Appreciating the value of SAFe

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Over the last few days I have been taking the time to carefully reflect on the reasons why I really appreciate the SAFe framework. I’ve put the link in here for you SAfe 4 and there are a number of case-studies detailed in here SAFe case studies

I will neatly ‘side-step’ the positivist hierarchy of evidence question for the time-being as I think that might muddy the proverbial waters in terms of my appreciating what it offers, for me, and perhaps for you. Stated simply, case-studies offer three things for the interested professional:

  1. Credibility. Many Senior Executives find it helpful.
  2. Insights and Learning: The Case-Studies and CoP help foster respectful collaboration
  3. Evidence. Many large public and private organisations want underpinning evidence for the ‘case for change’ or an associated business case for validation.

But this does not really capture what I have in mind and this is the consultancy cycle approach to incremental change. It is fair to say that I’ve been using this model for over 16-years now. Stated simply, it starts with a problem that needs to be solved. It also sets aside any notion of a prescribed methodology, or indeed methodologies, and instead actively seeks out the established ‘evidence-base’ for what has effectively worked in similar situations/contexts or what we might call case-studies?

To make my point a little more ‘real’ let me provide three hypothetical scenarios and the ways by which the SAFe framework would, perhaps, offer something of value, insight and help.

Remember, of course, that one of the foundations of the agile movement is all around incremental change. That is to say, that we are looking to make small, testable improvements from the current state to the desired future state. We collect data/evidence as we test our hypothesis to this end.

Also, remember that SAFe is a framework and therefore you can select the parts that you wish to test as hypothesis to help you gain more agility.

Scenario One:

The organisation wants to empower its teams to use the most appropriate methodology and associated tools so that they can take seriously the ideas of the self-empowered or organising team.

One of the strengths of SAFe is the operational ease by which each team can adopt, test and refine its own lean-based methods such as Scrum, Kanban, ScrumBan or any refinement that the team makes as part of its own individual agility maturity. We don’t need, anticipate or expect that innovation is quashed by ‘corporate policy’ or the illusion that if every team used the same tools then life would be simpler! SAFe is ace in this regard!

Scenario Two:

There is significant technical debt because projects are being stopped and started. The dependencies are out of synchronisation, and even completed projects are left on the shelf completed without any genuine business value being realised.

Thankfully SAFe has lots to offer in the ‘strategic portfolio operational’ space. At the Enterprise there are key strategic themes. In turn at the Portfolio there is a ‘work-in-progress’ limit to the number of projects that are in the Portfolio strategic pipeline. Thus, the value stream per theme is clear; with enabler projects and Epics being clearly worked up and approved in a ‘light: tight’ governance role. This simply means that the business value of working software is known prior to it being started. SAFe also has a very realistic portfolio budgeting method that lends itself to ‘light: tight’ financial planning. This model is very similar to that advocated the National Audit Office for financial budgets that have a range of variables and costs with the assumptions (and sensitivity analysis) explicit.

Notice though, that if any project has emergent problems and has to stop whilst those problems are solved, that the WiP ensures that there is a worked-up (i.e. ready to go) project for that team. Thus, there are no idle, redundant or sunk costs due to poor sequencing or Portfolio synchronisation. SAFe is first-class in this area!

Scenario Three:

In a word the next problem is all around system improvements. Consider a context with SOA architecture and three projects needing to ‘call’ various SOA services before the transition to a fully production/live services.

In this regard SAFe has lots to offer! Consider the cadence or rhythm of the software (fully tested and system Demo to all stakeholders including the business Users). The neat release train ensures that all the teams know when to have their Epics completed to ‘hit the next train’. This makes System Assurance testing co-ordination that much simpler too. In effect the Business Users have shippable working software more frequently and better tested across the Enterprise.

SAFe also has a very sensible 10 or 12-weeks planning session for all the teams, or silos, within IT or ‘brand IT’. In this way it ensures that the front-line staff across the whole of IT all have co-created a plan that they are all equally aligned with and committed to. (I’ve blogged previously about systemic alignment).

