Trains, Shopping and the Risk of Release Dates

This is a final post originally published on the Rally Blog which I am reposting here to keep an archived copy.


trainsI live in Brighton, on the south coast of the UK, about 50 miles from London. This means that I regularly catch the train for meetings or engagements “in town”. When making the journey, I always look at the timetable. Trains only run every 30-60 minutes, so if I get the timing wrong, then I’m most likely left hanging around at the station. Not a great use of time, especially with the typical British weather. When I get into London and need to catch the tube somewhere, however, it’s a different story. I just head to the right platform and wait for a train, knowing that one should turn up in a few minutes. There’s no need to check the timetable.

What does this have to do with Agile? I was recently on a Q&A panel and fielded a question about how to deal with fixed date and scope projects. The story above hints at the answer…

Managing Variables

Before we come to that, let’s first look at the common ‘Iron Triangle’ variables of time, cost and scope. If the date (and hence time) and scope are fixed, then logic suggests that the only thing we can vary is cost. This typically means adding people, although it could mean throwing money at the problem in some other way. Brooks’s Law, “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”, says that this will not work. An Agile approach can mean that any problems meeting the date and scope will be discovered earlier, and hence the effect of Brooks’s Law can be minimised. Colleague Alex Pukinskis recently blogged about how the Rally development team cheated Brooks’s Law with such an approach.

If varying cost isn’t an option, then there are a couple of other options. The first is cutting corners and reducing quality. Note that I am not recommending this option! Having said that, if the date is critical for learning and feedback regarding a value hypothesis, then quality may be less critical, assuming quality will be built in once the value is well understood.

The other variable is fidelity — this is the finesse of the solution. Delivering a low fidelity solution first ensures that scope can be met early. The functionality can then be iterated on to increase fidelity, knowing that when the date arrives — scope is in the bag.

The Alternative

There’s a less obvious solution to the problem, however. Date and scope are often fixed as a reaction to the risk of “missing the train”. We want to be sure of what we get, and when we get it, because if functionality doesn’t make it into a release, we don’t want it left on the platform waiting for the next one. We can address that risk in another way.

brixton-market-300x199

Here’s another example. We (ok, well, my wife) generally do a weekly shop at a nearby out-of-town supermarket. Because it’s weekly, we spend time planning by putting together a shopping list, thinking of everything we might need during the week. After all, if we don’t get everything we need, it will be another week until the next shop. This often results in over-stocking and the waste of throwing out unused perishable food.

However, when we go and visit a friend who lives in the small village in the Lake District, we just pop into the local shops every day to get whatever we fancy for that day. There is no need to plan ahead or make decisions on what we are going to eat days in advance. The local produce might be slightly more expensive than the big supermarkets, but it’s higher quality and there’s less wasted food. We trade-off a slight increase in cost for higher quality, deferred decisions and less waste.

So instead of worrying about how to deliver to fixed time, scope and cost constraints (not to mention quality), I would recommend figuring out how to release more frequently.

If your releases are like a tube train, arriving every day or so, then the need to plan time and scope lessens. Planning and implementing in smaller batches significantly reduces the cost, allowing more time to build the desired scope by the desired date. If a feature misses a release, it can just go into the next one straight after.

Try this approach and let me know how it goes!

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How Rally Does… Strategy Deployment

This is another post originally published on the Rally Blog which I am reposting here to keep an archived copy. It was part of the same series as the one on annual and quarterly planning, in which we described various aspects of the way the business was run. Again, apart from minor edits to help it make sense as a stand alone piece I have left the content as it was.


Strategy Deployment is sometimes known as Hoshin Kanri, and like many Lean concepts, it originated from Toyota. Hoshin Kanri is a Japanese term whose literal translation can be paraphrased as “compass control.” A more metaphorical interpretation, provided by Pascal Dennis in Getting the Right Things Done, is that of a “ship in a storm going in the right direction.”

Compass

Strategy Deployment is about getting everyone involved in the focus, communication, and execution of a shared goal. I described in previous posts how we collaboratively came up with strategies and an initial plan in the form of an X-matrix. The tool that we use for the deployment is the Strategic A3.

Strategic A3s

A3 refers to the size of the paper (approximately 11 x 17 inches) used by a number of different formats to articulate and communicate something in a simple, readable way on a single sheet of paper. Each rock or departmental team uses a Strategic A3 to describe its plan. This forms the basis for their problem-solving approach by capturing all the key hypotheses and results, which helps identify the opportunities for improvement.

The different sections of the A3 tell a story about the different stages of the PDSA cycle (Plan, Do, Study, Adjust.) I prefer this latter formulation from Dr. W. Edwards Deming to the original PDCA(Plan, Do, Check, Act) of Walter A. Shewhart, because “Study” places more emphasis on learning and gaining knowledge. Similarly, “Adjust” implies feedback and iteration more strongly than does “Act.”

