In a time when business agility is legacy-defining, today serves as the perfect time for technology leaders to revise their Agile practice. For many organizations, the ability to absorb and adapt to the changes caused by the pandemic is a leading indicator of how Agile they really are. Despite heavy investment in the practice and enabling technologies, have you, like what Justin Watts experienced at Lloyds Banking Group, lost the thread of what Agile is really about? If so, you may want to follow Watts’s lead and simplify your Agile strategy by basing it on end-to-end value stream flow for a “constancy of purpose”.
In simple terms, agility is about:
- Pivoting quickly in the face of change
- Achieving maximum efficiency by creating more value with fewer resources and inefficiencies
- Ensuring that technical agility (accelerating the efficiency, productivity and throughput of product development teams) works in tandem with business agility (rapid market response, achieving business outcomes, producing more business value sooner)
- Closing the feedback loop with customers to continuously test and validate hypothesizes to continuously learn and improve the value delivered
Watts’s journey at Lloyds lays bare the shortcomings of “doing Agile” instead of “being Agile”. It highlighted the issue of performing Agile ceremonies like Scrum without seeing an impact from the business POV (e.g. executing in two-week sprints but producing outputs that don’t drive targeted business outcomes). It underlined the fact that localized improvements at a team level, or at a particular stage in the value stream, do not guarantee improvements in the eyes of the customer.
“Flow,” defined as the movement of business value from customer insight to product delivery, is a fundamental prerequisite to Agile success. Surfacing and visualizing the end-to-end workflow is a foundational requirement for enabling companies to master software-based solutions at scale. To take Agile forward, you first need visibility into flow.
Haydn Shaughnessy, Fin Goulding, Mik Kersten, Why You Should Be Talking Less Agile and More Flow, AgileConnection
Flow Time and Speed of Innovation
Consider this example shared by Watts, who understands that flow is a fundamental prerequisite to Agile success. The bank was looking to reduce the cost of mortgage procurements for customers. Various efforts to optimize different stages of the process had only seen costs continue to rise. Only by focusing on the speed and predictability around end-to-end flow to the customer could they begin optimizing the whole process from request to delivery and back through the feedback loop.
By measuring Flow Time—the time elapsed from when a customer filed an application until it was approved—Lloyds was able to review the mortgage value streams and the systems that underpin them. This review surfaced multiple handoffs across various organizational siloes, which once removed, reduced time-to-value from the customer’s perspective. The success of this initiative is now enabling them to scale this value stream approach across their portfolio, accelerating their speed of innovation.
This story illustrates how a clear business case can win the crucial support of executives. As Pieter Jordaan, CTO of TUI Group, emphasizes, fundamental business change requires a fundamental change in leadership. And for that, leadership needs to tangibly see how technology modernization drives business modernization to buy-in. The Lloyds story is also a powerful reminder that marrying technical agility with business agility requires alignment and coordination across all areas of the organization.
The most recent State of Agile report found that while 54% of businesses are doing Agile and maturing, only 5% of those surveyed saw an improvement in adaptability. One of the biggest challenges cited by respondents, alongside the ever-present issue of resistance to change, was the lack of leadership participation. This sentiment was echoed in Accenture’s recent The Business Agility Report, where respondents rated their business agility significantly higher when the c-suite or board of directors lead the journey.
One of technology leaders’ main priorities, therefore, must be looking at ways to bring business leaders to the table with meaningful data-driven stories. According to the Accenture report, organizations with better ways of working noted more team and value stream focus, a reduction in handoffs, and exponential reduction in delivery time and costs. They also emphasized the need for relevant metrics that identify inefficiencies in customer value streams. Never has the need for end-to-end value stream metrics that focus on the flow of value to customers been more pressing.
Measure Your Flow, Track Your Agility
Many Fortune 500 companies and other large-scale organizations are using Flow Metrics and portfolio insights to track their Agile journey. They’re using these specific end-to-end value stream metrics to improve their time to learning about how value is flowing and what’s impeding that flow, in order to continuously shorten their time to value.
Flow Metrics—from Dr. Mik Kersten’s pioneering Flow Framework® for practicing Value Stream Management (VSM) for software delivery—measures the flow of value across software product value streams against defined business results. They are calculated on four Flow Items, which are units of work that matter to a business:
- Features: New business value
- Defects: Resolution to quality issues
- Debt: Removal of impediments to future delivery
- Risk: Mitigating security and compliance issues
Any task or effort a software delivery organization undertakes can be categorized as one of these core Flow Items. Flow Metrics alone, however, do not help an organization accelerate value delivery. Flow Metrics must be evaluated against business results, the desired outcomes of all this investment. Each value stream is likely to have different desired business outcomes (such as customer usage, retention, employee happiness and so on).
While these insights help alleviate many of the issues plaguing teams, they can also help inform leadership of other specific problems undermining their Agile practice. All enterprise Agile frameworks are based on Lean theory, but most organizations fail to implement those principles in practice. Consequently, they revert to old ways of work and allow all forms of waste to creep back into their workflows and processes.
With Business Agility and Market Response metrics in Tasktop Viz®—the only turnkey solution for real-time Flow Metrics—leadership can identify which value streams are doing Agile but not being Agile, highlighting the gap between theory and reality:
- Which product teams suffer from neglected WIP, biting off more work than they can complete. This is a result of perpetuating Waterfall’s push mechanism instead of a Lean-Agile pull mechanism for work intake, which ends up creating an unstable system with unpredictable results
- When will products realistically have capacity for new work, based on their current workloads?
- How many products and which business processes can anticipate longer flow times: Feature to cash, Defect to resolution, Risk to mitigation or Debt to pay-off?
Tasktop Viz helps your Agile journey:
- Close the gap between doing Agile (transition from Agile training, certifications and ceremonies) to being Agile (being capable of rapid market response)
- Arm Agile coaches with insights that develop a culture of continuous improvement that generate tangible improvements to time-to-market and velocity
- Enhance agility by identifying who needs more empowerment, enablement and coaching
- By alerting you when waterfall habits start creeping back into product teams’ daily work and undermining the lean-agile practices advocated by their adopted Agile framework (like SAFe®). Read more here
- Encourage employees to find ways to improve their own work and adopt an Agile mindset
Start Being Truly Agile
Our core mission at Tasktop is to help large-scale organizations deliver more business value with software by giving visibility to leadership that is actionable for teams. We want to help business and technology leadership better support their teams and build on their accomplishments over the last year. Through the Flow Institute—an online VSM training program and community—we can help you put flow at the front and centre of your digital journey to accelerate market response and adaptability.
Download the Technology Leader’s VSM Playbook to learn the 12-steps to running a high-performing technology organization within a large-scale enterprise and how to get started.
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