Saturday, April 30, 2022

Making your company more successful with an Enterprise Pipeline of Ideas

The Enterprise Idea Pipeline provides you with an end-to-end view of the flow of ideas from the moment they are recorded to when they are released.  It is meant for the enterprise to respond to high value ideas the moment they came so the enterprise does not miss the idea’s window of opportunity.  

The Enterprise Idea Pipeline provides three primary benefits to an enterprise.  First, it is a channel that provides an end-to-end flow of ideas from the moment they are recorded to when they are released and reflected upon.  Second, it is the enterprise level portfolio backlog of ideas.  Third, it is meant to highlight high value ideas the moment they came in so that the enterprise does not miss the idea’s window of opportunity.  

The culture needed for the Enterprise Idea Pipeline is one where the enterprise immediately considers ideas as they come in because they are based on a current problem or opportunity.  You don’t wait for the next budget cycle to consider the idea. The pipeline is a more adaptable way of managing the portfolio of work across your enterprise since ideas can be admitted anytime and feedback may adapt its priority or reshape the idea.  Also, the pipeline brings enterprise-wide visibility and transparency to the work occurring within an organization.

Before moving further, what is an idea?  An idea is something that is deemed as valuable and has yet to be created.  The moment it is recorded, it may be small or large.  Depending on its level of customer value, it may become work that is worthy of evolving into a product or service or a significant feature of each.    

Enterprise Idea Pipeline is a working example of the delivery axis focused on delivering customer value as illustrated above. As the delivery axis represents the end-to-end flow of customer value from the recording of the idea to the point where it is released and then reflected upon so is the Enterprise Idea Pipeline. 

Enterprise Idea Pipeline can be known by different names such as a portfolio backlog, enterprise kanban board, and idea pipeline. What makes them all similar is that they hold the big ideas that may eventually (or immediately) be worked on by teams.  The enterprise idea pipeline acts as the parent and feeder to all of the product backlogs and helps you connect strategy and ideas to user stories (and even tasks) and visa-versa.  

An enterprise idea pipeline is primarily used in medium to large companies, when visibility is needed to make investment decisions across portfolios to better understand where the highest value work lives.  It also helps when there are dependencies across multiple products, or when ideas do not have an obvious resting place in a product backlog.  When an enterprise is small and made up of a singular product, then the product backlog acts as the enterprise idea pipeline as these are the ideas that may be included in the future of that product.  

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Has Covid-19 boosted Business Agility?

Written by Nawel Lengliz and Mario Moreira

Economists might argue that the Covid 19 crisis caused a lot of disruption to companies. I strongly believe the pandemic has helped companies improve the way they collaborate, especially via remote work, which boosted their business or, more precisely, their business agility. Let me explain how.

First and foremost, remote work has helped teams in democratizing information sharing. In effect, by using digital tools, it has become easier to have access to information, to briefings of decisions or to digital white boards in the sense that people do not have to be physically present in meetings to understand the meeting outcomes.

Democratizing information sharing has paved the ground for a natural transition to something we believe in a lot in the Agile community: Visualization of the work. This technique, borrowed from lean manufacturing, consists of using a board that shows all the work being done via cards representing each piece of work, is simple and very powerful. Besides creating a shared understanding on who is doing what within the team, using boards helps to visualize problems in the system of work. For example you may find there is too much work in progress (WIP), work with competing priorities or tasks that have remained stagnant. Therefore, by making problems visible, it becomes easier for teams to discuss problems and try to overcome them by continuously improving their system of work. 

Another advantage to the transition to remote work is the ability to have worldwide access to talent. I remember when Covid 19 broke out, I was part of a global company and we wanted to create an Agile community of practice for the french speaking region. Thanks to remote collaboration, we were able to include skillful people located in francophone Africa. This cross-border collaboration allowed very creative ideas to emerge and spark new perspectives. We were all energized by the diversity of our backgrounds and experiences.

