This post is going to go back over the past month’s posts and bring them together into a model I can use to discuss Big Agile. I took me a while to noodle this out so I haven’t posted in over a week. This approach is based on over two decades of improving performance in development organizations. The last decade has been spent working to explicitly articulate what I’ve done to consistently deliver results. It is amazing how much you learn when you take concepts practiced unconsciously and write them in a (relatively) concise format.
Many companies are dependent on technology to be competitive. Either because they deliver technology as their product or because technology enables the processes they depend on. For those companies it is important to be able to operate faster than their competition. This requires not only the ability to rapidly deliver technology – but the ability to adapt their organization. This is the concept of operating within your competitors decision cycle. The model I use to demonstrate this concept is John Boyd’s O-O-D-A model.
This is Enterprise Agility, when the enterprise has learned to leverage technology and change management to develop an energized workforce frequently delivering value that meets the emerging needs of the customer.
Three Concepts for Achieving the Agile Enterprise
I am going to build on three concepts in showing how to build Enterprise Agility.
1. Theory of Constraints. You can’t get there all at once. It is necessary to decide where to focus. You have to develop the underlying capabilities from the bottom up. If you can’t produce quality product, the best ideas in the world will run into problems. The way of thinking about problems covered in the management system the Theory of Constraints provides the method for deciding where to focus. Identify the current constraint, get the most out of the capability that is the constraint, subordinate the system to the constraint, elevate the constraint, and then continue to pursue this cycle. This “Process of On-Going Improvement” is applied to the flow of value to the customer.
2. Creative Solution Finding. Once we understand where to change we need to understand what to change to. We have to apply a method to lead the overall adoption effort that supports aligning the capabilities with the overall goals of the organization. The stages of Creative Solution Finding are useful for identifying the situation specific approach to developing this road-map. There is no magic sauce for developing this road-map. By applying the seven principles, along with a knowledge of applicable best practices, a useful road-map that fits both the process and social context of the Enterprise can be developed.
3. The Learning Organization. Technology development efforts are knowledge based efforts. As such, they are performed through a social construct. To improve the performance of software development we have to not only improve the methods of development, we have to improve the performance of the social construct. First the individuals on the team must be willing to change. While the People Design principle in Creative Solution Finding will help prepare individuals for change, their personal fears and concerns must also be addressed. Once the constraint is identified and a road-map for improvement is developed, the learning organization concepts in the Fifth Discipline are relevant. The right individual competencies must be developed on the team to do the job (Personal Mastery and Mental Models). The team has to be functioning well together (Shared Vision and Team Learning). And the Team has to be functioning in a way that is aligned with the goal of the overall system (Systems Thinking). The primary tool used to influence a social construct to create change and to improve performance is the conversation.
Discussing Big Agile
So the approach is to take the Big Agile capabilities, (1) provide insight to identify when a specific set of capabilities at a level of scaling are the current constraint, (2) leverage the solution finding model and best practices to define/refine the roadmap to move toward, (3) and then identify the competencies to develop and conversations that are necessary to execute the change. Then continue the cycle continuously.
This is the Big Agile improvement approach. It takes a model that I have been applying for two decades implicitly and evolving explicitly for the last decade. Clear direction combined with appropriate best practices and an effective adoption approach. All that’s left now is to build out the details of the capabilities, when they are a constraint, how to select appropriate best practices, and the conversations and change approach at each level of scaling for the model.