Since publishing Project to Product at the end of 2018, one of my biggest frustrations has been seeing organizations investing significant time and resources in reinventing the wheel. To those who considered the digital transformation failures summarized in the book, it was obvious back then that there was little runway left before we started seeing the effects of the Turning Point wipe out organizations that were not prepared. I recently published a blog post on how COVID-19 has triggered the Turning Point. Organizations that do not act now to rebalance their software and IT portfolios to address the massive amounts of waste will not fare well in the scope of the recession or depression that every other Turning Point triggered. Nor will those that don’t shift from measuring only costs and proxy metrics to measuring and optimizing the flow of business value. This post is not an analysis of the situation, but the announcement of a concrete and commercial program that I created with my teams at Tasktop to help large organizations survive the COVID-19 triggered Turning Point and prepare to thrive in the Deployment Period that follows.
In 2019 I did the Project to Product book tour, delivering dozens of keynotes and running hundreds of meetings with enterprise IT leaders. Every single time I presented, I showed that the Turning Point that we needed to expect would bring with it an event that would parallel the Great Depression, which was triggered by the stock market crash of 1929. I stated that organizations need to move quickly to become software innovators in order to prepare for the scale of disruption that this would bring. I was impressed with the degree to which executives understood this, and at the urgency with which they were spurring their organizations into action. What I have been more concerned about is the slow rate at which those initiatives are turning into results.
Many of the organizations that I met with are still trying to reinvent scaled Agile frameworks like SAFe®, coming up with their own value stream metrics and solutions for modeling and measuring flow. If you are reinventing Agile and DevOps methodologies from scratch, you are wasting your time. If you do not yet have a scalable and reliable way of measuring and visualizing the flow of business value, in a way that is meaningful to both technology and business leaders, you have a problem. If you do not have a solution up and running imminently, you may be out of time as decisions on how your IT portfolio should be rebalanced need to be made in weeks, not months.
There is no more time to reinvent the wheel. This is a time to leverage the best ideas, frameworks and tools in the industry, and to put in place a goal of having all of the data and Flow Metrics needed to rebalance your IT portfolio before the end of the second calendar quarter. If you delay, you will continue to make cuts based on org charts, proxy metrics, impulses and opinions, instead of through the measurement of actual business value delivered. Those kinds of cuts will debilitate your organization at a time when you need focus and execution to double-down on the speed of decision-making and delivery.
Project to Product provided the Flow Framework™, the culmination of two decades of my work and collaborations with industry leaders on getting established organizations through the Turning Point. The Flow Framework was created for precisely this economic event. Dedicate a significant investment of your staff in deploying it. Leverage our expertise. Consider that Planview Viz customers are able to define their product value stream portfolio and see actionable Flow Metrics in 12 days on average. This enables them to identify which value streams should be divested, which need more investment, and what the functional and tech debt bottlenecks are.
Two months ago I was working with a company that was going to lay off some business analysts to hire more developers, whereas the Flow Metrics clearly indicated that the bottleneck was business analysis. The hire of a single new business analyst made a multitude of developers more productive almost instantly. But leadership would have had no idea without the right data, and they were on the cusp of cutting multiple business analysts to hire more developers. I fear that with the downturn, such ad-hoc cost-cutting and reallocation activities are about to spin countless companies and teams out of control.
One month ago I met with the head of technology for a large bank who has been dealing with thousands of his China-based IT staff working remotely due to COVID-19. He surprised me by stating how much he wished that he had deployed Planview Viz in the fall so that they would have had a baseline of Flow Metrics before and after the transition. He sensed that there were flow issues for developers, likely caused by overly taxed VPNs and other infrastructure challenges. Rather than triangulating from anecdotal complaints, he wanted a systemic sense of what the impact of those might be on flow. He was also curious as to whether the reduced meeting load was actually resulting in productivity benefits for his teams. He realized that if the baseline Flow Metrics from the last quarter were already in place, he could further support improvements for his thousands of developers and other specialists, both during this difficult period and beyond. This is exactly the kind of data-driven decision-making that we have been able to act on within Tasktop as we have shifted our workforce to fully remote, which has made it much easier to support our staff’s happiness and productivity during this turbulent time.
Consider the value stream’s flow data for the organization depicted above, which I heard presented earlier this week by one of its product managers during a quarterly release review session. A big feature delivery push was already underway. The goal was to meet the growing backlog of customer-driven feature demand which was driving up Flow Load (1). The initial slowdown in Flow Velocity (2) was expected. The slowdown that resulted from all teams moving to remote work (3) was not. But it was addressed impressively quickly with additional support for those teams. Velocity recovered surprisingly quickly the following week with a record number of features being delivered (4). The product manager made it clear that the Flow Distribution being 100% on features (4) was delivering a ton of value. But it was not sustainable and the business needs to expect it to shift to defect and tech debt work in the coming weeks. In addition, expectations were set for a slowdown on non-critical defect fixes (5). Everyone was on the same page, and rowing in the same direction. I was beyond impressed with teams using flow data in this way to drive results for their customers through such a turbulent time. This is exactly the kind of value stream that this organization should be betting on to drive results. Other value streams I saw presented this week showed a conspicuous lack of tech debt work, and should be considered extremely high risk for the business. The key is knowing which is which.
Whatever way you approach the solution, do not accept more than two weeks before you start seeing end-to-end Flow Metrics across your organization, as you should not assume that you have more time to start baselining and learning. Do not accept proxy metrics derived from a single tool, which represents only one stage of the value stream. Those will lead you down the path of disastrous local optimizations that have you cutting back in the wrong places, or investing with no measurable return. Move now, so that you can rebalance and allocate resources where you’ll see the results for your customers and then adapt quickly to the increasing pace of economic and market change.
There is a way to accelerate your path through this. My teams at Tasktop and I have created a special version of what was the very popular “Flow Framework Starter” program that we launched last year (see Measuring What Matters in Software Delivery). Instead of helping you improve, this new program will help you move quickly to put in place broad measurement of your value streams, survive the downturn, and then thrive in the recovery. The accelerated Flow Framework™ Catalyst program will enable you to baseline your IT portfolio almost instantly, then to continually rebalance it using actionable data. For those customers that we are partnering with on this, we will do everything we can to see you through to success. We have already proven this in large enterprise organizations. Given that this is the best way that I can help deliver on the promise of Project to Product, I will personally oversee each one of the Catalyst engagements in addition to providing the full support of our Flow Advisors and Value Stream Architects. Our teams have already mastered running these remote sessions with leadership over the past year of the Starter program. As our capacity is going to get maxed out due to the level of support that we will provide, get in touch soon if you want to get ahead of the curve. There is nothing more important to me right now than driving the economic and social benefits of the survival and success of our customers. Those that get this right will thrive and be instrumental in shaping the “Golden Age” of software delivery.