Finally, using digital tools during retrospectives or feedback sessions makes it possible for teams to write notes and share their ideas while building trust. This ability to speak up without fear helps to improve the Psychological Safety climate within teams. According to Amy Edmondson, a famous psychology researcher, creating psychological safety is the number one condition for creating high-performing teams.

Nevertheless, people working remotely sometimes miss face-to-face collaboration (I am among them). In fact, being in the same room creates energy as people communicate not only with words, but also with their body language. However, as food for thought, according to some research, flying generates an equivalent of ¼ tonne of CO2 per hour. Is it really worth generating such an amount of pollution to attend a couple of meetings over a day?

In summary, the Covid 19 pandemic urged companies to try or improve new ways of working remotely with such results as democratizing information sharing, making work visible, accessing talent everywhere and using digital tools to foster psychological safety. These techniques have helped companies move faster, be more inclusive and promote collaboration that helped employees to become happier and to our planet being more ecologically healthier. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Good and Bad Reasons for Moving to Agile

There are various reasons behind moving to Agile. Some are proactive and some are reactive. Proactive motivations tend to be accompanied by a greater understanding of the business benefits of Agile and the culture change it implies. However, this is not always the case. The reasons behind the motivation can determine your chances to achieve a real transformation. Let’s take at a notional proactive-reactive model that looks at some motivations for moving to Agile and what you can do to enhance your chances of gaining the business benefits of doing so.  

  • "It’s the trendy thing to do." Agile is popular, so we should do it. This is reactive and not a strong motivator for change. When another trend comes along, Agile may be abandoned. Agile may be seen as a hollow initiative and some may wait it out to see if it will go away. It will be important to investigate the benefits of Agile to see if it is right for you. Then determine if real commitment can be gained. 
  • "The competition is doing it." Others are doing it, so we better do it. This is reactive. Although it may provide a driver for change, it does not provide clarity on why Agile was chosen. Some will question why what a competitor does is good for us. What happens when they do something else? It will be important to investigate the benefits of Agile to see if it is right for you. 
  • "We need to reduce costs." This is a reactive and insufficient reason whereby Agile is seen as a tool to cut costs and maybe the workforce. This will not lead to the business benefits of moving to Agile. Although it may be an outcome, other benefits of Agile may be gained if you are willing to adapt the culture. 
  • "What we have isn’t working." We’ve been using another process to deliver software and it isn’t effective. This is a reactive reason with little understanding of Agile, but it may provide an initial motivation for change. However, moving to Agile without understanding what it takes may lead to a failed deployment. It is best to understand the root cause for the failures in the past, because this can affect your change to Agile. 
  • "We hope to increase employee morale." This is a proactive reason based on an understanding of the importance of employee engagement and empowerment to improve morale. Validate that there is real commitment to empowering employees and self-organizing teams. 
  • "We hope to improve productivity." This is a proactive reason when the goal is to empower employees and help them improve productivity. The danger is that management may believe that Agile is something someone else must do to increase productivity or the real intent is to make employees work harder. The other challenge is that productivity may come at the expense of sacrificing quality. It will be important to investigate all of the benefits of Agile, not just productivity. 
  • “We aim to decrease time to market.” This is a proactive reason in which Agile is seen as a way to shorten release cycles. If there is an understanding that this implies a change across the organization to get from market idea to release and it is meant to satisfy the customer, then this is a good starting point. It is still important to discuss the benefits of Agile to see if it is right for you. 
  • “We want to deliver customer value.” This is a proactive and genuine reason if Agile is seen as a way to engage the customer and understand value. Validate whether there is a real commitment to delivering value and an understanding of the need to change organizational behaviors and processes to get there .
  • “We believe in the Agile values and principles.” This is a proactive and genuine reason where Agile may be seen as a positive change in company vision and behavior. Validate a drive toward continuous customer engagement and employee engagement that can help gain the business benefits that Agile can bring. 

