Project Management

The Agility Series

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The Agility Series focuses on agile and agility across the organization not just in software and product development. Areas of agility that will be covered in blog posts will include: - Organizational Agility - Leadership Agility - Strategic Agility - Value Agility - Delivery Agility - Business Agility - Cultural Agility - Client Agility - Learning Agility

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Guiding Principles for an Adaptive Organization

Reflections on 40 Years in IT - Agile by default!

InfoQ Podcast Interview of me on The Agility Series, Cultural Agility, and more

You might be a management red-neck if…

Strategic Debt  — What it is and how to avoid it

Guiding Principles for an Adaptive Organization

This is a bit of a different post for me.

My partner and I have crafted a set of Guiding Principles for an Adaptive Organization which I invite you to comment on in this thread.

The final version will be posted for download at www.AdaptiveOrg.com under a Creative Commons license.

All contributions whose comments are used in some way (meaning either directly or caused us to think about something differently) will be recognized in the final release.

So what would you change, drop or add?

Here are the principles (we thought ten was a nice round number): 

  1. Act with intent through clearly defined and transparent strategic priorities that are reviewed and adjusted based on the evidence and through collaboration inside and outside of the organization

  1. Recognize that becoming and remaining an adaptive organization is not a project, it's hands-on, with live experiments and adjustments until it becomes the way of organizational life

  1. Have fully engaged and clear-the-path leadership

  1. Recognize shared values and principles are the necessary ingredients for people to create and sustain aligned personal and organizational purpose and adaptability

  2. Recognize true organizational sustainability and resilience can only be achieved by becoming adaptive in action and in thought – we do (act) so we can train the adaptive muscle in our brain

  3. Have a strong focus on clients/customers and engage them directly to establish overall strategic priorities, and to achieve specific initiative goals

  4. Hire and promote the creative and productive power of gender-balanced, intellectually, and culturally diverse teams at all levels

  5. Create and support a fail-forward safe environment

  6. Provide collaborative workspaces that can adjust to the needs of people and the organization over time

  7. Recognize that organizational policies exist to support the achievement of organizational and client/customer desired outcomes. When there is a conflict, the outcome wins

These principles support one another equally in achieving mastery as an adaptive organization

 

Posted on: January 25, 2018 06:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Strategic Debt  — What it is and how to avoid it

Defining and delivering on a vision and strategy has been a hit and miss proposition for most traditional organizations for many decades. The reason for this is twofold.

First, traditional Industrial Era management thinking, and its accompanying models rely on the notion that we can use the past to predict the future.

The industrial era approach, often manifested itself in the 3 to 5-year strategic plan. The focus of this era was standardization (limited change), and mass production.

Secondly, this is not the reality of the Digital Era in which all organizations now operate. The current reality is constant and accelerating change from an ever increasing variety of vectors.

Yet, some still insist on trying to create the perfect plan to satisfy the perfectly indescribable problem.

This failure to adapt is creating strategic debt. Strategic debt, when left to accumulate, leads to the collapse of once vibrant enterprises in the private sector, and to the increasing irrelevance of organizations in the public sector.

Strategic debt is the deficit between the planned strategic goals and objectives that are set out at a point-in-time in strategic plans, versus the ones that emerge and evolve during execution. Such goals and objectives are both stated, and rightfully perceived, as hard targets. But what if the goal or objective statement is malformed, is the wrong one, or is no longer relevant?

Strategic debt accumulation is directly correlated to the time-gap between the point-in-time goals and objectives setting exercise and the time at which the organization begins to take a more adaptive and iterative approach to strategy execution.

Failing to accommodate changing realities while continuing to execute to the goals and objectives of a rigid strategic plan creates strategic debt, and since strategy sets the tone for the organization as a whole — the cost and associated risks are very high as the debt continues to accumulate.

To resolve this dilemma we need to iterate strategy in the same way we iterate product development that use frameworks such as Scrum. In this way, strategy undergoes a number of course corrections over time in an effort to achieve corporate value, similar to a sailor using tacking to make most efficient use of the wind.

