Planview Blog

Your path to business agility

DevOps Teams, Project to Product Shift, Value Stream Management

DevOps Enterprise Summit, Europe 2021: Leadership and OKRs

Published By Patrick Anderson
DevOps Enterprise Summit, Europe 2021: Leadership and OKRs

The European leg of the DevOps Enterprise (Virtual) Summit 2021 returned last week (17-20 May) as the community reflected on a year like none other. Set against the backdrop of “the largest economical crisis in a century and largest health crisis in a lifetime”, as Gene Kim emphasized in his introduction, DOES has never felt more necessary. 

There was plenty of positivity in the (virtual) air as speakers and attendees shared stories of heart, ingenuity, courage and resilience. The event captured the mood of the industry perfectly; that with a bold and creative mindset and by pulling as one, profound change really is possible – and exciting.  

Pieter Jordaan, Group CTO at TUI, set the tone in the inaugural session. In just six months, the organization was able to consolidate its whole business onto a single digital platform on the cloud. The key to this accomplishment was radical thinking in the face of adversity. “If we’d followed the textbook, it would’ve taken us ten years to complete.” 

Jordaan underlined that a huge driver in his company’s remarkable transformation was executive buy-in, which is about “more than just money”.  Rather, it’s about a fundamental change in the way leadership thinks and makes decisions. That means reading the books, changing the perception of failure, and focusing on incremental improvements to the biggest problems they currently face. 

The right leadership was a common thread that weaved across a lion’s share of the sessions. Dr. Chris Strear shared a remarkable story about applying the theory of constraints in healthcare. With the support of the president at a trauma center, he spearheaded a flow committee to reduce long wait times across the patient experience. Through this initiative, they made incredible gains, such as cutting ambulance diversion time from 60 hours per month to just 45 minutes. Despite witnessing incredible success, the committee was disbanded when a new president came in and didn’t “see a flow problem”. Things quickly devolved, gains eroded and the ambulance times regressed to 60 hours. 

The right leader matters, as retired Admiral John Richardson attested. The admiral outlined why it’s imperative for organizations to develop leaders in-house. Citing the Navy’s “leadership factory”, he encouraged attendees to focus on tuning a system for building leaders, to give them the responsibility and ownership to hone their skills and come back “stronger” from missions. This devolution of power can ensure there are confident and creative thinkers at every level of the organization, emboldened by their experience and the trust placed in them.

The admiral would no doubt admire what Jason Cox, Director of Platform & Systems Reliability, is doing at Disney. The company’s “Technology Management Rotation Program” enables budding leaders who are “technically curious with an interest in business” to move across four areas of the business over two years. The program helps develop strong leaders who can build up a network of relationships and connections, broaden their understanding of the business and empower them to use technology to create amazing products for customers.

With visionary leadership a major theme, it’s unsurprising to learn that OKRs were another. OKRs (objectives and key results) are a popular management system for setting and reaching aspirational goals. Successfully harnessed by major digital innovators, OKRs translate urgent corporate objectives into meaningful goals for their business and technology teams. And their popularity is on the rise. Business agility guru, Jon Smart, revealed that since 2018 OKRs have overtaken portfolio management and balance sheet in Google search trends.

While Smart gave a concise overview of what OKRs are and what good and bad OKRs look like, our CEO and founder Dr. Mik Kersten shared a compelling case study into the role of flow in OKRs. While a strong advocate for OKRs, Mik emphasized that they must be used to accelerate the value, not slow it down and “snap teams back into waterfall planning.” 

In other words, OKRs should not become the bottleneck. They should not be used to micromanage teams, rather leadership should use them to drive a culture of continuous improvement and deliver rapid positive change. Used correctly and aligned with Flow Metrics to measure the flow of work against value stream work to cascade up to the boardroom, OKRs can surface system bottlenecks to improve the daily work of teams and the speed of value generated from the software portfolio.

As Justin Watts from Lloyds bank emphasized, this ability to quickly measure and glean leadership insights from the value stream is absolutely critical. In a session full of mic drops, Justin hammered home the importance of end-to-end system thinking and “time to learning” to adapt and continuously improve flow. He warned if you don’t think systematically, you can make things worse. That if teams are working in isolation, they can start to build a queue for someone else, impacting Flow Efficiency and Flow Load as work piles up and the thrashing and context switching begins.