In all of these cases, you need to validate commitment to the values and principles and the culture and business change it entails. Once the initial motivation is understood, we can work to adapt it with the goal of better gaining the business benefits of going Agile.  

Monday, January 31, 2022

What Color is receptive to Agile?

In Frederic Laloux’ book “Reinventing Organizations”, he describes organization paradigms as an evolution in human consciousness.  Examining these paradigms can provide insight into organization attributes that lend themselves to an Agile culture.  The early paradigm starts with the Reactive-Infrared paradigm and then Magic-Magenta paradigm.  Both of these embody the early stages of humankind which include smaller groups such as tribes of people.  This is followed by the Impulsive-Red paradigm which has the guiding metaphor of a wolf pack illustrated by tribal militia, mafia, and street gangs. 

The Conformist-Amber has the guiding metaphor of an army illustrated by a church hierarchy, military, and most government agencies.   Next is the Achievement-Orange which has the guiding metaphor of the machine illustrated by multinational companies and charter schools.  A majority of the organizations today tend to reflect a red, amber, or orange paradigm.

From an Agile perspective, it is after this where it becomes interesting.  A general alignment can be made to two of the latter paradigms that may be considered as behaviors you would hope to see in an Agile enterprise. These are the Pluralistic-Green and the Evolutionary-Teal paradigms. 

The Pluralistic-Green organization strives to bring equality where all viewpoints are treated equality irrespective of position and power.  It uses the family as the guiding metaphor where we are in it together and help each other out. One of the breakthroughs of a green organization is Empowerment. Empowerment is focused on pushing a majority of decisions down to the frontline (e.g., where the work is).  This is directly aligned with Agile thinking where there is a focus on pushing down decision-making to the lowest possible level where the most information resides regarding the topic.  

Another breakthrough of a green organization is that it is a values-driven culture. This very much aligns with the importance of leading with Agile values and principles. The green organization understands that a shared culture where leaders play by shared values is the glue that keeps those in organizations feeling appreciated and empowered that can lead to extraordinary employee motivation.  

The Evolutionary-Teal paradigm emphasizes that the organization adapts as circumstances change. Its metaphor is one where the organization is a separate living organism. In a teal paradigm, titles and positions are replaced with roles, where one worker can fill multiple roles. This is very much like the concept of the cross-functional team within an Agile structure.  This paradigm emphasizes the capability to self-organize around the organizational purpose.  The hierarchical structures are replaced with self-organization focusing on the smaller teams. This is aligned with the Agile principle of self-organizing teams (aka, the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams).  

To read more about how the colors of Pluralistic-Green and Evolutionary-Teal can benefit an Agile journey, consider reading The Agile Enterprise: The Agile Enterprise: Building and Running Agile Organizations. You can also learn more about colors of organizations by reading Reinventing Organizations

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hiring for the Culture of your Future

As an Agile Consultant, I occasionally help companies hire for talent as I’m transforming companies (e.g., an Agile transformation, business transformation, digital transformation or similar). When I’m helping with interviewing or hiring talent process, the interviewers circle back together to discuss the candidate. I often hear things like “They don’t seem to fit our culture”. Sometimes, there is a question built into the interview questionnaire asking, “Are they a cultural fit?”. 

When a company is satisfied with their culture, I can understand that you would align with the concept of hiring for cultural fit.  However, when you are working through an agile, business, or digital transformation, this implies that you are also transforming to a different culture with new ways of working. When you say “hire for a cultural fit” it needs to be to the new culture that you want.
For example, if the culture is more command and control where work is prescribed upfront, then the work culture tends to be very individual driven (I have been assigned my task and I will work on it) with little feedback is asked for (do the work and get it done by the deadline). If you are transforming to Agile ways of working, you need a much more collaborative and team-oriented culture where people are pairing up on tasks, helping each other, and where feedback is expected. Hiring for the former (command and control type culture) will not help you get to an agile culture of collaboration.  

