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Better Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes: Guided Continuous Improvement

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In our previous blog, Continuous Improvement Through Experimentation, we worked through how teams can evolve their way of working (WoW) through experimentation and kaizen.  Figure 1 depicts the logic of a single pass through a Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle for doing so. The team identifies a potential way to improve their WoW, they experiment with it for a bit, they assess how well it worked for them, then they keep what works well and drop what doesn’t.

Figure 1. Continuous improvement through experimentation (click to enlarge).

Experiment to evolve your WoW

Figure 2 shows how the effectiveness of a team’s WoW rises over time via this experimentation-based strategy.  When an experiment with a new technique works (the experiment is successful) the team’s effectiveness increases.  When an experiment “fails” their effectiveness dips for a bit but then rises back to where it was once they go back to their previous WoW.

Figure 2. Team effectiveness improves over time by experimenting with new WoW (click to enlarge).

Experiment to evolve WoW

So what can we do to improve on this? The linchpin is the very first step in the process of Figure 1, the identification of a technique to experiment with.  As you see in Figure 3, when we improve the likelihood that a technique will work in our situation then our effectiveness rises faster due to more successful experiments.  We call this guided continuous improvement.

Figure 3. Guided continuous improvement increases the chance of successful experiments (click to enlarge).

Guided experiments to improve WoW

It’s a simple idea – with better process decisions we achieve better process outcomes, as you can see in Figure 4. There are three ways that you can do this:

  1. Hire an experienced coach (and listen to them). Although it can be
    hard to find an experienced agile coach they do exist and if you’re lucky enough to have one then follow their guidance.
  2. Apply the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit. There are several ways you can apply the DA toolkit to help you to make better process decisions.  Instead of prescribing the “best practices” you must adopt, DA instead advises you on process-related issues you need to think about and the options available to you.  Such issues include what you should consider when choosing a lifecycle, what you should consider when forming your team, and what you should consider when addressing changing stakeholder needs (to name a few important things). The DA toolkit then presents you with potential options and the trade-offs associated with those options.  This gives you an idea as to what techniques you might want to experiment with and what is likely to happen if you do, enabling you to make better process decisions. This site overviews these decisions, as you can see by following the previous links, and the book Choose Your WoW! summarizes the trade-offs for Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD).
  3. Both of the above. Good coaches have the humility to recognize that they don’t know everything, and will leverage the DA toolkit to help your team to make better decisions about new ways of working (WoW) to experiment with.

Figure 4. Team effectiveness improves at a quicker rate with guided continuous improvement (click to enlarge). 

Guided continuous improvement works better

Continuous improvement, evolving your WoW through experiments, is a proven way to achieve lasting process improvement. Lean practitioners have been doing this for decades and virtually every DevOps case study advises you to evolve your WoW this way. Guided continuous improvement takes it one step further and streamlines your experimentation efforts.


For more information about choosing and evolving your WoW, we humbly suggest that you consider reading our book Choose Your WoW! A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working. If you want to succeed at enterprise agile you need choices, not prescriptions.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: January 25, 2019 11:26 AM | Permalink

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