For me, this is very powerful. It shifts the thinking from silo or ‘part’ to the ‘us’ or the ‘whole’ IT family or system. I love this for the collaborative hope that it offers. And given the significant number of businesses across a range of Industries that have, and are, successfully using SAFe this is encouraging to me.

Summary

I hope that I’ve demonstrated the rationale for why I can appreciate the SAFe framework when we are seeking to improve our agile maturity? I hope that whilst you may prefer a different scaled framework, or none at all, given your specific/particular circumstances or contextual factors, that for others SAFe is both a fab place to start that journey, or indeed help the maturity?

Take care, Jason

 

Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional; as well as a Business Psychologist and Agile Project Manager. 

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Agile types within the community?

Over the last few years I have been undertaking some action research around Agility and what we might possibly mean by the claim of an ‘Agile community’? Are there, like most other professional/social communities distinct sub-communities? Can we trace or recognise smaller grouping(s) that seek to collectively make sense of the notion of ‘Agility’ in its broadest sense? And does this naturally mean that Agility is understood in different and even competing ways? And, if so, how can we, and do we, make sense of that multiplicity of meaning-making, for want of a better term? What method lends itself to understanding?

One approach I like is that proposed by Carl Jung and his use of ‘types’. This is a first-class resource for those wanting to read/study a little more http://jungiancenter.org

Stated simply, Jung made the claim that humanity share a collective unconscious. Our collective unconscious was inhabited by a range of characters that he called archetypes. I guess then, I am wondering if these characters are shared symbolically by the agile community? Can you recognise any of them? Do they resonate? We each then using this framework can be ‘activiated’ by an archetype and act-out in the ways described. Of course, this would be unconsciously, rather than consciously given the nature of an archetype. What types can we recognise?

On Method
Following quite extensive individual and small group interviews; and then reading primary and secondary resources, I think I’m in the position to postulate the following typology. I have attempted to condense the complexity to a rather simplified 4 core types, but of course, I am in the process of making-sense of my own, rather limited, direct lived experience. There are therefore, I am certain, more that can be re-searched and shared, expounded and I hope, in a life affirming manner, debated too.

For each of the 4 types I have attempted to analyse sameness and difference. I’ve also looked at some of the main metaphors that resonate for each type. Next I’ve looked at some of the main ways by which they tend to ‘act-out’ in terms of power-relations. Lastly, I’ve examined some of the unconscious ‘shadow side’ of the types so as to provide psychological space for humility, reflection, insight, and possibly more self-awareness.

As I write that last sentence I make the candid declaration that I am a ‘flawed human’ with a need for my own ongoing ‘inner work’. I am grateful for my coach, mentor and friends to this end.

What are the 4 types?
I have carefully traced the following 4 types:
• The Radical
• The Reticularist
• The Retro
• The Romantic
I’ll address each in turn and then a short summary table for ease of reference etc.

The Radical.
With the Radical type of character there is an inherent impatience with the rate, or pace, of progress. If their dreams were actually realised; then there would be a massive, unmeasured and rapid change to their ‘way’. They seem to desire an over-idealised Agile image that forever seems just ‘out of reach’. Consequently, their preferred modus operandi is the on-going challenge, the critique. This is what Cooperrider refers to as ‘the deficit model’. They have ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and they are willing to deploy them if deemed necessary. Their preferred metaphors for Agile teams are ‘squads’ based on a military/conflict model. Thus, they speak and think in terms of war; fighting; and competition. For them to win then others must lose on their imagined Agile ‘Crusade’.

Their psychological narrative is binary: good/bad; in/out; friend/foe. They prefer in-groups where all the members share their future ‘end game’ when, presumably, they have ‘won’ and anyone that does not share their own (rather narrow view) of organisational Agility has lost? Thus, Agile ‘coaches’ caught-out by this character might spend over 80% of their time, energy and persuasion on ‘challenging the status quo’. As you might have guessed the Radical struggles with multiple, competing interpretations of reality. Thus, he sees things in a single-minded manner. They are very stubborn and fixed.