This annual Strategic A3 goes hand-in-hand with a macro, longer-term (three- to five-year) planning A3, and numerous micro, problem-solving A3s.

Anatomy of a Strategic A3

This is what the default template that we use looks like. While it is often good to work on A3s using pencil and paper, for wider sharing across the organisation we’ve found that using a Google document works well too.

StrategicA3

Each A3 has a clear topic, and is read in a specific order: down the left-hand side, and then down the right hand side. This flow aligns with the ORID approach (Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, Decisional) which helps avoid jumping to early conclusions.

The first section looks at prior performance, gaps, and targets, which give objective data on the current state. Targets are a hypothesis about what we would like to achieve, and performance shows the actual results. Over time, the gap between the two gives an indication of what areas need investigation and problem-solving. The next section gives the reactions to, and reflections on, the objective data. This is where emotions and gut feelings are captured. Then comes interpretation of the data and feelings to give some rationale with which to make a plan.

The three left-hand sections help us look back into the past, before we make any decisions about what we should do in the future. Having completed that we have much better information with which to complete the action plan, adding high-level focus and outcomes for each quarter. The immediate quarter will generally have a higher level of detail and confidence, with each subsequent quarter afterward becoming less granular. Finally, the immediate next steps are captured and any risks and dependencies are noted so that they can be shared and managed.

Co-creating a Strategic A3

As you can probably imagine from reading the previous posts, the process of completing a Strategic A3 can be a highly collaborative, structured, and facilitated process. One team with which I work closely recently had grown to a point where we would benefit from our own Strategic A3, rather than being a part of a larger, international Strategic A3. To create it we all got together for a day in our Amsterdam office. We felt that this would allow us to align more strongly with the corporate strategy and communicate more clearly what we were doing, and where we needed help.

We began by breaking into small groups of three to four people, mostly aligned around a regional territory. These groups spent some time filling in their own copy of the A3 template. We then reconvened together and each group gave a readout of its discussions, presenting the top three items from each section, which we captured with post-it notes on flip charts. Having gone around each group I then asked everyone to silently theme the post-its in each section until everyone seemed happy with the results. This led to a discussion about each theme and identifying titles for them. We still had quite a few themes, so we finished off by ranking them with dot-voting so that we could be clear on which  items were most important.

Our last step was to identify the top three items on the A3 that we wanted to highlight to the wider business. This turned out to be a relatively simple conversation. The collaborative nature of the process meant that everyone had a clear and shared understanding of what was important and where we needed focus.

A3Karl0 a3Karl1

Corporate Steering

Strategy deployment is not a one-off, top-down exercise. Instead, the Strategic A3 is used as a simple tool that involves everyone in the process. Teams prepare and plan their work, in line with the corporate goals, and each quarter they revisit and revise their A3s as a means of communicating status and progress. As performance numbers become available an A3 will be updated with any changes highlighted, and the updated A3 then becomes a key input into Quarterly Steering.

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How Rally Does… Annual and Quarterly Planning

This post was originally published on the Rally Blog and I am reposting here to keep an archived copy. It was part of a series in which we described various aspects of the way the business was run. Apart from one minor edit to help it make sense as a stand alone piece I have left the content as it was. However, I suspect that since Rally is now part of CA Technologies, much of what I described has changed.


Rally has a regular, quarterly cadence with which we manage corporate planning, and in which we invest heavy preparation so that we get maximum value. For this year’s Annual Planning, preparation included creating market and opportunity maps and a set of potential strategies, as well as crafting an agenda to help facilitate the collaborative co-creation of the outcomes.

What is Annual Planning?

At Rally, Annual Planning is a two-day meeting involving around 80 people – roughly 70 Rally employees and 10 invited customer representatives. The employees are a mix of people representing all areas of the business: directors and above always attend these key corporate cadences, and other members of the company take turns participating. The customers chosen to join us are those who have shown a keen interest in seeing how we facilitate these large events, and from whom we can learn and get great feedback. Apart from the confidential opening introduction, the customers are involved throughout: spread out across business groups and breakouts, sitting amongst employees, and actively working and contributing as much as anyone else.

This year, we ran Annual Planning a quarter in advance of the financial year we’re about to start. We’ve learned that the initial plan will need validation and refinement, and thus we need to allow time for that to happen. Therefore, the purpose of the two days was to draft our corporate plan for the next financial year, so that we can validate it in the final quarter of the current financial year.

What Do We Do in Annual Planning?

