Lean Thinking

Dave Martin  

Dave Martin

We have now covered six principles -
They are built around small, self-organising teams

  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team has a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.

At this point we have everything we need to enable a team to operate in a really agile way. The team doesn't need anything else. So why are there seven principles?

The seventh principle isn't a team principle. It's a scaling principle. Very few organisations are able to deliver real value with a single team so the last principle kicks in when you don't have just one team but a team of teams, or a hierachy of teams all working together to deliver value. The first 6 principles define how you should set up your teams, the seventh principle defines how you should link them together -

  • The organisation should be self similar at scale

There are two ways an organisation can handle scale. They can do what most organisations do and add extra complexity to their processes to handle the extra complexity of scale or they can develop a simple pattern (like teams operating under the first 6 principles) that works and iterate that in a self similar way to operate at scale. Add complexity through extra processes or iterate simplicity through self similarity.

So, where are we now? Over the last few weeks we have looked at the first 5 of my agile principles -

  • They are built around small, self organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team has a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation

We have a pretty good setup going now - we have an efficient delivery engine (the team), a destination (the vision), a route (the backlog), a navigator (the content authority) and last time we added a clear service agreement, so the team and organisation know what's expected of each other. With this sort of structure they can really start to get things done. But there is still one more thing to add to make the team really high performing - the ability to improve.

This is where my sixth principle comes in -

  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.

When we left our hypothetical team last post, they had the first 4 of my principles applied -

  • They are built around small, self-organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team has a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly

They have their powerful delivery engine (the team), they have their destination in mind (the vision), they have their route planned (the backlog) and they have someone looking head and changing the route (and even the destination) if things change (the content authority). Is that all they need?

No (otherwise I would only have 4 principles not 7). The team is going to need some support from the organisation. Management support to help remove roadblocks, release funding appropriately, make sure the team has the right resources and so on. At the same time, the organisation needs to know that the team is going to get to its destination in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost. After all, this isn't a casual road trip; the purpose is clear - to deliver business value, and the organisation needs to know that the team is doing that.

This is where principle 5 comes in -

  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation

Last post we looked at the first three of my agile principles -

  • They are built around small, self-organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team delivers a regular flow of value via a well-defined backlog of work

This gives us an effective delivery engine (the team) with a clear destination in mind (the vision) and a clear route to get there (the backlog). All good? Not quite. If nothing was ever going to change, this would be all we need, but we know this isn't the case. When doing development work, and no matter what it is we are developing, we generally aren't travelling on well marked highways. Most development is, at best, navigating though a confusing maze of back streets and at worst, blazing our own trail through virgin country of varying degrees of ruggedness.

In any sort of development work, change is inevitable and we need to equip our team to deal with it. That's where the next principle comes in -

  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly

Last post I put forward 7 principles that I think every agile methodology should have. In this post, I'll be explaining (hopefully) what each of those principles means and why I think it is important. To recap, the six principles for a succesful methodology are -

  • They are built around small, self-organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team delivers a regular flow of value via a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.
  • The methodology is self-similar at scale.

So, let's start looking at these in more detail.

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