Of course, there is as with all types more positive aspects to this type. They have deep personal resource ‘wells’ of energy, resilience and massive drive. This role can be seen in some circles as a ‘necessary mavericks’ and by a smaller number as ‘heroes’ taking forward and representing the Agile cause with ‘passion’.

When things are not moving as fast as they deem realistic then their impatience reveals their shadow-side. This shadow-side includes all the military undertones of actual warfare: propaganda, guerrilla attacks, and psychological injuries. Next, given that they often have strong group boundary norms they can be given-over to darkened shades of group-think. The advice? To keep this in check this sub-community would do well to keep connected with other sub-groups and more especially the Romantics. (NB:- They would need to be careful with the Reticularist as the latter may simply be seen as an ‘intelligence source’ for their next ‘campaign’).

The Reticularist
I’ve blogged previously around the role of the Reticularist. Stated simply, the Reticularist is sometimes referred to as a ‘boundary spanner’. This Agile archetype is a ‘whole systems’ actor, thinker and planner. Therefore, within the organisation (and more especially the IT department) she/he is seeking to understand work flow. Questions arise such as: How does work flow through the organisation from product conception right through to the release stage? Where are the blockers to flow?
With whom do I need to make allies with and, quite literally, ‘see’ work from their perspective in an appreciative way? The Reticularist seeks to co-create with others incremental improvements to flow, and so share successes across teams.

The guiding metaphor for them is an organic or ‘living’ system. This is because such systems move, change, shift and therefore, new patterns emerge from the interactions of the parts. In this way, the Reticularist is a collaborator par excellence as they act on and with the ‘edges’ of different interfacing teams and departments. As an example: If product releasing is a current challenge- then a collaborative group would seek to co-create a solution.

Whereas for the Radical the temptation would be to challenge and then release the product from the direct Scrum team and then more simply watch and ‘see what happens’ which could well include fall-out and tensions…the Reticularist would systemically foresee the tensions arising from such unilateral decision-making and seek to circumvent it via a more collaborative method (e.g. a small cross-group experiment).
The shadow-side for the boundary spanner is gossiping. This is because when you are seeking to understand all the ‘parts of the whole’ of necessity this means engaging with the teams within those parts.

Consequently, there is a genuine risk of information-sharing for understanding in transit/translation, losing its ethical value, as gossip. The downside of gossiping are likely to include damaging trust, as well as negating possible future relational reciprocity. To mitigate this risk, one ought to state one’s own intentions for Agile improvement as the contextual discussion background. Thus, you cannot be ‘all things to all people’ if this means in professional practice you are left without any ethical ‘grounding’ from which others can evaluate you intentions for good or ill.

The Retro.
According to the online urban dictionary the Retro is a ‘contemporary style containing elements but not the replication of a previous era’. Thus, there is a sense of looking back in time or history, for the Retro. They hold in especial respect and regard the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Agile movement. The Retro often have applied longevity with the application of Agile methods in various types of organisations. Many of them are seen as current leaders themselves. A smaller sub-set have taken the opportunity to incrementally develop, refine and market new tools, techniques and methods. The Retro has a deep and genuine sense of respect for the ‘Giants of the Past’. They will have taken the considered care and time to study their words and often memorised their key concepts and suggestions, and applied them too.

Whereas for the Retro there is respect and even reverence for the Founding Fathers this is often at the business or logical level. The Retro deeply understands marketing, branding and profit margins. This can be contrasted with the Radical as the latter actively seek to challenge the ‘Old Timers’ for even better methods; innovative breakthroughs and new models.

The shadow-side for the Retro is most often witnessed by a degree of arrogance, pride and a somewhat ‘closed mind’. Therefore, on many dimensions the Retro can be contrasted with the Radical. Whereas for the Retro ‘wisdom’ is a core value; for the Radical disruptive innovation is of a higher need/value. Many current and previous Agile community arguments can thus be framed using this interpretative lens or schema.