If you are going through any type of transformation as a company, include a theme or work on re-evaluating the hiring process. Take a look at your standard interview questions and adapt them for the culture that you want. Also, describe the type of people that will fit your future culture (e.g., collaborative, team-oriented, etc.) and share this with the interviewers.  This will help embed your current culture with the people that will support the culture you desire for the future.    

Friday, April 30, 2021

Culture of Challenging Assumptions

 When you calculate the value of an idea, epic, or feature (e.g., revenue, cost of delay, etc.), many assumptions are made. As part of transforming toward an Agile culture, it is important to apply a discovery mindset that includes positively challenging assumptions so that you can better understand the value of an idea or adapt the value accordingly for the greater success of your company.

For example, a new idea is recorded that states a value of $1,000,000. The first step in challenging assumptions is using open-ended questions.  Open-ended questions allow you to ask questions in a non-confrontational way. Examples of open-ended questions include: What led you to that conclusion?; What do you think the level of uncertainty is?; What is your riskiest assumption?; and What information do you need to validate this?

The second step is to validate the answers. For example, if the revenue value of an idea is $1,000,000 and based on a conversation rate of 6% but the average conversion rate for products in the field is 4%, then the calculation of value should be adjusted lower accordingly. Alternatively, if the idea uses the same potential population of potential customers as the first product that entered the field, then it is less likely that the second product entering the field will have the same potential customer size. 

The third step is that you must challenges the assumptions of all ideas fairly and equally. By having reasoned conversations about those assumptions and ironing out the differences, you can get a consensus on the value so they can be fairly ranked. When the value is subjective, gut feel, those discussions can turn negative and the organization may end up putting their valuable employee effort onto lower value ideas.  Inversely, the more willing and the more objectively you challenge assumptions, the more likely you will put your employee effort to good use on high-value ideas and greater success for your company

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Agile Brevity

When working within an Agile context, there is an emphasis on getting work done and meeting the outcomes of the customer needs. The work is typically structured around various Agile ceremonies depending on the methodology or process a team is using. Key to these ceremonies is to keep them concise. In order to do this, often timeboxing is introduced. However, timeboxing is only as effective as the people’s abilities to keep their discussions concise. I call this technique “agile brevity”.

What is agile brevity?  It is a speaking technique that is both art and skill focused on keeping one’s comments as clear, concise, and value-added within the context of the session at hand. This means that the brain must be hyper-focused on the context and purpose of the session and speaking with agile brevity within that context.  It then means that the person must consider what is the most important thing of value to say that will help progress move forward. This leads to more productive and collaborative working sessions. 

Consider the Daily Stand-up. It is meant to be applied at a team level (~7 people) and take no more than 15 minutes. This means that each person has approximately 2 minutes to communicate progress and impediments. Teams new to the stand-up usually takes much longer than 15 minutes to get through their progress as they don’t yet have experience of being brief. Agile brevity means that they must consider what is the highest value information to communication the progress from yesterday, the highest value information that focuses on the work today for potential collaboration, and the specifics of any impediments so others understand it enough to potentially help, all within a very timely manner.  

Agile brevity also applies to Refinement and Sprint Planning ceremonies. Within the context of these ceremonies, there is typically a timebox on how long is spent on each user story. As there is less structure in refinement or planning ceremonies than a daily stand-up, the hyper-focus of crisply asking the right questions to understand the user story is even more important.  The other attribute of agile brevity is determining if your question or information is of greater value than another person’s question or information. In other words, many factors should be quickly swirling in your head before you speak. 

Agile brevity is a combination of art and skill keeping one’s comments or questions as clear, concise, and value-added on the topic at hand as possible. It keeps people mentally focused, keeps working sessions tight and to the point, and ensures the highest value information and questions get discussed. While its called “agile brevity”, it isn’t specific to Agile and can be used to make any ways of working more efficient, effective, and value-added. If you find your working sessions often running long, consider trying this technique.