Over the years, we have settled on terminology for corporate planning, inspired by a couple of books. First, Pascal Dennis’ Getting the Right Things Done introduces the terms “True North” and “Mother Strategies.” The True North is the single mantra or slogan that defines where the company wants to be at the end of the year. Mother Strategies are the focus areas that will help us arrive at the True North.

rocks

The True North and Mother Strategies guide the day-to-day departmental work, along with cross-departmental initiatives, which are knows as “Rocks.” Rocks are inspired by techniques described in Verne Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. The metaphor of a Rock is based on the idea that if you have a bucket, you should fill it first with a few big rocks: these are the big things you want to accomplish. If there is more space you can then put in pebbles, or medium-sized projects. With any remaining space you can put in sand, or the tactical tasks. Finally, you can add water — the ad-hoc things that arise. If you fail to put the big rocks in first, you will inevitably fill your bucket with just sand and water.

For Rally, the annual plan, therefore, consists of a True North, a number of Mother Strategies, and a set of Rocks. In addition, this year we introduced a new tool to help create transparency and align all the elements: the X-matrix, as described in Thomas L. Jackson’s Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise. This brought with it a further level of discipline by including the business results we’re targeting, and the measurable improvements we will use to track progress.

Xmatrixblank

As you can see from the blank template above, completing the X-matrix involves deciding on strategic goals, tactical rocks (and other departmental initiatives), measurable improvements, and business results. These are entered into the large white sections alongside each section. In addition, filling in the shaded corner cells of the X-matrix indicates the correlation or contribution between each of these elements, as well as how accountable each department will be for the tactical work. The strength of the correlation or accountability is indicated with one of three symbols according to the legend: strong correlation or team leader, important correlation or team member, and weak correlation or rotating team member. An empty cell indicates no correlation or no team member.

How Does It Work?

The agenda for the two days of Annual Planning involved exploring and defining all these pieces of the puzzle, ultimately filling in a giant X-matrix created on a wall. The picture below shows this partially completed. Taking the advice from the book, we adapted rather than adopted the technique, changing some of the terminology to better fit our context.

Xmatrixblur

Here’s what each day looked like.

Day one was focused on divergence: generating a range of ideas which could go into the initial draft of the plan. We began with a retrospective on the current year; working individually, in pairs, and then in departments, we reflected on what we’d learned that would guide our work in closing out this year and setting us up for next year. Then, the executive team gave a readout of their perspectives and introduced the proposed potential strategies for next year. This led into an Open Space with breakout sessions focused on exploration of rocks and improvements that could implement those strategies. As a result, by the end of the first day we had a good understanding of the current situation, with a variety of potential work that might be needed to meet our goals.

Day two was focused on convergence: refining all the ideas and getting consensus on a plan that could be validated. Groups initially formed around the proposed strategies to look at the plan through a “strategic lens.” Each group discussed how various rocks and improvements aligned to their strategy, and agreed on a proposal that they wanted to make for inclusion in the plan.

annualplanninggroup

In a high-energy session, the proposals were pitched to three of the executives, who accepted them (with a chime) or rejected them (with a horn). Rejected proposals were updated and re-pitched, until we ended up with the X-matrix containing the top 10 rocks and associated improvement measures, along with the strength of the correlation between all the rocks and strategies. Groups then re-formed around departments to look at the plan through a “departmental lens.” They discussed and filled in the X-matrix with the their department’s level of work alignment to the rocks.

At this point we had the majority of the X-matrix complete for the coming year. This was just a first cut, however, so another Open Space session followed to allow discussion of opportunities and concerns, and what needs to be done in the final quarter of the year to validate our assumptions — resulting in a clear set of actions which were shared with everyone.

By the end of the two days we had a clear and single page visualisation of the potential work for the year, why we were doing it, and how we would measure progress, along with a good understanding of the necessary next steps.

What Happens Next?

As an addition to our corporate planning cadence, the X-matrix was a roaring success. It both helped us be disciplined about thinking about measures and results, and gave us great visibility into how all our work is aligned. It still needs refinement, however, and the executive team will look at the final X-matrix and use it to filter and focus on which strategies and rocks can give us the best leverage in meeting our goals. We typically hold ourselves to no more than four mother strategies and we also strive to limit the number of rocks in process.

From the final plan, we’ll craft a True North statement and will begin executing. The regular cadence of quarterly steering meetings will revisit the X-matrix as a focal point to help us inspect and adapt. We’ll check business results and improvement measures and form rocks, which will start and end according to the necessity of the work and the need to make it transparent across this well-defined review cadence.

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Strategy Deployment and Directed Opportunism

A fourth post exploring the relationship between Strategy Deployment and other approaches (see Strategy Deployment and Fitness for PurposeStrategy Deployment and AgendaShift and Strategy Deployment and Spotify Rhythm).

Directed Opportunism is the approach described by Stephen Bungay in his book The Art of Action, in which he builds on the ideas of Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army for 30 years from 1857, and applies them to leading businesses. This also follows on from the earlier post on alignment and autonomy in Strategy Deployment.