The guiding metaphor for the Retro type is honouring the wisdom of the collective past as incremental improvements are made moving towards the visionary future. The future vision, of course, would seem consistent with the Founding Fathers, whilst accepting and even celebrating a sense of building on their foundations.
Key words: vision, values and wisdom. In terms of power-relations the Retro views power and residing in the empirical evidence-base underpinning their Craft. Therefore, they look back to the philosophical Greeks not just for wisdom; but also for their technical Craft or techne. They are keen to learn the ways by which to persuade, cajole and bring others along in a relatively harmonious way to a more Agile organisation.

The Romantic.
For the Romantic type the Agility journey must engage meaning. It is essential for the Romantic they can see their role and the ways by which this is connected to the Agile journey for the organisation. For the Romantic, Agility has everything to do with increased job and team satisfaction; a more life affirming and innovative work-place. Whilst they appreciate all the empirical data ‘under the sun’ such as: efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and outcomes; the Romantic longs for something more: meaning. Therefore, and this is very important their emotions must be engaged.

The Romantic will have emotionally internalised the Scrum values, for example, and seek to work and be ethically guided by them as part of their working intuition. They may even internalise them as self-embodied values within other areas or life domains. Thus, they will enjoy experimenting with agility in their personal lives. Thus, when these values are ‘crossed’ there will be a deep sense of disappointment and even shame and regret. The Romantics are therefore, captured by a participative ‘Mission’ that must have an ethical sense of direction.

The Romantics are looking to carefully, and at times, patiently build the ‘Agile City set on a Hill’. Given their need for emotional connection and meaning; when senior leaders fail to make their connection for them by organisational discourse, metaphor and mission statement the Romantics symbolically (and perhaps in reality) ‘lose heart’ and they consequently disengage. The Romantics are deeply connected, on an emotional level, with the ‘Founding Fathers’ and they are seeking to be as true to those initial values as the Founders were. Respect is a key word in their psychological lexicon. Indeed, they are less interested per se, in new ‘brands’ or emergent markets, but rather to co-create new idea, and to solve new problems if and only if, they are underscored by the correct set of values.

Their shadow-side is revealed not be naked resistance (as marked-out so obviously by a Radical), but rather, by ‘going through the motions’. When the shadow falls over the Romantic they somehow seem emotionally ‘hollow’ to their team mates and wider colleagues. It is this sense of an accompanying emotional numbness that psychologically signifies the denial/rejection of things that really do matter (deep down in their soul) to them.

Summary
In this blog I have sought to explore and understand the notion of an Agile community and posited that there might be a number of Agile sub-communities. Why? I have done so in the hope that by articulating the ‘contested space’ of Agility that more harmony, collaboration and legitimacy can be taken-up by different ways of living and indeed being Agile.

It is beyond the scope of this current blog to work through how many of each type are the optimal ‘mix’ given any organisational agile journey. I would imagine that the organisational culture is a key factor?

Jason is a Certified Scrum Professional. He is also a Business Psychologist, as well as a full member of the Association of Project Managers.

The Hybrid: The best of both worlds?

This post really is not an advert. Trust me. However, sometime ago I went into Halfords and asked for their expert advice. Given the type of terrain I would likely ride on (roads and moderately off-road) the expert recommended to me the Boardman Hybrid Bike Pro.

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Features and Benefits:-

I recall the chap saying that “You get a lot of bike for your cash” and then highlighted the price tag which provided some small change from £900! #happydays

The website informs us that the hybrid is “the perfect bike for the most discerning of commuters. The superlight alloy frame is coupled with an aerodynamically formed full carbon fork to provide accurate and nimble steering. Complete with Shimano’s excellent 20 speed 105 gearing, beautiful crafted Shimano Deore Hydraulic disc brakes and the superb Shimano RX05 wheelset”.

It then highlights that “this bike is the perfect blend of comfort, performance and function, making it ideal for navigating the busiest of city streets”. 

It seems to me that this bike seeks to address the ‘optimal sweet-spot’ between three key criteria:comfort, performance and function.

This got me thinking whether there are any lessons to be learned for Agile transformational programmes; and more especially, in large, complex organisations?

