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Enterprise Agile Planning

Effectively Amplify the Benefits of Agile in Your Organization

Part 1: Maintain team autonomy, leverage lean principles, and organize around value

Published By Leyna O’Quinn


We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of Agile and how they’re used to help teams work smarter and more efficiently. Perhaps you already know how to implement a team-based Agile system that prioritizes innovation and continuous improvement. But do you know how to scale that system across an entire organization, so everyone in your company enjoys the same benefits of Agile?

One of the most challenging responsibilities of being an Agile leader is implementation at the company level. Creating a system that allows various teams with vastly different functions to enjoy the benefits of Agile is challenging on its own. But you also have to do this without diminishing the existing elements that make teams successful. Not only does it require you to introduce a new, unorthodox framework, it forces you to tear down departmental silos and unite departments under a common mission with shared objectives.

In other words, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Successfully scaling Agile requires you to be aware of various externalities that might not have been a factor when implementing Agile at the team level. These factors include elements like:

  • Autonomy: Teams work best when they can define their own processes and come up with their own solutions.
  • Flexibility: Teams have their own methods and tools they use to achieve their outcomes. Don’t force them to adapt to your Agile model; let them adapt Agile to theirs.
  • Dependencies: Scaled Agile inevitably leads to greater dependencies the more complicated the project. Prevent this from creating unnecessary friction and chaos by keeping an open channel of communication across the organization.
  • Collaboration: It’s only natural for teams to slip back into their siloed mentality. When that happens, teams lose momentum and problems will arise. Prevent siloed behavior by prioritizing communication across your teams.
  • Transparency: For Agile to run successfully, teams need to be accountable for their work. This only happens when you have a transparent workflow that lets you see who’s working on what, and what impacts each process has on your project as a whole.

Of course, understanding these factors and actually implementing a scaled Agile system that brings teams together under a common goal are two different things. Below are some tips to help you bring more cohesion and structure into your workflow, so that your entire organization can enjoy the benefits of Agile.

Maintain Team Autonomy

A big part of what makes Agile successful is its focus on autonomy. Nobody knows what is and isn’t effective better than the teams actually doing the work. Naturally, they should be the ones making decisions about how to complete tasks and foster continuous improvement. If your teams aren’t governing themselves, they’re not truly Agile.

If you’re already running Agile at the team level, you might have noticed that self-governing teams have higher levels of motivation and are more dedicated to bringing value to the organization. This isn’t a coincidence. According to behavioral researchers, it’s because autonomous teams feel like they have more control over their work and environment. Employees feel a sense of ownership over the improvement and innovation they deliver. You can learn more about autonomy and productivity by watching this presentation by Dan Pink.

Autonomy doesn’t mean that teams are completely free to do what they like. It has its limits. After all, one of the goals of scaled Agile is to eliminate departmental silos. For that to happen, teams need to communicate and work together. Even though Agile teams are autonomous, their decisions still need to be aligned with other teams to work cohesively. Read below to see how you can keep teams on the same page.

Amplify and Expand Agile Team Success Whitepaper

Improve Flow by Introducing Lean Principles

So, how do you make sure the teams within your organization are working together using the Agile method? By introducing Lean principles.

Lean is perfect for scaled Agile because it helps teams deliver fast, high-quality work by prioritizing continuous improvement above everything else. Let’s look at three Lean concepts for optimizing value delivery across all teams within your organization, so everyone can accelerate delivery and innovation.

1. Establish work-in-process (WIP) limits

Under the Lean approach, value is attained once a piece of work has been completed and the team has received feedback on it. Having too many Works in Process can prevent this completion from happening. When teams take on too many assignments at once, tasks rarely get completed and submitted for feedback.

WIP limits ensure that tasks are completed by preventing teams from starting a new assignment until the previous one is finished. Tasks get completed faster and teams receive feedback on their work, making it easier for all teams within your organization to work quickly and facilitate continuous improvement.

2. Set your priorities based on cost of delay

Cost of delay is an important Lean metric that lets you see how much value tasks bring your organization and how much these tasks cost your company when delayed. What’s great about this metric is that it lets you look beyond ROI and cost, allowing you to see the various ways delays and completions can impact your company. Because of this, cost of delay calculations are great for prioritizing work across teams, so that everyone maximizes their productivity and efficiency.

3. Decrease batch sizes

Batches are a group of tasks that are designed to move down the workflow as a unit. While batches are an inevitable part of product development, large batches should be avoided at all cost. They increase dependencies, making it more difficult to track the progress of work as it’s moving down the value stream.

Organize Around the Value Your Teams Deliver

When teams aren’t on the same page, priorities can quickly become chaotic. It’s easy for departments to slip back into their old silos, and before you know it, every team has a different objective in mind. You can prevent this from happening by making value the primary objective for every team within the organization.

Of course, value varies depending on the department and the team. But ultimately, value should be considered the element that drives innovation and improves the customer’s experience. Because as long as teams are working to create innovation and deliver constant improvement, they’ve already taken the first step toward working cohesively with other teams within the organization.

Get the Most out of Agile in Your Organization

The Agile method is one of the most effective ways to push your organization forward and deliver value. Because of this, many companies have adopted its framework to help them adapt to the fast-paced age of digital transformation. You can learn more about this approach and how to maximize the benefits of Agile by reading our whitepaper on how to amplify and expand Agile across teams. Also, continue learning by reading part two of this blog series.

Lean Portfolio Management for the Enterprise Whitepaper

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Written by Leyna O’Quinn Sr. Content Strategist

Leyna O’Quinn is a Certified Scrum Master and Certified SAFe Agilist. She has been managing the Planview blog strategy for more than 7 years. She writes about portfolio and resource management, Lean and Agile delivery, project collaboration, innovation management, and enterprise architecture. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about technology, industry trends, and best practices. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Marketing.