Becoming Agile isn’t simple. Although many think all that’s needed is a System of Delivery, like Scrum or SAFe, in large organizations, it’ll take much more than a new process, or culture shift to Transform. But without the right foundational ecosystem and systems in place to enable Agility, achieving it is nearly impossible
The three systems necessary for Agility are a System of Delivery, System of Transformation, and System of Sustainability. They all work together to enable you to define your process, make it measurable and repeatable so you can fully realize the benefits of Agile, and then how to continually change and adapt to sustain your Agility.
As an industry, as a community of practitioners, one of the things that we tend to focus on is proceduralizing how the work is going to get done once we’re already in this future state. And leading Agile, one of the things we talk about is we call that the system of delivery. So if you think about things like scrum, you think about things like SAFe, large scale scrum, disciplined Agile delivery, those things are fundamentally systems of delivery. It’s how the work is going to get done.
Now, I might extend that out and, if I’m thinking about a full-blown system of delivery, I’m thinking about, not only the processes, but I’m thinking about what are the organizational structures? What are the business capabilities? How are we going to organize around the business capabilities? What are we going to do with the technology architecture? How are we going to govern the flow of value? If you think a lot about what safe is, safe is fundamentally a particular reference implementation of a governance model that is designed to flow work through agile teams. It’s what safe is. It’s a system of delivery. It’s a way of governing. LeSS is a way of governing.
And so, the system of delivery encompasses things like how we’re going to form teams? How we’re going to flow backlogs through teams? What are we going to measure? What are we going to control? How are we going to make economic trade-offs in the face of scarce resources? Those kinds of things. So that’s system of delivery, but what’s interesting is that even though there’s debate, maybe, even we might even consider them methodology wars. I don’t know if that’s a thing, so much, anymore, if people are still fighting over this stuff. But it’s the system of delivery stuff is fairly well understood, at this point. Super valid, it’s a first-order concern, it’s a conversation, but it’s fairly well understood. And it’s just a matter of figuring out what are the outcomes you want? What’s the system of delivery you would like to have?
But then, the key is, is how do you create the appropriate ecosystem for that system of delivery to, basically, realize the business benefits that you want out of it? And Chris actually coined the term. Chris Beale, one of the guys that’s going to speak later on today, the idea of a system of transformation. And so, there were a lot of things that we were doing internally within leading agile and on our engagements to actually help organizations transform. But then, we started to recognize that there were patterns. If anybody’s at our website, or if you’ve heard me speak in the past, we talk about the four quadrants. We talk about expeditions and basecamps.
But what was fascinating is we were learning this stuff, and as we were trying to figure it out, it’s a really interesting concept to get your head around. And so, what we found that we had to do is we had to really define what the base camps were. We’re going to get predictable, then we’re going to do patch size, and we’re going to break dependencies, then we’re going to do team level investment decisions, and then we’re going to figure out how to do more lean kinds of startup. So we defined this progression.
Then we found out that that wasn’t sufficient, and then we invented this thing called outcomes-based planning, and we started thinking about, “Okay, in order to get predictable, what are the 10 or 12 leading indicators of that. That if we do these things every couple of weeks, we achieve these outcomes every couple of weeks, that we know that we’re making the progression towards it?” Well, if I’m going to achieve these outcomes, what resources do I need? What skill sets do I need? What people need to be brought to bear? What guidance do they need? All that kind of stuff.
And what we found, through doing this, and the impetus for us was, as we were growing and hiring people, we had to get our consulting team consistent, but we also had to get our clients on board with how to do it. And what we found out was, very much like the system of delivery, the system of transformation was largely definable and repeatable as well. And so, what was fascinating is that we have this idea of what the end state looks like, the system of delivery, but we know that there are organizational changes that have to happen to connect the team level execution out to the business. So we’re elevating this conversation with the business people, and there’s this thing that now emerges that’s called a system of transformation, and a repeatable process for how you get from Point A to B.
So that was fascinating. And then, the third piece that we’re talking about is the idea of a system of sustainability or a system of continuous improvement. How people want to put Agile into their organization and lock it down and never let it change? That’s supposed to be funny a little bit, right? Because we’re all Agilists. The reality is, is that happens a lot, so we want to define the process. We want to codify it into something. And then we say, “Okay. Well, this is the business architecture. This is the system’s. This is all the different things we want.” And then we want to say, “Okay, it’s done now.”
The reality is, is that organizations are living breathing ecosystems, and their business drivers change, their customers change, the technology changes, the business capability changes. And so, what we’re seeing in some of our longer-term clients is the need to establish a system, an ability for ongoing change and ongoing adaptation. So this idea, system of delivery, system of transformation, and system of sustainability.
Here’s the fundamental hypothesis around it. Is that, if we can acknowledge that what we started to do 20 years ago with Agile is the beginning of a conversation. That we’ve largely done it somewhat poorly over the last 20 years. We’ve probably burned some political capital with our business partners. We’ve made some promises that we haven’t delivered on. But this was all a necessary part of the evolution of the conversation. We actually had to learn these things in order to be able to understand where this goes. If we can acknowledge that, acknowledge where we’re at, as an industry, and then we can start to say, “Okay. Let’s broaden the conversation, and let’s talk about the breadth of the kinds of organizational things that need to happen in order to be able to achieve the outcomes we want.” We need to be able to have structural agility. We need to have procedural agility. We need to have cultural agility. We need to have transformational agility.
We start to build credibility with our business partners, and with the people that are outside the product delivery organization, or even if you’re doing Agile in a non-IT context, we start to build credibility that we have a thought process and a pattern that’s more than just T-Mobile scrum or safe. We can start to have a very, very real conversation about that. And then, we pivot into let’s define the system of delivery. Let’s get everybody really clear and really aligned around what it is that we want to do, and point towards a true north something that we can say, “This is what it looks like when we’re done.” We can start to articulate a system of transformation that says, “This is what it’s like when we’re going to get done, but this is what it’s going to look like as we get there.” This is how we’re going to measure. This is how we’re going to prove that we’re making the right level of progress.
Connecting the dots out to the business every step of the way. And then, once we’ve achieved some baseline level of agility, how we’re going to make sure that we’re not sliding backward into non-Agile, non-Agility kinds of things. That’s the system of sustainability. And so, I think if we’re able to do that, we have a broad enough context to be able to walk into any situation and to say, “This is what it’s going to take. This is how you’re going to get the business results that you want.”