Everything is important ...
... and that is the reason why nothing gets done
Everything is important and needs to get done – and that is the reason why nothing really gets done!
An exemplary case study on how to get priorities aligned and make work visible to take educated decisions.
Does this sound familiar?
- I don’t know what I should be working on next because everything is important!
- Because everything is important we work on a lot of stuff at the same time – but nothing really gets finished.
- Everybody is asking me “when are you done”, “when will you start with my stuff” – and I really don’t know what to answer because we are drowning in work, have no transparency, and feel like we lost all control.
- Our management tries to get a grip on things by (micro-) managing dependencies and trying to put out the biggest fires – but it doesn’t really feel like that’s the way to go.
Our mission as the customer saw it
What we did first: "Start with the "Why"
The business problems that needed solving where
- Lack of focus due to unclear priorities – everything was important
- Insufficient outcome because of too much work pushed into the system in parallel – too much started, not enough finished
- Forecasting quite difficult because of insufficient view on available capacities – not enough data and transparency
- Huge coordination overhead to manage dependencies due to a lack of transparency on the actual work status – difficult and inefficient decision-making
And all these problems where based on VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity).
Our suggestion to the customer: To get a better grip on your VUCA business environment, let’s do our transformation in a different way, let’s do it Agile.
The theoretical drafts delivered by the external consultancies where, in principle, a good starting point. There are a lot of Agile Scaling Frameworks out there which are quite valuable when starting your Agile Transformation.
But often those Agile Scaling Frameworks are perceived as a “big elephant”. How should this be implemented by the book? How would such a “big bang” approach work for us? Where should we start?
Evolutionary transformation approach:
Consequently, although the theory is adequate, organizational reality today is too far away from such a comprehensive scaled Agile approach.
The route we took instead was that of an evolutionary approach that adapts this “elephant” to the specific situation of our customer. As every scaled Agile-Lean transformation solution is individual, agreed & emerged patterns are crucial for Agile-Lean techniques to work. That is, based on stable values & principles, there has to be a common understanding that a useful solution has to emerge over time through experimenting with techniques and thereby enabling continuous learning.
We also used Scrum as a method to organize our transformation work. The learning curve for all involved, leaders and team members, was significant. All agreed, there is a huge difference between understanding Scrum as a method and really living it.
As one team member put it: “In the beginning we were totally overwhelmed by the theory behind all of it. There was no concrete plan how to put it into practice. And I think if we had tried to implement this complex theory with an old-school “role out plan”, I am not sure if we would have been as successful as we are now with using baby steps and iterations”.
“We tried to come up with a vision where we wanted to go. Ok, the vision might change over time, but that was good so. We had a real plan how to get there, it was just an evolutionary approach. That helped us to become better and also offered the possibility to check if we are still on track. And if we weren’t on the right track then that wasn’t wrong either. Or in other words, it was appreciated to learn and adapt on our way”, added another team member.on on
The steps we took on our Agile Transformation Journey
There is no recipe for success – But a Transformation Map might help with orientation.
Do not use a pill to heal the symptoms but rather enable organizational development to address the root cause by adopting Lean and Agile principles and by taking a systemic view.
This is a core belief we work with and that has been proven successful in practice over and over again: no customer problem is the same – no solution approach is a fail-save recipe!
Every transformation journey is different but the map for the journey can be similar – you just might choose a different starting point, take different routes and might travel different distances.
Our “Big Picture”
This route for our transformation journey is an example – it worked with this customer. You may take a completely different path.
When you have a common understanding about
- how the work is processed (value stream),
- who is working on what (roles, skills, and responsibilities in the value generation process),
- what capacity you have (data on lead and cycle time, understanding about the nature of your work, batch sizes and cadencies for input and output) and
- where the bottlenecks (aka important but limited resources) are in your system
then you gain a new level of your decision-making process for new demands, the impact your decisions will have on the whole system, and a better understanding where you need to optimize you value stream process in order to get the most valuable things done faster.
So when will this transformation journey end?
If you are working in a VUCA environment, the answer to this question is “never”. Sounds discouraging? It doesn’t have to be. We think the key for continuous improvement in business excellence and an adaptable and resilient organization is to understand that transformation work is “daily business”. And to make it “your” daily business you can start
- By anchoring Lean-/Agile values and principles into your “work DNA”,
- By establishing mechanisms to experiment and learn into your work routine,
- By establishing feedback loops from strategy to execution and back
- … and by aiming at getting better all the time.
If you decide to start with your transformation journey we can promise very interesting times with the potential for your personal learning and growth – at least this has happened to us