Using a little of my imagination I think we can apply these three critical criteria in these kinds of ways:

  • comfort. This seems to me to map neatly to the UX role who ensure that the End Users have a first-class experience of any software solution that enhances their day-to-day jobs and more especially for ‘front-line’ jobs so as to enhance productivity, efficient and ergonomic outcomes.
  • performance. Agile- whether Scrum or Kanban for example will look to ensure that any software has high quality. There is now a well established evidence-base of what business and organisational contexts Agile works incredibly well in and when it is less effective.
  • and function. Enterprise-wide Architects add value in this ‘space’ particularly well. Having a well designed Architecture ensures an optimal fit in and between different projects and solutions.

It seems to me that having a transformational programme may well benefit from the hybrid metaphor for large-scale, complex organisations.

Take care, Jason.

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Agile working: Celebrating the Puer but ensuring we don’t become puerile?

Jung

One of the most fascinating insights from Carl Jung is the idea of opposites as a necessary set. This can hold true in terms of time; spatial proximity, concepts, physical realities and many, many others. One set of opposites that I have been experimenting with over the last few months is in terms of planning/control and emergence/freedom. I have a professional interest in this set of opposites in terms of Agile working. This is my learning to date.

The Collective Unconscious 

The collective unconscious is one of the ways Jung’s originality is best expressed for me. I won’t go into the details here as that is material for another blog at a future time. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea stated simply, Jung noted that human beings universally share unconscious material. This material and characters, what Jung referred to as archetypal are found in all cultures, and historical periods as far back as we can trace human history and thought. They are often expressed by way of cultural myths, fairy tales, stories, poems and legends, for example.

The Male Youth and the Old Man.

Jung noted two archetypes that I’d like to examine in a bit more detail and relevance and this is the old man and the male youth/adolescent. Jung used the Latin terms and referred to them as the Senex Type and the Puer Type.  It is important not to see these are personality types in our external worlds, but rather as characters. These are characters in ‘The Theatre’ of our unconscious.

The Senex embodies the notion we have for wisdom, experience and is underscored by a sense of veneration and respect as opposed to the ways in which in the West we have tended to become more disrespectful of the elderly sometimes even going too far as a see them as some kind of ‘burden’. Thus, when compared to the adolescent the Senex has strengths or virtues in that they are more likely to be grounded, realistic, cautious, forward-looking and careful. However, the shadow side of this type is that they can be resistant to change, express a more pessimistic attitude, and even a depressive tone that finds it more difficult to find the expression of comedy and humor. When taken too far with a lack of self integration the Senex can start to quite literally ‘squeeze’ joy from life, work teams and other social interactions.

The Puer Type is the Latin term for ‘child’. Thus puerile expresses the notion that a given action or behaviour is something that would be considered foolish, silly or immature for an adult. However, there are strengths to the Puer type and this is best expressed as playfulness. The sense that creativity is linked to, and of course key ideas around innovation, originality, and fresh approaches can be traced to this type. In contrast to the Senex the Puer is open to new ideas with a sense of spontaneous openness and fun-loving joy. Play for Jung is a quintessential activity that can foster learning, growth and personal development and of course personality integration of our ‘parts’. For most adults, it is fair to say that it is a genuine challenging process to recapture this fresh, beginner’s mind.

Of course, as the Senex can be unbalanced so can the Puer too. The adult that is constantly in ‘play mode’ can lack responsibility; be weak-willed morally; reluctant to fully commit their effort, time and ideas to projects. They can also lack the necessary tenacity and determination to ‘see things through’. One can see quickly the hedonistic drum of me, me, me associated with the accompanying drum of now, now, now!

A question of balance.  

If you imagine a spectrum or a continuum between the Senex and the Puer then one of the key insights from Jung is that for individual living at the extreme Senex end of the senex-puer spectrum is living a life out of balance. It is worth noting that both Archetypes should be active in our unconscious lives- and found expression in our lived realities. We all need ‘access’ as well as acceptance and integration of our inner Puer as much as our inner Senex.