Instead of casting our goals and objectives in stone in the form of specific strategic goals and objectives, we instead need to formulate them as statements of strategic intent.

A statement of intent is a statement that indicates what we are likely to do in the near future. Statements of intent are positive statements of the future you are trying to create, that are also intended to garner your personal commitment to their achievement.

Statement of strategic intent, which are statements of intent applied to a strategic context, can have any combination of near-term, medium-term, and longer-term components. They are expressions of the means by which we expect to achieve our organization’s vision. They are designed to provide context to the expected results that would be achieved if the vision were realized — without the how. How to achieve strategic intent is rightfully left up to the people who have to do the work.

As they are statements of intent, it also means we can both evaluate what we are about to do as well as the results from what we have just completed, against that stated intent; That is, it provides the opportunity to evaluate the intent itself, and to make needed adjustments based on new insights and experience. It also allows us to run experiments to validate portions of our intent before we make large people, time or financial commitments.

By using statements of intent, we are acknowledging that we might not have gotten it right the first time, or the second, or the third…It’s the relief valve that helps us to avoid creating strategic debt. It assumes strategy is indicative rather than fact.

To illustrate, consider the graphic below:

· Intended strategy is based on our statements of strategic intent.

· The deliberate things we do to achieve a given strategic intent become realized strategy (top line).

· There will also be statements of intent that we lay down that can remain unrealized for myriad reasons (poorly stated, not achievable, no longer relevant, etc.).

· And finally there will be that which emerges or evolves along the way that also get realized through deliberate action.

· So realized strategy is a combination of both deliberate and emergent strategy.

 

My partner Dan Murphy provides an example of using a statement of short, medium, and long-term strategic intent from his Cisco days; Larry Carter, then CFO of Cisco circa 1995 tasked his organization with closing the books world wide in two weeks instead of four weeks so that Cisco would have the financial data required to make better decisions. It took the team a few years to pull it off, but they did, by working in small tight iterations with small teams. However this was not a project at Cisco — it was a process. They kept going to continually refine and better the process providing continual improvement and delivery of value. Today, Cisco closes its books worldwide daily (effectively in real time). The intent was defined by Mr. Carter — not the how!

Posted on: July 10, 2017 12:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

The Cultural Agility Questions are now live!

The Cultural Agility Questions are now live!

I am excited to kick off the first round of questions on Cultural Agility which you can start to answer immediately by clicking on https://lnkd.in/d259Ny8

We will be closing the first round on March 31st with the second round to follow shortly thereafter. We hope to have both rounds concluded by mid-April so we can prepare to speak on the this topic at Spark the Change Montreal being held on May 11-12.

The questions can be answered by anyone so please share as widely as possible in your own networks - the more insights we get the richer our collective wisdom will be! Thank you so much for helping us spread agility!

 

Kindest regards - Larry

Posted on: March 21, 2017 07:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Outcomes Focused-Agility: Experience Report

In my recent post What? You don't know why you are doing your project?  I indicated that I would do a follow-up post on examples of where I have used the Outcomes approach successfully. As you recall, the post was subtitled "Outcomes Focused Agility - Story Mapping our Strategic Intent".

In this post, I'll provide two examples of where I have applied it successfully as well as provide an example of where I am currently using it with good success so far.

Procure and Implement a Learning Management System (LMS)

My role: had overall portfolio responsibility for guiding both the technical  and  business teams.

The Context

Several years ago I was hired by the Learning and Development group of a local government agency to help them procure and implement an LMS. They used to have all of their employees in one building. The situation was that employees were now in different cities, in different countries, and on different continents.

Most PMs would view this as an IT project and would proceed to begin developing the procurement documents, and then following the procurement, getting it installed and configured for use. And if they did that within the expected 18 month timeline and $2.5M budget we had, they would have considered the project a success. However, by the measures of value that really needed to be satisfied, they would have failed.

