The Future of Agile

Here are some of the things Agile has demonstrated to be of value.

  • Having self-organizing small teams
  • Building incrementally
  • Taking an iterative approach

However, an organization is not merely a collection of small teams, it must also do the following:

  • Have a vision to guide what is built
  • Have collaboration across teams

All this means we need an ecosystem that illuminates the vision and allows teams to self-organize to achieve it. Continue reading “The Future of Agile”

How Frameworks Are Being Used Now Is Impeding Agile and What We Can Do About It

Part 1: Frameworks are taking our eye off the ball

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

How Frameworks Are Now Impeding Agile: Part 1

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

There is no question that Scrum & SAFe have transformed how we work. Both have created a new mindset around work- Scrum focusing on the importance of team & SAFe focusing on the necessity to coordinate teams.

And both have now created new challenges in somewhat the same manner. Each has taken our eye off the real task- working in an Agile manner. This is finding what’s of greatest value, allocating our capacity to work on it, properly decomposing it so it can be built in increments and being able to deploy frequently/continuously. Scrum’s focus on ceremonies has takes peoples’ eyes off of how they do their work – leaving it to the team with the unquestioned assumption that they’ll figure it out (& then blaming them for not doing Scrum if they can’t or change anything in their attempt).

SAFe has gotten management involved but mostly to demand that SAFe be done. SAFe is often led internally by agents who demand that SAFe be followed. Again, the focus is on the framework.

Frameworks were an excellent way to go when we didn’t understand the mechanics of Agile. We do now. We should attend to them or at least drive our frameworks with them.

How Frameworks Are Now Impeding Agile. Part 2 – Scrum

Take a look at the common challenges teams have when adopting Scrum:

  • not being able to write small stories
  • essentially doing waterfall in 2 week cycles-Scrumerfall
  • having many open stories at the end of the sprint
  • difficulties poised by being interrupted in a sprint
  • not being able to coordinate well with other teams

The similarities across widely variant dev groups is striking. Not a surprise since systems-thinking would predict this. While Scrum proponents claim “if you did Scrum these things wouldn’t happen” is likely true, what does that matter? People are doing their best.

We need to attend more to what insights & skills would help us avoid these challenges directly.

The above challenges are due to not attending to:

  • flow
  • managing work in process inside the sprint
  • the team’s part in the bigger picture

Yes, I know Scrum doesn’t say not to do these, but that’s not the same as saying to do them.

In the early days just getting teams co-located, cross-functional & working in small chunks was a major improvement. To go to the next level we need to shift our focus to the work & how to do it.

How Frameworks Are Now Impeding Agile. Part 3 – SAFe

Many people complain that SAFe is too complicated and doesn’t truly get management involvement. I would agree. But why is that?

Take a look at the common challenges organizations have with adopting SAFe:

  • little improvement beyond the program
  • little improvement in the area of portfolio management
  • difficulty resolving conflicting requirements given to platforms and shared services
  • a continuation of top-down management
  • too much work in play overall
  • not being able to get deliveries within a program increment

The similarities across widely variant organizations is striking. This validates systems-thinking’s assertion that the system people are in causes behavior. SAFe proponents claim it addresses the main issues & people just need to fill things in. I would suggest that the way SAFe addresses these issues prevents people from filling things in.

Pre-defining roles & artifacts takes our eyes off of the value stream and the work that is taking place in it. This is exacerbated by SAFe overloading and redefining terms.

In the early days getting a plan for a program & having teams work together towards that a major improvement. To go to the next level we need to shift our focus to the work itself.

How Frameworks Are Now Impeding Agile. Part 4 – The Solution

Actually, if you’ve been following my train of thought here, you’d know there is no solution. But there is an approach that will lead to a solution. It’s using Lean as an overall context for your work because Lean focuses directly on the work. Lean can help achieve business agility – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality.

Lean provides insights to shorten the time from beginning work until value is realized. It does this by starting with the question of what’s value to the customer? Then attending to the value stream so that we can improve it to eliminate delays in workflow and feedback. By attending to queues of work we can see where our bottlenecks are and improve them. Instead of overloading teams we have them manage their work by implementing pull systems. And, because we’re looking at improving our work directly we can continuously improve.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean we have to re-invent the wheel. All we need to do is look at the outcomes we need at each step of the way and select the best method for us to get there. This is true agility – figuring out how to solve our problems instead of taking canned solutions.

