Large Solution Refinement: Paving the Super-Highway of Value Delivery

This post is the second in a series about success patterns for large solutions. Read the first post here.

Backlog refinement is integral to the Scrum process because it prevents surprises and maintains flow in iterative development. Regular backlog review ensures the backlog is ready for iteration planning. An Agile team understands how much they still need to refine the backlog items before the next iteration planning and beyond.

When applying SAFe® to large, complex, cyber-physical systems, you must expand backlog refinement to include more viewpoints. The complexity of a large solution is rarely fully comprehended by one or a few individuals, and the size of the large solution exacerbates the impact of risks that can escape into large solution planning.

So how do we find the balance between overpreparation, which limits ownership and innovation by the solution builders, and under-refinement, which can undermine the solution and the flow of value delivery?

To answer these questions, we adapted the following success patterns for large solution backlog refinement.

Use the Dispatcher Clause

The dispatcher principle guides large solution refinement by preventing the premature dispatch of requirements to Agile Release Trains (ARTs), solution areas, or Agile teams. Premature dispatching can cause risks like:

• Misalignment in the development of different solution components
• Missed opportunities for economies of scale across organizational constructs
• Sub-optimization of lower priority solution features

In contrast, making the right trade-off decisions at the right level drives holistic and innovative solutions.

Key stakeholder viewpoints that are often overlooked include marketing, compliance, customer support, and finance. Ensuring these voices are heard during refinement work can prevent issues that might remain undetected until late in the solution roadmap.

For complex solutions, we discovered that a planning conference is more effective than pre-and post-PI Planning events alone. This event mimics a PI Planning event and is intended to align upcoming PI work across ARTs and solution areas. To keep the conference focused and productive, it should only include representatives from the participating ARTs. We will cover specific planning conference details in a later blog post.

The goal of the planning conference is to provide a boundary for the large solution refinement work. Preparation for key decisions that can be made in the planning conference should be part of the refinement work. But making key decisions is part of the planning conference. However, key stakeholder inputs that cannot be reasonably gathered during the planning conference should be included in the refinement work.

For example, in Figure one, a review of the key behavior-driven development (BDD) demo and testing scenarios by a customer advisory board is valuable input in refinement. The customer advisory board will not attend the two-day planning conference, so their advance input provides guardrails on the backlog work that’s considered.

Agree on the Definition of Ready

The definition of the readiness (DoR) criteria for a large solution backlog is often multidimensional. Consider, for example, the architectural dimension of the solution. The architecture defines the high-level solution components and how they interact to provide value. The choice of components is relevant to system architects in the contributing ARTs and stakeholders in at least these areas:

• User experience
• Compliance
• Internal audit and standards
• Corporate reuse
• Finance  

Advancing the backlog item—a Capability or an Epic—through the stages of readiness often requires review and refinement from the various stakeholders.

Figure one is an example Definition of Ready Maturity Model. It shows the solution dimensions that must be refined in preparation for the solution backlog. Levels zero to five show how readiness can advance within each dimension. The horizontal contour lines show that progression to the intermediate stages of readiness is often a combination of different levels in each dimension.

Applying SAFe for Agility
Figure 1. Definition of Ready Maturity Model example

This delineation is helpful when monitoring the progression of a backlog item to intermediate readiness stages on a Kanban board.

The key to balancing over-preparation and under-refinement is to distinguish between work that an ART or solution area can complete independently without a high risk of rework. For example, final costs could be prohibitively high without a Lean business case to scope the solution. Another common high-risk impact of under-refinement is unacceptable usability caused by the siloed implementation of Features by the ARTs.

The Priority BDD and Test Scenarios in Figure one represent how features are used harmoniously. These scenarios provide guardrails to help ARTs prioritize and demonstrate parts of the overall solution without significant rework of a PI.

Identifying the dimensions, levels, and progression of readiness is a powerful organizational skill for building a large solution.

Leverage Refinement Crews

Regular large solution refinement is necessary to ensure readiness. The complexity of a large solution warrants greater effort and participation than Solution Management can cover. And the number of key decisions grows in direct proportion to the size of a solution.

Our experience shows that roughly 10 percent of those who participate in large solution development should participate in a regular refinement cadence. If the total participation is 450 people, then 45 representatives from across ARTs or solution areas should set aside time for weekly refinement iterations.

Backlog refinement for a large solution requires more capacity than a typical backlog refinement session. The refinement crews determine a cadence of planning, executing, and demonstrating the refinement work. One-week iterations, for example, help drive focus on refinement to ensure readiness.

We also discovered that refinement crews of six to eight people should swarm refinement work within iterations. These groups are usually created based on individual skills and their representation within stakeholder groups. Alignment with crews and dimensions or skillsets is determined during the planning of refinement iterations. The goal is always to move the funnel item to the next refinement maturity level in the next iteration.