When you take an outcomes-focused approach, you start by asking why are they feeling they need to do this particular project? Ask why (along with what and how) enough times and you uncover all manner of actual need, many of which are left hidden using most project approaches. Over a period of the first 2-3 months of the engagement I helped them discover/recognize the following :

  • They had no experience, tools or process for developing on-line course content
  • They had no content management system
  • They had not considered what new services as a Learning and Development group they would need to offer their internal clients once the new way of delivering learning content was in place
  • They had not considered the governance of learning within their organization and what that meant to how they approached employee development

The Portfolio

There were many other things we uncovered by asking why, but the above gives you a good idea of the real problems we had to tackle, which far exceeded just procuring and implementing an LMS. Using outcomes-focused agility, we were able to define the real work we had to do to make the implementation of the LMS a success for them:

  • We identified 4 additional value-streams that had to be addressed on top of the one to enable learning delivery management (the role of an LMS fits in that value-stream)
  • We uncovered that five different software products were needed and not just the LMS
  • We realized we had to design new processes for governance, learning content design and development, learning content management, learning management delivery (where the LMS was actually used), and talent management

We used a Services Canvas I designed based off of the Business Model Canvas to help them figure what services they offered to the rest of the organization and how they would be measured.

Once we had the initial versions of the outcomes map and the Service canvas, wee would  place the latest iterations of each on our wall and leave stickies and pens on a table beneath them. Most every day stakeholders and team members would walk by and spend a few minutes looking at the canvas and map and use the stickies to leave questions, comments, and ideas. This enabled serendipity across the team and stakeholders - while one person was adding stickies someone else would invariably walk by and they would then have a conversation about the map and canvas and the content of the stickies.

Every few days we would collect everything and update the map and canvas and then hold additional brainstorming sessions with everyone. Both the serendipitous and brainstorming events enabled us to create a shared understanding of the why, what, how, who, when and where of our portfolio and it's various programs and initiatives with all of the required players as all of them contributed at different times and to different degrees to their creation. No one felt left out.

We used Scrum on each of the initiatives including the procurement process, for doing business process design and development, and for systems integration. We also introduced the idea of using an agile approach to learning content development for the new content that would need be created for the new LMS to deliver. Without suitable content there was no need for an LMS!

Having taken an outcomes-focused approach we also created the basis for value-based decisions across the entire portfolio for each of the products that would be created to satisfy each outcome. While Scrum assumes that someone else has already decided which products should be developed, outcomes-focused agility helps us determine which products have to be developed ( in this case learning content, business processes, an RFP, systems integration, etc.). It also helped us to establish the basis for value prioritization within each initiative and product so product owners knew the higher-level strategic goals that were to be satisfied.

Remember products themselves are just outputs. They are not outcomes, nor do they measure the benefits of what you have done, and hence they also do not help you understand why you are creating them. They do contribute to outcomes, but they are not themselves actual outcomes.

The Results

Here is a summary of some of the project metrics (sufficient time has passed that I can share these):

  • Planned:
    • $1M to procure an LMS
    • Projected total 10 year license cost $9.8M
    • 200+page RFP document was expected based on what a similar agency had done to  recently procure an LMS
    • Do this in one project
  • Actual:
    • $25K to procure the LMS which was only 2.5% of actual budget that was to be used for procurement
    • Projected 10 year license costs were $75k
    • An 8 page RFP document that explained the RFP process was used to drive procurement along with other tools we developed for the exercise - no vendor was allowed to submit paper-bound responses - only electronic response were permitted
    • RFP and vendor evaluations including board-room demos only took 5 days to select the winner
    • There were 7 initiatives that had to be completed as part of a portfolio within a total of 5 separate value streams
    • The portfolio was completed within the 18-month original window and the $2.5M budget

The Learning and development group also restructured based on the new services they were now offering and the processes that supported them. The new processes and the restructuring ideas came from the people who were most affected by it - there was no need for organizational change management as it was change by engagement and with the design being done by the entire team.