The Agile Project: Celebrating Senex and Puer.

In my experience most large organisations tend to be more Senex in their cultural assumptions and guiding values- but not all. That is they tend to have a business operating model that values control, planning and forward-looking and are cautious around notions of Puer playfulness. Seeing this as a creative tension between these necessary set of opposites has added value as a Scrum Master seeking to develop more Agile way of working.

In a future Blog I’ll unpack some of the practical ways this has been successful framed by Appreciative Inquiry. For the time being, it is fair to say that Jung’s insights has been added value as a working framework in practical ways.

Take care Jason

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Organisational Transformation: New Talent Might Be Essential!

transformational

One of the most accepted leadership paradigms is that of the transformational leader. Work/Occupational Psychologists have been promoting this model for those organisations that have transformational programmes or strategies to implement. Thus, Work Psychologists have been helping such organisational to identify, recruit, and further develop the right individuals that fit this model and the strategic need. To be fair to the leadership field this is a plethora of robust empirical evidence supporting this model.

 

Over the last 35-years I have worked in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Over the last 15-years I have also been a Coach to Senior Directors/Leaders within those sectors too. Over this time I have questioned whether it is better to bring-in new top talent or external strategic Consultants to develop the existing leadership team (or more likely a ‘blend’ of all three approaches). I have often wondered when a top team is struggling to make proper in-roads whether Senior Directors can become too familiar with their organisations. Can you get over familiar with the culture and does this prevent the necessary challenge and energy to implement change?

 

I guess stated simply my question can be framed as: Can over-familiarity prevent the next stage of the transformational journey?

 

With these questions in mind I was delighted to come across a neat research paper developed by Russell Guay (2013). It is entitled “The relationship between leader fit and transformational leadership” and you can locate it in the Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol.28(1), 2013, pp. 55-73.

 

Guay (2013) draws on the transformational literature and develops a model that explores 3 types of fit between the leader and the organisation:

 

  1. Person-Organisational fit: the extent to which their own values fit with those of the employing or host organisation
  2. Needs-Supplied fit: the extent to which the job meets the leaders own need
  3. Demand-Abilities fit: the extent to which the leader has the knowledge, skills and experience to meet the demands of the job at hand

 

For those of you with a research bent- he uses structural equation modelling to statistically demonstrate the best fit of the data-set/ results. Now in my view…here’s comes the fun part! The insights and application!

 

 

Guay (2013) reports a negative relationship (-0.17) between 1 and the outcome measure of transformational leadership. He also reports that as he hypothesized there was a positive relationship between 2 & 3 (0.14 & 0.24 respectively). Lastly, he also reports a negative relationship between tenure in the organisation and transformational leadership behaviours.

 

So what might this mean in practice?

 

Evidently, we are ‘bang on the money’ when it comes to our well established transformational leadership model. When any job supplies our personal needs for development, challenge and growth (2), and we have the pre-requisite skills, knowledge and experience then we can empirically anticipate, in all good faith, the organisational transformation.

 

Then, here comes the caveat. Or at least, here comes my interpretative caveat…over familiarity with the organisation may well prevent the leader from implementing the transformational necessary. So it seems there is an ‘upper limit’ for some Director posts (and one could sensibly argue any post associated with the transformational programme or strategy) to stay in the same organisation. This also helps explain the negative relationship between tenure and a lack of transformational outcomes/behaviours too.

 

Of course, as with all empirical inquiry there is the classic ‘more research is needed’ and this holds true here too. Just how long is the question and, of course, if we take any existing ‘top team’ can we inject some new transformational energy/blood by changing one or two of the Directorship posts and, by so doing, refresh the energy, the focus, and the necessary challenge.

 

These insights also help to explain why external ‘Change Consultants’ earn their buck… because if you want to keep a fairly stable, senior team (for identified stability or even organisational political purposes), then having a ‘fresh but critical’ pair of eyes can have the same effect. However, this latter tactic would seem to hold true… just as long as you employ some ‘fresh transformational blood’ further down the organisational hierarchy to get into implementing the identified transformational programme.