How Using MBIs Ties Strategies, the intake process, ATDD, and planning together

This is an excerpt from Introducing FLEX – FLow for Enterprise Transformation: Going Beyond Lean and Agile (online book). If you are looking for an alternative to SAFe, this is it. To those who’d like to study along with me as I publish this on linkedin, please ask to join the True North Consortium Linkedin Group where I will be happy to answer any questions or, even more importantly, discuss things you disagree with in the book. S

If you want to learn more about FLEX you can watch a webinar on FLEX, take an online course at the Net Objectives University or take a live course in Orange County, CA May 6-8 or in Seattle in June (both led by Al Shalloway). If you want to learn about how to adopt FLEX in your organization please contact the author, Al Shalloway

The concept of the minimum business increment (MBI) is key to Agile software development because it provides us with a container for all of the items required to realize value for a business increment. Its focus on being “minimal” provides us with the smallest batches possible, a practice proven to be effective. This alone would make them worthwhile. But they have another value, they tie strategies to the intake process, facilitate the use of ATDD and assist in planning. This chapter discusses both how and why this is so important.

Tying Strategies to the Intake Process

Business stakeholders and product managers provide the development group what to work on. Very often this is with the development group as they may be the originators of what to work on. By using MBIs, the development group gets smaller batches than they would otherwise. This is one of the best ways to manage work in process – have smaller chunks of work come in. The content of the MBI, that is, all of the tasks required to realize value, also provides the development group insights on who they will have to work with to get the software out the door and realize value.

Using MBIs to feed ATDD

ATDD is our recommended way to decompose and refine requirements. MBIs are containers of all of the features and stories that will be developed. By peeling off vertical slices from the MBI using ATDD, the MBI can be used to see what’s left to decompose while ensuring all necessary components of it are defined. By decomposing MBIs into features and then stories, teams also avoid features and stories that are bigger than needed. Without the MBI, team often work on an entire feature even though only part of it is needed for the first MBI.

Planning with MBIs

Big room planning in SAFe has people focus on getting features completed. However, features by themselves may not be releasable where they will provide value on their own. It is therefore possible to schedule features to be completed but not have something to release until the end of the program increment. It is better to schedule the completion of the MBIs, not the features. This manages work in process in a natural manner.

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