We managed to achieve far more real value delivery in  the 18 months than was expected and for the same money, hence, we were able to deliver what they actually needed, rather than what they had originally intended of simply procuring and implementing an LMS.

Build  and Implement a Professional Licensure Management System

My role: had overall portfolio responsibility for guiding both the technical  and  business teams.

The Context

A national professional association wanted to build a professional licensure management system. Again, this sounds like an IT project to most - after all we would be building a software product but in reality it was more complex actual scenario:

  • There were 12 regulatory bodies, the national association, and an examining agency all of whom had to be factored in to whatever was created
  • The national association only had a few employees up until taking on this initiative
  • They had no real internal infrastructure or hosting capabilities

The Portfolio

Using outcomes-focused agility helped us to identify:

  • Ten separate value streams
  • The need to add new physical facilities, procure network infrastructure, new hosting services, etc.
  • The need to stand-up an entire new organization to support and operate the eventual systems and infrastructure
  • The need for  pathfinder projects to standardize the licensure process across the various licensure bodies, to gain experience with the support model that would be needed,  and to investigate required self-assessment capabilities for those seeking licensure
  • Instead of just one software development project, we identified 27 separate initiatives across 10 separate value streams - in essence  a portfolio with 10 separate programs

This was way more than simply building a software product.  

The Results

A coordinated delivery was established across multiple years covering facilities, infrastructure, hiring, product development, as well as an organizational restructuring that would enable them to stand-up and support a national professional licensure management system.

Mature People, Process and Technology Capabilities

My role: portfolio leadership and agility mentoring

The Context

The last one I'll report on is one that I am currently engaged in to mature people, process, and technology capabilities. The particular team in this case is a technical team that connects business line capabilities to one another. They have been in existence for 4 years and started out as part of a larger project. They split off into a separate team to carry on the operational side  for their original development efforts as well as to do similar development work for other business lines.

With the prospect of doing work for many business lines instead of just the original two, we felt that we needed to put more formality into what the team does and how it does it. We have identified four value streams to answer the four main outcomes questions as listed below:

  • How do we govern it?
  • How do we build it?
  • How do we operate it?
  • How do we sustain it?

The team sits inside of a very large IT organization, inside of a very large government department, so the work they do has a high degree of sophistication as well as being of significant consequence to the business.

The team currently owns the entire development and operational support of what they build including at the platform level so we have to address topics such as:

  • Business and technical governance
  • Architecture
  • On-boarding of new portfolios
  • All facets of DevOps
  • Systems management
  • Business activity management
  • Re-platforming
  • Migrations of existing products to newer platform technologies

As there are multiple very sophisticated technologies in play, it is not just enough to know what you must do, but you also need to figure out which technology is the right one to use in each circumstance. As a result, in order to determine what we must do (the initiatives) to satisfy a given outcome, we have had to create and execute initiatives whose goal it is to help us sort out our strategy for the actual initiatives to support the identified outcomes.

The Portfolio

By asking the four key questions above we have so far identified 40 initiatives that we need to undertake. The ones that are developing strategies for their focus areas will lead to the addition of more initiatives once they are completed.

This is another of the hidden benefits of outcomes-focused agility as noted above - we can use strategy-development initiatives to both identify and define the initiatives we need to undertake to  achieve a given set of outcomes on the map, even after we have already started on the portfolio - now that is the ultimate in outcomes-focused agility! We have also had to tweak some of outcomes statements as based on what we have learned in some of initiatives we have delivered on so far.

When faced with such a high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity as this one presents for the team, outcomes-focused agility is proving invaluable in enabling us to do the things we need to do, rather than what we may have intended to do at the outset, across a very complex landscape.

The Results - so far

The fact that the goal of our work is to mature people, process and technology is not lost on us - maturing our people means constant inspection and adaptation to what we learn along the way. We are also able to adapt to new circumstances as they have emerged as we continue to do other work for the business lines.

We are also advantaged by constantly iterating our overall strategy, based both on the strategy initiatives we have identified, as well as the ones that are implementing those strategies, that in some cases, we have yet to define.