The proof of the pudding is reflected in Watts’s fantastic accomplishments at the financial services company. A return to the basics of Agile and Lean thinking, a focus on end-to-end flow across the system and aligning technology teams with business outcomes has dramatically reduced turnaround for customer mortgage applications. Like Jordaan, another fine example of what can be achieved when leaders and teams work together with a clear purpose.

We’ll be sure to share Mik and our other favorite sessions as and when they come available. Please reach out if you want to know more about how Tasktop, the Flow Framework® and our VSM Platform are helping organizations to scale DevOps and transform in the digital-first world.

Q&A with Kate Chajka, Tasktop’s latest Flow Team Recruit

In the thick of the action at DOES was one of Tasktop’s Principal Flow Advisors, Kate Chajka, who shared her experiences of the event:

What would you say was a major theme(s) of the event? 

OKRs were a very popular topic, many are seeing the value in focusing on outcomes rather than just activities and outputs. The focus on mindset and people, not process.

What were your favorite talks? 

This is an unfair question haha. From a change agent perspective, there were an incredible amount of gems in Jon Smart’s AMA. 

I was most intrigued by the “Digital Thread” in Lindy Quick’s presentation for Northrop Grumman. Often there is interest in Value Stream Mapping, but this is very linear. There is then the notion of Value Stream Networks, but how do you simplify when you have all this process, huge complex organizations and systems. I want to dig into this further.

Any memorable quotes? 

Two from Lindy Quick at Northrop Grumman.

We delivered in two weeks what took three years previously” – in their first sprint, no less!

 “The value stream is the reason you exist” – Many really struggle with the concept of a value stream (due to 100 years of management practice focusing on silos possibly?). I think this quote may help people orient to the bigger purpose.

What was the biggest ‘Ah-ha!” moment for you? 

What an amazingly uncommon sense it is to visualize the left-hand side and focus on the why, the outcomes. This came up in almost every talk I was in with many different speakers and attendees. This is an area of huge opportunity. Also, it was a good reminder to be sure to speak in the language of our customers in order to be able to find a common ground.

What takeaways will you be looking to incorporate into your thinking over the coming months? 

Really helping where I can to focus on outcomes, understanding who our customer is, what that left-hand side looks like. Seeing where/how I can help simplify this and shrink the change so it is no longer dark magic. I will be looking more into the Digital Thread work. And I also see some huge opportunities to support change/release management, security and others to shift left. This is a somewhat side project of mine, helping innovate their roles into something completely new with the ability to make a large impact on business outcomes using flow metrics.

Upcoming Event: Ask Mik Anything  – June 2 

Building on the momentum of rapid response to the pandemic, enterprise IT leaders are being met with unprecedented support for accelerating digital innovation and emerging technologies. But internal clout can only carry a transformation so far. What will be different this year?

Join Tasktop CEO and best-selling author of Project To Product, Dr. Mik Kersten, on Wednesday, June 2 at 11am ET for a live ask me anything (AMA) session answering your burning questions on how to successfully navigate the way forward, including:

  • How do I start transitioning to product value streams?
  • What should I be measuring to track business value delivery?
  • How do we give the software delivery organization a louder voice in business strategy?

Register today 

Moving from Project to Product with Flow Metrics

It’s unlikely your organization can move successfully to a product-operating model without the right set of value stream metrics. DORA metrics alone won’t accelerate business value delivery, you need Flow Metrics to provide an overarching end-to-end view of the flow of software delivery work that creates and protects business value. Continuously surface and remove system bottlenecks to supercharge market response and adaptability.

Download this white paper to:

You’ll learn how the Flow Framework can enable the shift from project to product by:

  • Establishing consistent outcome-based metrics for your current and future state
  • Baselining how quickly your products are actually meeting customer needs
  • Setting targets for improvement and tracking progress
  • Continuously identifying and removing system bottlenecks in your product value streams


Related Posts

Written by Patrick Anderson

Patrick is Senior Content Manager at Tasktop and oversees the company's content and thought leadership programs. Outside the office, you’ll find him reading, writing, slapping some bass (poorly), rambling in nature and following his English football (soccer) team, West Ham United.