Optimize Flow, Principle 6 of the Disciplined Agile Toolkit


The Disciplined Agile Toolkit is a tremendous resource to be used in every Lean-Agile adoption / transformation effort, from team-level to enterprise-level. The Disciplined Agile Toolkit, now with more clarity on choosing your way of working (WoW), offers new and established teams an opportunity to evolve further through consideration of their context and the many goals, factors, and options available to them.

The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) toolkit, with its focus on delivery has provided a solid foundation for building high performing delivery teams. As enterprises come to value the benefit of these team-level improvements the desire to leverage these improvements throughout the enterprise, scaling these improvements, is a common enterprise strategy today. Of course, DAD Teams are enterprise aware and ready to work with the enterprise to reduce overall delivery time and cost.

There are many scaling factors to consider as an enterprise seeks Agility at Scale. Additionally, the Disciplined Agile (DA) Toolkit provides straightforward guidance for scaling into Disciplined DevOps and then into Disciplined Agile IT. Finally, the toolkit provides guidance for a Disciplined Agile Enterprise. It is here that I want to focus on Principle 6, Optimize Flow.

The Disciplined Agile Toolkit recognizes that enterprises are complex adaptive systems. The solutions they are providing are also complex solutions. Gone are the good’ol days of simply being complicated!

The challenge, as stated by the principle to Optimize Flow, is how to ensure collaborating teams do so in such a way as to effectively implement our organization’s value streams? And, how do we optimize our overall workflow?

I’ll take the liberty here to rephrase and combine the two questions. How do we organize long-standing teams to support the delivery of value for the enterprise in a way that allows for ongoing optimization experiments (as in Lean Change)?

To ‘implement’ the organization’s value streams for delivery of solutions, we must first identify and visualize the operational value stream of the enterprise and then determine the nature of the solution being delivered.

To the sharp-eyed reader, you’ve noticed that I’ve qualified the use of value stream with a reference to operational value stream. Yes, I believe there is a value stream that is characterized by the enterprise: The value stream through which it delivers value to its customers, clients, members, or whomever external to the enterprise is paying for the value delivered. This is the operational value stream, the flow from order to cash.

Well, there is no reason to qualify the use of value stream if not for at least a second type of value stream. That second type is a development value stream. The development value stream is where we can fully leverage the wealth of resources available from the DA Toolkit. This is not to say that we can’t use various ideas and principles from the DA Toolkit to improve the operational value stream. Only that the sweet spot for considering the Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) is from the point of view of the development value stream.

So, what is a development value stream? A development value stream is responsible for implementation and maintenance of solutions that provide for business capabilities that are in turn needed to support to operational value stream. Here, in the development value stream, is where we are better able to apply the Optimize Flow strategies of delivery at a sustainable pace, optimization of the whole, making work flow, and using experiments to eliminate waste and to gain an understanding as those long-standing teams participating in the development value stream use validated learning through metrics to continuously improve.

A development value stream is implemented by way of establishing and organizing DAD teams in alignment with the flow of idea to solution for improvements of business capabilities within the enterprise.

Sustainable Pace

For a team of teams aligned to enable business capabilities the continuous generation of business capability improvement ideas can easily exceed the capacity of the delivery teams to implement each idea. It is important the leaders within the enterprise understand that more can be accomplished with the people they have when they limit the amount of work requested of them to their capacity to do the work. Exceeding that capacity ultimately results in less work being accomplished overall as we lose productivity though excessive multitasking. Yet, each team will want to be responsive to the perceived demand of the enterprise. In their efforts to self-organize to improve on what they can accomplish it is important to keep the next strategy in mind, optimize the whole.

Optimize the Whole

Within a team of teams each team is typically striving to contribute a smaller outcome that, together with the outcome of other teams, contributes to a larger outcome needed to improve a business capability. Teams should seek to optimize around the delivery of the larger outcome rather than only their own contribution. It is important to be aware that the optimization of a component of a system may, in fact, cause a sub-optimization of the larger system. Focus on the flow of the larger value delivery to make work flow better overall.

Make work Flow

The principle to visualize work enables teams to identify and remove bottlenecks. Kanban is a great method for this visualization. But, the idea of a Kanban board is not limited to being applied only for a Kanban team. Scrum, and indeed, anyone or team can borrow from Kanban. An overarching visualization of the work is our need. For a team of teams, that visualization to optimize the whole needs to encompass the effort of the team of teams. While the individual teams may focus on the flow of user stories, the team of team should be visualizing the flow of the large outcomes that the team of teams is striving to delivery.  With that visualization the team of teams can work together to eliminate waste that, from their team point of view, might not be visible, or might not have been within their ability to influence improvement experiments that required the support of the team of teams.

Improve Continuously

Everyone familiar with Scrum understands the value of periodic retrospectives. These retrospectives allow for the self-organization of the team to streamline their processes. This same approach should be considered for a team of teams. Periodically, perhaps once a quarter, the team of teams should collective gather to consider experiments that will streamline the more overarching issues they all face.

Experiment to Learn

Consider the ‘implementation’ of all improvement ideas as experiments. Just as we can no longer provide concrete implementation plans for the complex technical solutions delivered today, we can not develop a concrete process/behavior/culture improvement plan for today’s enterprises that are themselves complex adaptive systems. Also, we’ve learned that small changes are better than big changes. Choose to learn with small Minimal Viable Changes (MVC). Advance your learning by leveraging the learning of Lean Change.

Measure what Counts

For each experiment to learn determine the measures of success before starting the experiment. What is the goal of the change (experiment)? What questions need to be answered to know if the outcome of the experiment is likely to realize that outcome? What measurements can be used to obtain the information needed to answer those questions? Don’t waste time and money on vanity metrics.

Prefer Long-lived Stable Teams

Where is the value once you optimize flow when you throw out that value by disbanding your high-performing team of teams? By aligning your team of teams, your development value stream, with business capabilities that enable your operational value stream you have created an organization that can be long-lived because the business capabilities of an enterprise tend to be persistent for the life of the enterprise.

BOTTOM LINE

When you find yourself coaching a larger number of teams for an enterprise with the vision to become more agile overall, I propose that you expand upon the principle of the Disciplined Agile Toolkit to Optimize Flow. The principle to Optimize flow applies at the larger scale of a team of teams. This article has hopefully helped you map the Optimize Flow principle to a larger number of teams, a team of teams, organized as a development value stream when you consider the transformation/adoption needed for a Disciplined Agile Enterprise.

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