A retrospective on years of process tailoring workshops


In my experience in running dozens of process tailoring workshops, over several years, with of teams of every shape size and experience level and in different organizations, the most recurring comment is that the workshops “revealed all kinds of options we didn’t even realize were options!”   Although almost always a bit of a hard sell at the outset, I have yet to work with a team unable to quickly grasp and appreciate the value of these activities.

I had to do quite a bit of experimenting in order to get the timing and content of the workshops right – and learned over time that success is also predicated on knowing whom to include when. My first attempts were gruelling, close-to-full day affairs with entire teams in attendance, held at or close to project kickoff. Though transparent and inclusive, to my surprise this approach was actually deemed a waste of their time by many team members, especially those whose contribution would occur primarily in the construction phase. First lesson learned – A technical team lead, architect or senior developer can actually stand in for most of the developers in the early stages. I find it helpful to always bear in mind what George Dinwiddie (http://www.velocitypartners.net/blog/2014/02/11/the-3-amigos-in-agile-teams/) dubbed “the 3 amigos” in determining who needs to attend a process tailoring session. Be it at inception, construction, or even in transition, you need to tailor not only the processes, but also the attendance of the workshop in order to ensure you have the right mix of people, with the right collaborative mindset, to cover issues pertaining to 1) the business problem being addressed  2) the potential technical solutions to that business problem and 3) the processes (both team and organizational) that will enable the work to be carried out.

My second lesson learned pertained to the format and presentation of the process blades themselves. I found that simply working from the published process maps was insufficient, as we ran into onerous issues around how to best record the WoW choices teams were making. I eventually reproduced the entire process blade library in a spreadsheet format, with columns for comments. This seemingly innocuous administrative step quickly ushered in the third lesson learned – the sessions can be used not merely to document an immediate WoW decision, but also to identify future, more “mature” aspirational choices which the team can set as goals over a specified time period.

A fourth lesson learned, and one that was also enabled by using a simple spreadsheet tool, is that it became far easier to Align with Enterprise Direction. By “locking down” enterprise-level process choices across all the blades where applicable, a lot of potentially fruitless (at that point in time) discussion was saved for many a team. No use in discussing test automation strategies to death for instance in divisions still completely relying on manual tests, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, teams endowed with high-performing, well-integrated CI/CD environments. This is a large part of what DA calls self-organization within appropriate governance.

The fifth and final major lesson learned was to never start from a blank slate if at all possible. I would typically show up at a team’s first process tailoring workshop with a pre-filled version from another team facing somewhat similar challenges (the identifying data being scrubbed so they could not identify the previous team). I would then challenge the new team to reflect on the choices and determine whether they made sense for their own context. This also saved time and effort, as there are recurring themes and common challenges within organizations that all teams face.

Here’s an important note on determining participation – Ultimately, the teams themselves are the best arbiters of who should attend the sessions at varying stages of advancement. Allowing this will typically result in a bit of initial over participation, followed by under participation (especially is the pressure is on to get “real” work done!) – the key as facilitator is to coax the team back into balanced participation, and to lobby the organization for the necessary support in freeing people up. The support will become easier and easier to obtain as the benefits of allowing teams to choose their WoW become apparent.

Finally, be prepared for surprises. I once ran through the Program process blade with a team, only to have them come to the realization that … they weren’t really a Program! Which was actually a good thing as it helped avoid introducing a considerable amount of overhead, particularly in the area of program-level KPIs.

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