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Agile Program Management, Enterprise Agile Planning

Are these Agile transformation blind spots holding you back?

The difference between Agile practice and Agile blind spot isn't always so clear.

Published By Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell

It’s common to encounter blind spots when you’re navigating an Agile transformation. But it’s not always easy to identify them.  

Blind spots are often shrouded in good intentions. They can show up as Agile practices that are meant to improve business agility but are applied so extremely that they end up making organizations less agile.  

The trick is knowing the difference between blind spots and healthy Agile practices.

In this blog post, you’ll learn about five common Agile transformation blind spots from top management consultant Dr. Klaus Leopold.

Klaus is a computer scientist with more than 10 years’ experience as a consultant for companies across the globe. His focus is on offering a way for organizations to find their individual path to more business agility. As an author, he has written two standard works on Kanban — Practical Kanban and Kanban Change Leadership.  

I sat down recently (and virtually, of course!) with the co-founder of Flight Levels Academy and LEANability to discuss the challenges facing organizations as they scale Agile. Thank you, Klaus, for sharing your experience with us!

Let’s dig in to the five blind spots that could be holding back your Agile transformation, and discover a few effective ways to address them.

1. Hyper Focusing on Agile Teams 

Agile delivery teams are the execution arm of the Agile transformation. It’s natural for organizations to want their teams to be as efficient, productive, and successful as possible. But as Klaus points out below, hyper focusing on Agile teams can be short-sighted, if their work isn’t coordinated. 

“Imagine you are typing a letter. You want to finish it faster, so you strike each and every key totally fast. The thing is — you may strike the individual keys faster, but you won’t necessarily write the letter faster. 

It’s not so important that you hit the keys totally fast. It’s way more important that you press the right key at the right time. 

In many ways, scaling Agile is like typing a letter. High-performing teams are important, but coordinating teams is essential. It doesn’t matter if all your Agile teams are high-performing if they’re not working on the right things.” 

Read Next: Agile Teams: Dependency Management and Visualization 

2. Breaking Down all the Silos 

Many leaders set a goal of designing the perfect organizational chart to propel their Agile transformation. This often includes an intent to break down silos. But as Klaus explains below, silos aren’t the culprit that some make them out to be — as long as there is coordination among the silos.  

Essentially, you do the best you can with cross-functional teams that have different skillsets represented on each team, and *then* drill intersections between the silos for specialization. 

“A silo is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a type of specialization. And no matter what you do in knowledge work, there will always be a certain degree of specialization because not everybody is doing the same thing.  

The key is to drill interaction holes between silos so we can coordinate across all the silos to deliver value to the customer.  

What matters most is value delivery to the customer. And what we want to do is not break all the silos in an organization, but span across different silos. We need to coordinate if we want to deliver value to the customer.”  

Read Next: What is Value Stream Mapping? 

3. Over Indexing on Strategy and Delivery 

It’s one thing to know where you want to go and to have the Agile delivery teams to get there. But it’s another thing to align your strategy to the team level so the right work gets done at the right time. This is where the Agile program level, is essential. It’s a key element for success with scaling Agile, as Klaus briefly explains below. 

“Many organizations have an idea of where they want to be in three or five years, and their operational teams are working on things every day.  

But most of the time, the strategic level and the operational level are not connected. 

There’s usually quite a huge gap between the two levels. Our flight level two (also known as the Agile program level) is the missing link. It actually connects these two levels in a way that answers for the operational level what they are doing today, tomorrow, and in the next two weeks as it connects to strategy. This level is where the coordination happens.” 

Read Next: What is Agile Program Management? 

4. Agile Teams with Non-Agile Planning/Funding

One of the hallmark benefits of Agile is being able to strategically pivot to meet the needs of your customers and the market. But if your Agile teams are still operating under annual planning and budgeting, then you can’t be truly nimble – and you are preventing your organization from delivering the maximum amount of value. Klaus explains below.  

“If we want to react quickly to changes in the market, we need to have a better approach than, ‘Okay, this is the list of projects for the next year. Finish these projects and have fun. See you next year in January again.’ That doesn’t work.  

It’s quite hard to be Agile if everything that an organization is doing is planned up front for a year or more.  

Because the thing is – without quarterly planning and funding decisions, Agile teams can deliver in two-week cadences, but they are delivering stuff from a business perspective that has been planned for one or two years already. This is maybe Agile software development, but it is not business agility.” 

Read Next: Lean Budgeting, Part 1: The Limitations of Traditional, Project-Based Budgets 

5. Measuring Outputs Over Outcomes 

Measuring progress answers serves two purposes for Agile organizations: It indicates if you are headed in the right direction and radiates a shared understanding of what you want to change. Many Agile organizations use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to standardize and measure progress, as Klaus outlines below. 

“Especially at the strategic level, OKRs make a lot of sense. You are shifting from the pure output perspective – such as the number of stories or projects done or stuff like this — to an outcome perspective. You shift to asking the question, ‘So what is the impact that we want to make?’ and ‘What’s the thing that you really want to achieve?’ or ‘What is the value we are trying to deliver?’ 

And then you ask the question, ‘How do we know that we are going into the right direction, and how can we measure it?’ For instance, maybe the goal that everybody agrees on is to improve our quality. But how do we see that quality is improving?  

We have to establish a common understanding if we want to know if we are on track or not. OKRs, in particular, are one kind of measurement which makes a lot of sense when we talk about strategic and outcome thinking.”  

Read Next: Everything You Need to Know About OKRs 

Know Your Blind Spots 

Knowing your blind spots now — and what to watch for in the future — plays a large part in helping you achieve a successful Agile transformation. Noticing them gives you the opportunity to think critically about what you need to change as you lead your organization in achieving sustainably fast, predictable delivery of value. 

You can learn more about how to scale Agile beyond teams with the eBook “7 Must-Haves for Achieving Scaling Agile Success.” 

German-language speakers can hear more from Klaus by watching the on-demand version of the Planview webinar “Business Agilität mit Flight Levels und mögliche Umsetzung mit Planview.” Click here to watch the webinar. 

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Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Written by Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Sr. Content Strategist

Liz is a content strategist at Planview. She worked at LeanKit prior to the company being acquired by Planview. With more than 7 years’ of Agile experience, Liz passionately believes in the transformative power that practicing Lean-Kanban principles can have on teams and organizations.