Bungay starts by describing three gaps between desired Outcomes, the Plans made to achieve them, and the Actions taken which create actual Outcomes.  These gaps (the Knowledge Gap, Alignment Gap and Effects Gap) are shown in the diagram below, and together cause organisational friction – resistance of the organisation to meeting its goals.

Gaps

Given this model, Bungay explains how the usual approach to reducing this friction, and closing the gaps, is to attempt to reduce uncertainty by pursuing more detail and control, as show below.

More Detail

This generally makes the situation worse, however, because the problem is not linear, reductionistic or deterministic. In Cynefin terms, this is a Complicated approach in a Complex domain. Instead, Bungay recommends reducing detail and control and allowing freedom to evolve with feedback. This is what he calls Directed Opportunism.

Less Detail

This definition of Directed Opportunism seems to me to meet my definition of Strategy Deployment as a form of organisational improvement in which solutions emerge from the people closest to the problem. There is clear communication of intent (the problem) with each level (the people closest) defining how they well achieve the intent (the solution) and having freedom to adjust in line with the intent (the emergence).

From an X-Matrix perspective, being clear on results, strategies and outcomes limits direction to defining and communicating intent, and leaving tactics to emerge (through Catchball) allows different levels to define how they will achieve the intent and gives them freedom to adjust actions in line with the intent.

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Strategy Deployment and Spotify Rhythm

This is the third in what has turned into a mini series exploring the relationship between Strategy Deployment and other approaches (see Strategy Deployment and Fitness for Purpose and  Strategy Deployment and AgendaShift).

Last month, Henrik Kniberg posted slides from a talk he gave at Agile Sverige on something called Spotify Rhythm which he descibes as “Spotify’s current approach to getting aligned as a company”. While looking through the material, it struck me that what he was describing was a form of Strategy Deployment. This interpretation is based purely on those slides – I haven’t had a chance yet to explore this more deeply with Henrik or anyone else from Spotify. I hope I will do some day, but given that caveat, here’s how I currently understand the approach in terms of the X-Matrix Model.

Spotify Rhythm: Taxonomy

The presentation presents the following “taxonomy” used in “strategic planning”:

Company Beliefs – While this isn’t something I don’t talk about specifically, the concept of beliefs (as opposed to values) does tie in nicely with the idea that Strategy Deployment involves many levels of nested hypotheses and experimentation (as I described in Dynamics of Strategy Deployment). Company Beliefs could be considered to be the highest level, and therefore probably strongest hypotheses.

North Star & 2-Year Goals – A North Star (sometimes called True North) is a common Lean concept (and one I probably don’t talk about enough with regard to Strategy Deployment). It is an overarching statement about a vision of the future, used to set direction. Decisions can be made based on whether they will move the organisation towards (or away from) the North Star. Strategy Deployment is ultimately all in pursuit of enabling the organisational alignment and autonomy which will move it towards the North Star. Given that, the 2-Year Goals can be considered as the Results that moving towards the North Star should deliver.

Company Bets – The Company Bets are the “Big Bets” – “large projects” and “cross-organisation initiatives”. While these sound like high level tactics, I wonder whether they can also be considered to be the Strategies. As mentioned already, Strategy Deployment involves many levels of nested hypothesis and experimentation, and therefore Strategy is a Bet in itself (as are Results , and also Beliefs).

Functional & Market Bets – If the Company Bets are about Strategy, then the Functional and Market Bets are the Tactics implemented by functional or market related teams.

DIBB – DIBB is a framework Spotify use to define bets and “make the chain of reasoning explicit” by showing the relationships between Data, Insights, Beliefs and Bets. Part of that chain of reasoning involves identifying success metrics for the Bets, or in other words, the Outcomes which will indicate if the Bet is returning a positive payoff.

While this isn’t an exact and direct mapping it feels close enough to me. One way of checking alignment would be the ability for anyone to answer some simple questions about the organisations’ journey. I can imagine how Spotify Rhythm provides clarity on how to answer these questions.

  • Do you know where you are heading? North Star
  • Do you know what the destination looks like? 2 Year Goals (Results)
  • Do you know how you will get there? Company Bets (Strategies)
  • Do you know how you will track progress? DIBBs (Outcomes)
  • Do you know how you will make progress? Functional & Market Bets (Tactics)

One final element of Spotify Rhythm which relates to Strategy Deployment is implied in its name – the cadence with which the process runs. Company Bets are reviewed every quarter by the Strategy Team (another reason why they could be considered to be Strategies) and the Functional and Market Bets – also called TPD (Tech-Product-Design) Bets – are reviewed every 6 weeks.

I’d be interested in feedback on alternative interpretations of Spotify Rhythm. Or if you know more about it than I do, please correct anything I’ve got wrong!

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