of their staff to adopt. More often than not, the senior and executive levels in the organisation go on as before.
What’s really required is mindset change throughout the organisation, reflected in a different organisational culture – one that promotes trust and experimentation and rejects command and control.
And in this culture, Fin explained that you want the right people. The biggest lesson he has learnt on this topic is to get rid of toxic people quickly, especially toxic managers. Cultural fit should be the key factor in recruiting people into the organisation – and you should look for and value people who constructively challenge ways of working, who break rules. You should then look after their learning and your own learning, maintaining a student mindset and cultivating specialisms; not just one specialism, but multiple specialisms – becoming not just T-shaped, but Pi-shaped or comb-shaped. Don’t restrict yourself or your teams to a tight job description.
Leaders and managers need to become coaches, enabling teams to manage their own work, to be more collaborative. Moving away from a culture of fear to a culture of trust encourages ownership, experimentation and innovation in which teams can continually improve products and services, and pivot quickly when required.
Implementing Business Agility
Rob explained that IndigoBlue has long understood the risk of Agile being reduced to a set of ritual behaviours – we call it Agile as a Cargo Cult – and have seen organisations absorb and neutralise Agile in this way while implementing their ‘Agile transformations’, stopping far short of the full benefits it can yield.
Rob cited the destructive myth of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as a symptom of this. Through the concept of the MVP, the correct Agile mindset of planning and prioritising work to deliver incremental value is too easily calcified into a process that results in the specification of a large batch of work that must be delivered. The capacity to look for earlier value is greatly diminished, as is the value of the Agile approach. Rob explained that organisations should instead see it as a journey, one in which what is ‘minimum’ and ‘viable’ can be arrived at sooner than expected along the way.
To help organisations avoid Agile becoming a Cargo Cult, IndigoBlue has used a range of techniques which encourage a focus on value, on segmenting and prioritising work, and on optimising flow for the early and frequent delivery of value.
Chief among these is Solution Value Mapping, a technique created by IndigoBlue to help organisations identify the real value they are seeking to deliver, and to map on the solutions that will drive that value. Through a collaborative workshop, value and solution statements are mapped out and then, importantly, weighted in order to identify the solutions and objectives of highest value to the organisation – which then becomes the reference point for prioritising the implementation of the business strategy.
Without this refocusing on value, Rob explained that organisations have too strong a tendency towards end-state thinking – starting by designing the solution and creating the big batch of work that must be delivered.
OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is another technique – utilised by Google, LinkedIn and others – that encourages a value-centric focus, helping define and track objectives and outcomes. Jobs to be Done is an approach to innovation that is similarly driven by needs and outcomes rather than the solution. And again, Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Canvas starts with the customer’s goals, pains and gains, setting them out on the canvas before mapping on the product and service features that are most likely to address those customer needs.
IndigoBlue has been using Solution Value Mapping and these other techniques for many years to help its clients refocus on value, and then bringing its Agile expertise to bear in helping them optimise end-to-end flow across the organisation in the delivery of that value. In this way, our clients have achieved Business Agility and outstripped their competitors as a result.
That’s why Rob concluded by saying that he was optimistic that Business Agility’s time has come. He foresees another revolution in which the most successful enterprises will be those that move away from the moribund process-driven Agile approach to those that revitalise themselves through embodying true Business Agility.
If your organisation is seeking to work towards Business Agility and you would be interested in a free two-hour Solution Value Mapping workshop, please get in touch:
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