When we think of agility, we often think of agile teams. The word "agile" probably conjures up a mental image of kanban boards, sticky notes, and standup meetings. Many companies today have adopted agile practices on their development teams, and those teams have benefitted as a result. They now have increased collaboration, shorter feedback loops, and frequent deliveries. Teams are now able to get more work done quickly, but the problem is the environment around them hasn't really changed. Siloed business units are still competing for teams' time. Conflicting priorities flood team backlogs, leaving them overwhelmed, uncreative, and unclear on their strategic direction.
Teams have become agile, but the organizations around them have not. This is a problem because companies today are trying to do more than ever. Markets are dynamic, customer demands are immediate, and the pace of change is accelerating. In order to stay relevant in today's marketplace, the entire enterprise needs to become agile.
Today's rapidly changing environment compels organizations to move beyond their agile transformations to achieve Enterprise Business Agility. Sally Elatta, founder and CEO of Agility Health defines Enterprise Business Agility as, "The ability to change, learn and pivot, deliver at speed, and thrive in a competitive market."
Instead of a framework, methodology or system to achieve enterprise agility, Enterprise Business Agility introduces a journey.
In a nutshell, the Enterprise Business Agility journey includes four steps.
1. Define Outcomes
Everything starts with outcomes. If you don't know what outcome you want to achieve, all you will ever have is outputs--a bunch of initiatives, deliverables, epics, and stories that are not aligned to a clear strategic direction. What value do you want to provide your customers? How will you measure your success at the end of the year? These are the questions that organizations need to ask themselves first.
In order to be successful, outcomes must be specific, measurable, and meaningful. Outcomes are measurable when they are composed of two parts-- objectives and key results (OKRs). The objective provides a qualitative description of what you want to achieve. The key result provides a quantitative metric of how you will know when you will achieve this outcome. For example:
Objective: Create an exciting, engaging customer experience on our mobile platform
- Key Result: Improve net promoter score by 15%
- Key Result: Reach 100K mobile app downloads
Once one-year outcomes and OKRs have been defined, they need to be broken down into epics. Epics are small, one-quarter deliverables that provide business value and align to annual outcomes. Quarterly outcomes are defined in one of three categories--test it (experiments), nail it (MVP), and scale it (MMP). "Test it" outcomes are focused on running experiments and validating assumptions. "Nail it" outcomes have been validated and are ready to build a minimum viable product (MVP). At this stage, you should pick metrics that prove the MVP is valuable, usable, and feasible. "Scale it" outcomes are focused on delivering a minimum marketable product (MMP), and should be measured by customer success metrics.
2. Optimize Teams
Once outcomes have been established, teams need to be designed to optimize the flow of their delivery. Many teams today are operating based on who reports to who. In order to optimize teams for agility, you don't need to change their reporting structure. You do need to ensure that all teams that are delivering an outcome together are planning and working together.
Enabling and empowering teams to self-organize requires a leadership mindset shift. Leadership agility has to start at the very top of an organization to enable team agility at the bottom. Leaders need to shift from direction to delegation, and from tactical to strategic focus. In doing so, they need to embody the cultural values they want to create in their teams.
"Good leaders have vision and inspire others to help them turn vision into reality. Great leaders create more leaders, not followers. Great leaders have vision, share vision, and inspire others to create their own.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
3. Discovery and Readiness
Once teams have been aligned to the flow of outcomes, the “team of teams” layer needs to be established. The team of teams layer is sometimes referred to as a program team. This layer is typically made up of architects, managers, and product leaders who plan work before it is given to delivery teams. In addition to planning work and supporting the delivery teams, the team of teams layer should also include discovery teams. Discovery teams are made up of product managers, user experience designers, solution leads, and sometimes business analysts. The entire focus of a discovery team is to validate ideas before they are provided to the delivery teams. Discovery includes prototyping, experimenting, and receiving customer and internal feedback. It also means making sure that you are solving the right problem in the first place.
Why is discovery important? Because most ideas fail. In a study produced by Booking.com, they found that 70% of their experiments failed to produce the expected impact. At Google and Bing, only about 10%- 20% of experiments generated positive results. Experimentation shows us that we are usually wrong about what we think is good. However, by investing in discovery, product teams are able to fail fast with short experiments. When teams let customer sentiment drive product development, they are able to ensure their features will be profitable. By dedicating time to testing out ideas before developing them, teams can eliminate ideas that do not deliver customer value before they ever enter the development cycle. The most expensive way to test your ideas is to build production-quality solutions.
4. Team of Teams Delivery
When discovery teams are aligned to delivery teams, they need to plan their work together. Discovery teams are focused on validating ideas one quarter ahead of delivery teams, who are focused on turning those ideas into a product. The discovery teams are aligned to "test it" outcomes before they are provided to delivery teams who work on "nail it" or "scale it" outcomes. Every quarter, discovery and delivery teams schedule a planning event where they plan what outcomes they will be focused on in the next quarter.
Quarterly planning makes discovery and delivery outcomes practical. In this setting, teams review their outcomes and discuss the outputs needed to make them happen. Teams come to quarterly planning with the epics and features they are planning to implement. As a group, they discuss their individual and shared constraints, such as fixed dates or fixed scope. They review their dependencies and risks. By the end of the session, teams should have a roadmap for their next 12 weeks, as well as an understanding of their delivery touchpoints with other teams.
Like most concepts, Enterprise Business Agility can be simple to understand but difficult to master. The concept of enterprise agility requires us to elevate our understanding of agile and to extend agile thinking to all areas of the business. It challenges us to optimize the whole and focus on what matters. Enterprise Business Agility introduces a mindset shift and invites everyone at your company to come along for the journey.