Our experience says that each refinement crew requires at least three to four core participants. The other crew members can come from stakeholder organizations outside the Solution Train.

Readiness progress must be reviewed on a regular cadence with solution train progress. Progress can be represented in the Solution Kanban between the Funnel and Backlog stages, as shown in Figure two. In our example, these stages replace the Analyzing state provided as a starting point in SAFe.

Applying SAFe for Agility
Figure 2. Refinement Stages in Solution Kanban

The organization must also allow each refinement step to vary over time, as it makes sense for the solution. For example, as the development of the solution progresses toward a releasable version, the architecture should stabilize. Therefore the readiness of the backlog item in the architecture dimension should progress very quickly, if not skip some readiness steps. As solutions approach a major release, the contributors’ capacity can shift from readiness to execution of the current release or readiness for the next release.

Because refinement happens in a regular cadence of iterations, weekly, for example, the refinement crews should be empowered to make these decisions in refinement iteration planning.

Employ Dynamic Agility

So is there a definitive template of dimensions with levels and a step-by-step process for determining the DoR? Not quite. And we don’t think that a prescriptive process is best for most organizations.

Instead, we advocate for using the organizational skill of dynamic agility.

As the size and complexity of a solution grow, so do the number and type of variables: compliance type, hardware types, skills required, size of the development organization, size of the enterprise/business, specialization of customer types, and so on. This complexity is augmented by company culture challenges, workforce turnover, and technology advancements in emerging industries.

Individuals’ motivation and innovation suffer when they get lost in the morass of complexity. When things don’t get done, more employees are added to help fix the problem. This workforce growth only magnifies the complexity again.

In contrast, the organizational skill of dynamic agility stimulates autonomy, mastery, and purpose for individuals within teams, teams-of-teams, and large solutions.

Consider the House of Dynamic Agility represented in Figure three.

Applying SAFe for Agility
Figure 3. House of Dynamic Agility

How can dynamic agility be applied to large solution refinement? DoR identification and maintenance of its dimensions and levels happen through a regular cadence of the right events. How often should these occur, for how long, and who should attend? What elements will represent and communicate the DoR? What roles are best suited to own and facilitate the management and use of DoR over time? How will collaboration across the organization happen most efficiently for maximum benefit? These questions are best determined in the context of the large solution.

Conclusion

Large solutions require a balance of preparation and execution to achieve an optimal flow of value. Conducting backlog refinement in preparation for a large solution planning conference and PI Planning lets decomposed work items be implemented without risk of rework. Avoiding over-specification in refinement allows ARTs to innovate and accomplish within the guardrails of refinement. Enabling large solutions to leverage dynamic agility builds ownership, collaboration, and efficiency in a large-scale endeavor.

Look for the next post in our series, coming soon.

About Cindy VanEpps, Project & Team, Inc.

Cindy VanEpps -  SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT)

From crafting space shuttle flight design and mission control software at Johnson Space Center to roles including software developer, technical lead, development manager, consultant, and solution developer, Cindy has an extensive repertoire of skills and experience. As a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) and Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) expert, her thought leadership, teaching, and consulting rely on pragmatism in the application of Agile practices.

About Wolfgang Brandhuber, Project & Team, Inc.

Chief Scrum Master, and Agile Head Coach in various Agile environments

Dr. Wolfgang Brandhuber has been a Scrum Developer, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Chief Scrum Master, and Agile Head Coach in various Agile environments. His passion is large solutions. Since the advent of the large solution level in the Scaled Agile Framework in 2016, he has set up and helped solution trains improve their complex systems. During his 18 years as a professional consultant, he worked over 16 of those in the Agile world and more than nine years with SAFe. Among other certifications, he is a certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT), a Kanban University Trainer (AKT), and an Agility Health Trainer (AHT).

About Malte Kumlehn, Project & Team, Inc.

Malte Kumlehn, Project & Team, Inc.

Malte helps deliver complex ecosystems, people, Cloud, AI, and data-powered digital transformations toward business agility. He pioneers intelligent operating models for portfolios with large solutions as a SAFe® Fellow, advisory board member, and executive advisor in this field. He guides executives in developing the most challenging competencies that allow them to deliver breakthrough results through Lean-Agile at scale. His experience has been published by Accenture, Gartner, and the Swiss Association for Quality over the last ten years.

Learn more about Project & Team.

Creative Tension – Implementing SAFe Properly

How to use the gap between where you are and where you want to be

This post is part of the ongoing Practice Makes Permanent blog series. Read the first post here.

OK, so your Lean-Agile transformation is stalling. It’s not delivering the increased value and reduced delivery times you expected. Your teams are struggling and perhaps updating their resumes. You thought that implementing the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) would bring you these outcomes, but you’ve discovered you’re not using all Ten Critical Success Factors of SAFe. Perhaps you’ve discovered that you’re not actually implementing SAFe correctly as you intended, which means you’re probably not gaining the full value of what the Framework has to offer. The key to taking full advantage of this realization is to be encouraged rather than discouraged. We can’t improve until we see the improvements that are needed. The purpose of this article is to help you see that these discoveries should be cause for celebration, not concern.