Another aspect of outcomes-focused agility is that it enables the portfolio team to more quickly assess the consequences of delays and changes in organizational priorities. Due to some external factors for example, we have had to revamp our outcomes delivery timelines within the portfolio.

In one example, we were able to assess the consequences of deferring some initiatives to a later FY on the basis of getting less money this FY. We were able to do this assessment in less than 30 minutes! All we were given was the dollar amount that had to be deferred.

Our map enabled us to make a value-centric decision as we already knew the relationships between initiatives, products, and outcomes (or results), and hence we could quickly determine which initiatives, products, and outcomes could be deferred while having the least detrimental impact on our overall strategic intent both in the short and long term.

Without these maps and their details, this would have taken days if not weeks for something this large, and even worse could have led us to defer the wrong things.

I have always ensured wherever possible that each of the  initiatives within an outcomes map  can be done within 3 months or less and that we use Scrum throughout. This incremental approach allows us to tackle complex situations in manageable pieces. It also allows us to re-vector our remaining work based on what we learn along the way.

We are very definitely seeing the value of allowing emergence to guide us by tackling things in small enough chunks, that even if something turns out to not be what we expected, our investment in each one is not that great, so our risk exposure is significantly reduced.

The Role of Emergence in Outcomes-Focused Agility

Emergence, as I discussed in Chapter 7 of Agile Value Delivery: Beyond the Numbers, is more than just about our architectures and design as described in the principles of The Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

It also applies to our understanding of the holistic messes we are solving that often contain many different problems as the examples above clearly demonstrated. In all of the above examples, it was never a single problem to be solved, nor a single project to be executed. I would suggest that this describes 99% of what we encounter in the real world, versus what is often attempted through single monolithic projects.  

Outcomes-focused agility directly supports this form of emergence, and also provides the context in which to story-map your strategic intent - even when you have yet to fully describe your strategic intent, as was demonstrated in the last example.

Understanding emergence, and how to leverage the opportunities it uncovers, helps us to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Outcomes-focused agility helps deal with emergence in a rational manner which then allows us to use and adapt multiple frameworks, practices, methods and techniques to achieve value-delivery.

We use what is most appropriate to the context of each single problem we are solving, rather than trying a one-size fits-all approach, or even believing that we are solving a single problem, as we rarely are.

One of the areas of outcomes-focused agility I have not yet attempted is to take the same focus towards the team itself - what outcomes matter to them? I hope to do some experiments with that over the coming months within my current portfolio.

Benefits Realization

Rather than address benefits realization under each of the above examples, I though I'd deal with it as a separate topic. For those of us familiar with outcomes-driven approaches, we know that the measure we use to determine the presence of our expected outcomes is to identify the benefits we would need to see in order to determine that the outcome was present. This is as I described it in Chapter 2 of Agile Value Delivery: Beyond the Numbers.

Outcomes cannot be directly observed. They are only observable through measurable benefits. Much has recently been written about benefits realization,  which is enjoying a noticeable resurgence of interest. However, without the context of outcomes-focused agility, we may end up focusing on the wrong things, and we still don't have a framework that facilitates our emergent and shared understanding in the face of ever-increasing uncertainty and ambiguity. Benefits realization by itself not enough.

Conclusion

Outcomes-focused Agility enables portfolio, program, and project teams to gain insights into both the magnitude,and the specifics, of what has to be done. It also provides executive levels with a high degree of confidence that we have thought things through enough at the front-end, without locking into solutions too soon, so that we can more fully create a shared-understanding of why we are doing things, and use that shared understanding to drive decision-making throughout and at all levels.

An incremental delivery approach through value-streams, and their associated programs within a portfolio framework, also significantly reduces financial, schedule, and delivery risks.

So we really don't have to plan or describe everything up-front. Recognizing this simple reality enables us to help the business and its customers/clients end up where they need to be, which may not be where they originally intended to be. And after all, isn't that what we all hope for?