A Simple Solution to Agile at Small-Scale

I keep running across organizations with 4-10 dev teams struggling with Agile. They look to the two most popular frameworks out there for a solution (Scrum & SAFe) to solve their problems. On one hand they see something that can work at the team but doesn’t help them with their product management. On the other they see something much bigger than they need. They’ve fallen into a trap–looking for a solution instead of solving their problem

What are their problems? Most have trouble Identifying what has the greatest value to deliver, breaking it down into the right size business increments to give to the teams, coordinating their teams’ work, teams not being able to decompose the business increments they’re given into small stories, and building, validating and releasing the code quickly. These abilities should be their focus

When Agile Product Management provides guidance in what’s important, coordinating teams is straightforward. It’s easier to pull a rope than it is to push it. 2-3 days working on prod management, ATDD, a little Scrum and a little Lean is all you need. Invest here, it returns more value. And it’s less expensive. Proper training &coaching methods can get your product folks, 6 teams & their coaches working with Agile methods for less than $40k

Seeing Challenges in the Value Stream

In the same way that looking at the value stream helps you observe how value moves, looking at the value stream helps you discover challenges you are facing. Here are some of the most common challenges.

  • It takes too long to get anything done
  • Work is not properly prioritized
  • Chunks of work are too big
  • Too many things are in work
  • There are unclear requirements
  • Teams don’t understand the needs of the business
  • Some people have too much to do and are constraints on multiple teams
  • There is high technical debt
  • There are many integration errors
  • There is insufficient collaboration
  • Ops is blindsided and pulled in many directions
  • There is a lack of visibility of what is taking place

Often, these challenges are apparent when work is stuck in large queues just before the step where the problem is. Lean suggests that instead of focusing on how people can work faster, you should take steps to keep queue size down. Usually, this involves working on small batches, how you do work, and how you organize talent.

Why Agile Coaches Need to Know Both Scrum and Kanban



Scrum and Kanban are the two most popular Agile team-level methods available. While the difference between them is mostly thought to be sprint-based or flow-based, that is just one way in which they differ. Other significant differences include how to start, how to improve, and how people should be organized. They are based on different theories of how to manage software development work and whether you need to change your roles. And this creates other differences such include the amount of discipline to use them and the cultures in which they fit. Continue reading “Why Agile Coaches Need to Know Both Scrum and Kanban”

Want Some Free Advice on Solving Adoption Challenges in SAFe? Help Me with My Book.

I am close to finishing “Adopting SAFe® for Your Organization: Achieving Business Agility from Small to Mid-Scale.” We take our own FLEX approach (FLow for Enterprise Transformation) and apply it to SAFe to help solve virtually all of the challenges we’ve seen small to mid-scale organizations have when trying to adopt SAFe. The result is using the core of SAFe while fleshing it out with Lean-Agile principles and patterns of adoption to create a simpler framework, albeit perhaps no longer SAFe, to use.

The list of these challenges is at https://goo.gl/Zcx7cu
Please take a look at let me know about any others.

Why Net Objectives Is No Longer Providing SAFe Training

Why Net Objectives Is No Longer Providing SAFe Training

After 6 years of being a contributor to SAFe in technical Agility and Kanban, my having been the first SPCT outside of SAI and us being a SAFe partner, we are amicably breaking off our relationship with SAI. I believe that SAFe has expanded the understanding of Agile at Scale and incorporates many needed practices that are not found elsewhere.

The reasons for this move include:

  • SAFe has grown considerably more complex than it needs to be
  • Many small- to mid-scale orgs (technology <1000 ppl) are looking to Essential SAFe even though it is not a good solution for them
  • Many orgs are looking to take “SAFe out of the box” which has never been our approach
  • SAFe training is not tailored to the size of the organization that will use it

While taking Implementing SAFe 4.6 a couple of weeks ago I realized that SAFe and Net Objectives are on divergent paths. We like to work with small- to mid-scale companies that want a focus on their specific challenges and not just adopt a canned solution.

We will continue to offer consulting and training to those who do SAFe using our own materials.

If you want to see how we do Agile at scale, check out The Essence of FLEX (FLow for Enterprise Transformation). If you are still interested in SAFe, check out these two articles from my upcoming book Achieving Business Agility at Small to Mid-Scale:

The State of Agile, overview of a 5 part series.

This is an overview of a 5 part series starting tomorrow.

Agile adoption is often more difficult than it needs to be because most people settle for pre-packaged frameworks instead of what their particular org needs. This has people focus more on a framework than on the actual skills their ppl need to get the job done. Follow up training for these skills (eg ATDD) usually doesn’t happen. Resistance often sets in because people are put back in their jobs with higher expectations but no higher skills. This is made worse if the framework doesn’t match what’s needed close enough.

What keeps this in place is the focus on certification. While a good amount of what works in one place does work in another, the transition to these practices takes one of several paths. Many consultants offer only one type of framework, forcing them to push it only & blame their clients for not following it if it doesn’t work

What’s needed is to be guided to understand their problems, the root causes of these problems and a set of proven practices that can solve them. This is harder to manage, but the results are worth it & the cost is much less over the long term. It is also more likely to be sustainable as people actually learn the skills needed.