A pattern is a solution to a recurring problem in a context. Christopher Alexander, who created the concept, says :
“Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.”
In FLEX’s case, the context is achieving business agility – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality. This, of course, requires solving several problems with each of these problems being solved in a different manner. FLEX groups these patterns those patterns that solve the same conceptual problem. Hence it consists of pattern groups with each group consisting of a set of patterns that solve the problem associated with the group. The primary groups are:
Value stream management
Strategies, & initiatives
Patterns must include their purpose, the forces they deal with and their proposed solution(s). Patterns are also named in order to be able to identify them. This has the added value of improved communication.
With such a robust framework, the question becomes; how closely does an organization need to follow various SAFe practices to get the desired result?
[Essential SAFe] provides a starting point for implementing SAFe and describes the most critical elements needed to realize the majority of the framework’s benefit.
SAFe is projecting the word ‘robust’ (which means strong) on itself instead of using the more appropriate ‘complicated.’ This is merely putting lipstick on a pig.
SAFe’s complexity makes it hard to implement as a whole. There are many essential concepts in the higher levels, however. The choice becomes insufficient or overly complicated.
Essential SAFe has Mid to small size organizations (especially those within larger companies) lose the opportunity to solve one of their biggest problems – prioritizing what to work on. Claiming that one should start at the bottom is reckless.
The bottom line is that SAFe is an overly complex framework requiring one to start with only a part of it. But this violates what SAFe claims to be built on – systems-thinking and Lean. It also loses the opportunity of getting the higher levels involved quickly.
While I agree that complexity means that we can’t predict what’s going to happen when we make a change. But not having certainty does not mean there aren’t forces we have to attend to. It’s like driving. While complex, driving on the correct side of the road makes what happens both more predictable and effective.
What we must be aware of is that we may not get what we expect to happen. This is not failing but rather an opportunity to learn about learning the relationships between the people and actions in our organization. Some we don’t see well and others don’t behave the way we expect. But by considering what should happen contrasted with what does, we learn about these relationships when we get unexpected behavior. We can then take action based on this new knowledge.
It’s not failing when we learn fast in this way. It’s how we get improvement in complex systems and those that can go off course because of small misunderstandings and mistakes. The key, of course, is feedback, continual learning and creating a model of how things work we are always suspicious of. If all you do is inspect and adapt without creating a model of what’s happening you lose the opportunity of increasing your understanding.
It’s exciting to see how the competency of internal change agents is going up – many well above the average consultant. They don’t help in what to do as much of it being an issue of the time to do it
Turning to set training materials is often their only option. But using set materials without change is almost certainly not ideal for the organization. This makes it hard to adapt the method to the organization and avoid a “one-size fits-all” approach. While this may benefit the people selling the materials it is certainly not a benefit to the change agent
This is why FLEX has two courses:
1) FLEX for Change Agents. This is a 3 day course intended for people who will teach FLEX internally. Its high level agenda is:
Day 1: 1/2 day on FLEX, and a 1/2 day on doing an assessment to determine their organization’s challenges
Day 2: Full day on FLEX
Day 3: 1/2 day on how to use FLEX to create a starting framework that will work for their org, and a 1/2 day on how to teach FLEX
They then take a 2-day online workshop that provides the optional practices they need
At this point they can teach the 2nd FLEX course – Adopting FLEX. This is a 2-day course they teach to their organization that they’ve tailored themselves
A great way to illustrate this is to read imaginary certification question for a framework, vs how to get your work done. Which would you rather be able to answer? My experience is it takes about the same amount of time to learn either one.
There are six major actions that need to be in place in order to achieve significant improvement in an organization’s capability to deliver value quickly. These can be implemented in different ways depending upon the needs and culture of the company. These are:
Identify and prioritize the work to be done
Have an effective intake process to avoid pushing too much work onto the development group while ensuring the most important work gets done
Create clear requirements
Coordinate the work of the teams
Teams work together with a common cadence and frequent synchronization
Many consultants repeat the refrain that Agile is hard because change is hard, people resist Agile, and systems are complex. These are over-simplifications of what’s really going on.
While changing our personality is hard, changing the way we work is only hard when we don’t see what’s in it for us. Preconceived solutions imposed on us often appear as extra work and we resist it. When a solution is based on solving our challenges we are likely to embrace it.
Understanding Flow and Lean enables making reasonably good predictions on whether something will be an improvement. But the way people work together is complex, meaning there are unknown relationships and personal behaviors. These often block our intentions but expose themselves when they do. We can incorporate these insights into future improvements making them more likely to succeed.
I do believe the most coaches are well intended. But the above reasons given for dark Agile are self-serving and hide major flaws in Agile adoption – focusing on the wrong thing and teaching in the wrong way.
People can understand Flow and Lean principles when they are related to their past experience. The focus needs to be directly on our challenges and how to overcome them. Not a framework that on average may be an improvement.
I will quickly follow up this post with what we need to focus on.