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How to contact me:

  1. Send me an e-mail directly
  2. Follow me on Twitter: @cooperlk99
  3. Connect to The Agility Series Webinar Channel

Want to engage me and my friends:

  1. Check out our LinkedIn Group
  2. Check out our learning portal: www.MPlaza.ca - lots of free stuff plus some great courses on Scrum  and PRINE2 Agile. Go get The Adaptive Strategy Guide and Organizational Agility while you are there - both are FREE.
  3. We provide coaching and mentoring in Agile and Scrum for public and private sector clients. Contact me for more details
  4. We also offer classroom training  for Scrum.org courses plus other agile and Scrum training (http://bssnexus.com/education/)

 

Posted on: December 18, 2016 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Edge of Chaos: Missed it by that much...

The Edge of Chaos: Missed it by that much...

Previously published on LinkedIn.com

As a child growing up in the sixties and early 1970's one of my favorite TV shows was "Get Smart" (1965-1970) with Don Adams as Maxwell Smart from Control. Max and Agent 99 were constantly fighting the villains from Chaos. Invariably Max's bungling led to losing the small battles along the way to Chaos after which he would utter the iconic phrase "missed it by that much!" By the end of most shows Max, Agent 99, and Control would win out over Chaos (actually it was mostly Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) that outsmarted Chaos). 

It's a great metaphor for the world that most leaders and their organizations now find themselves in as they face the chaos of accelerating change coupled with ever increasing ambiguity and uncertainty. Some are trying to control the chaos from afar with multi-year plans while others are trying to exhibit control at the edge of chaos.

This concept is also at the heart of complex adaptive systems  (CAS) theory which states that in order to harness change with no anarchy, CAS strives to maintain a balance between the completely ordered, “frozen” regime and the completely disordered, chaotic regime, which is known as operating on the “edge of chaos” (McKelvey, 1999). 

The "edge of chaos" is also where we need to be in order to manage at the pace of change. Does this mean that we always should expect to be successful? Of course not.

In Agile we talk about the need to inspect and adapt which is based in empiricism - we adjust based on what we now know based on what we just did. When operating at the edge of chaos it is highly probable that we will miss the mark occasionally. We will, as Max Smart would say, have "missed it by that much!". And that's OK. 

In a prior post on Being a Servant Leader I talked about the role of a leader in creating a safe environment for their teams to experiment and try new things without fear. When operating at the edge of chaos failures will occasionally happen. It is not that they will happen, it is that how we react to them that matters.

Do we follow our Agile ways and inspect what happened and why and then adapt and adjust based on what we find or do we start apportioning blame? 

Based on the accelerating nature of change in the modern world can we afford to do anything else but inspect and adapt? To do otherwise would actually put us over the edge rather being on the edge. Inspect and adapt is one of the ways in which we can bring order to the edge of chaos.

Inspect and adapt does not mean pressing on in the face of overwhelming evidence that something is not working.

We don't know what we don't know. It is through doing that we uncover the things we don't know. In Agile we call this emergence. Most typically, emergence has been contextualized to the concepts emergent architecture or emergent design. But it also applies to the problem space as well - we devote Chapter 7 of our book to the different types of emergence. Inspect and adapt, when considered as part of an emerging understanding and clarity around the problem we are trying to solve, can enable us to respond in more considered ways to what we now know that we did not know previously.

This leads to the main point of this post. Leaders will often afford their teams the ability to fail and recover but not always themselves. This kind of bravado can be dangerous to both you and your organization.

So it is important that you also have the courage to acknowledge when you miss it by that much in front of your teams. This level of transparency, rather than leading to a perception of weakness, will actually embolden them to also operate at the edge of chaos. Your stature as a leader will increase if you do. 

Continuing to exhibit control at the edge of chaos by inspecting and adapting to your emergent understanding of the problem will enable you to eventually overcome the current chaos so you can move on to the next set of chaotic challenges. 

As a leader, do you allow yourself to fail and acknowledge it? Are you willing to say "I missed it by that much!"?

Posted on: April 28, 2016 07:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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