One of my favorite books (and authors) is Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. In his book, Peter describes the concept of creative tension as ”the tension between vision and reality.” It’s the concept of discovering the gap between where you are and where you want to be and using that gap as energy to make improvements. Think of it as a transformational snowball effect.

SAFe guidance depicts the perfect scenario where an organization exemplifies all seven core competencies, delivering high quality and accurate value to customers, and having the kind of culture and work environment that makes it a great place to work. Then we look at the current reality and realize we have a long way to go to reach this nirvana state of business agility.

Sometimes that gap seems insurmountable, unachievable, and perhaps just unrealistic. As we identify that first improvement opportunity and implement that first improvement effort, we start to see some excitement and engagement. We’re still a long way from that nirvana view, but we’re starting to make progress. And that creates more energy for the next effort. So, we take on the next improvement effort, and there seems to be just a bit more engagement and hope that we can move forward. And that’s where we start to see the snowball effect of relentless improvement.

Implementing SAFe Properly
The snowball effect.

For each improvement we make, we gain more energy, engagement, and willingness to change. And we start to go faster. And faster. And faster. And now, that relentless improvement pillar seems to make more sense, and in fact, becomes part of our DNA. As Peter Senge stated, “The most effective people are those who can ‘hold’ their vision while remaining committed to seeing current reality clearly.”

Positive change is contagious. It brings excitement and hope to the organization. That energy must start somewhere. So, as Taichi Ohno said, “If you are going to do Kaizen continuously … you’ve got to assume that things are a mess. Too many people just assume that things are all right the way they are … If you assume that things are all right the way they are, you can’t do Kaizen. So, change something!”

My point is to change something with a huge grin on your face because you can see the snowball effect of creative tension pulling you upward.

Implementing SAFe Properly
A team celebrating its small wins.

So, when you see that gap between your current reality and where you want to be, you should view it as an opportunity, not a negative situation. In other words, you should view every improvement opportunity with excitement and anticipation of where you can go next on the journey toward business agility.

As change agents, we’ve learned that empathy along the transformation journey is vital. We know how hard it is, so we fully understand why you skipped some of the steps. But now is the time to restart or renew that journey. In subsequent posts, we will talk about specific activities and components we can use the creative tension approach to jump-start a Lean-Agile transformation. The goal of this series is to help you find the next opportunity to accelerate that snowball effect in your transformation.

Check back soon for the next post in the series.

About Dwayne Stroman

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.

Practice Makes _______ : SAFe® implementation

Find true success with your SAFe® implementation

A big part of my personal life revolves around motorcycles, specifically road racing and coaching. When I’m working with new racers or track riders who want to improve their skills, the first thing I do is ask them to complete this sentence: “Practice makes _____.”  Almost everyone says “perfect!” But usually, the opposite is true. When racers go out on the track and continue to repeat bad habits, such as not moving their eyes down-track or using poor body position, they simply cement the wrong technique, which is more difficult to correct later. I always teach riders to focus on learning the basics and build on these good techniques until they become permanent. We all start with the belief that practice makes perfect. However, if you practice the wrong things, the only thing you perfect is the wrong approach. (Note: I want to thank Nick Ienatsch from the Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) for helping me see the importance of learning the right skills before starting to practice. Working with Nick and the crew at YCRS and ChampSchool taught me so much about the importance of getting the basics right.)

SAFe practice
The author coaches the basics in an off-track drill.

Switching sports metaphors, a favorite phrase from football coaches (Marv Levy may have been the first to use this) is to “learn how to do it right and then practice it until you never get it wrong.”  That’s how we bake in the right techniques, and where practice makes permanent is our ally.

When implementing SAFe®, it’s common to bring in old habits from your organization’s history. It’s hard to break free of these past practices but it’s even more difficult to change them once they’ve been brought into the transformation effort. There are many common anti-patterns that organizations practice and make permanent, including:

  • Multiple Program Backlogs (whether real or virtual) make it difficult for the teams or ART to focus on the most important thing to work on; this damages Lean flow due to context switching.
  • Leadership believing that their job is to direct work, which is in direct opposition to SAFe Principle 8 (unlock intrinsic motivation) and SAFe Principle 9 (decentralize decision-making).
  • Not using the IP iteration for its vital purpose to be a buffer for capacity and to support ongoing innovation, improvement, and synchronized planning.
  • Using PI planning as a readout of assigned plans, rather than allowing the teams to use team breakouts to discover the best plan to meet business needs.
  • Objectives given to the teams rather than teams creating their own objectives. When teams review the vision and roadmap and then create their own objectives, they gain engagement and alignment with business and Product Management to demonstrate they understand the value needed.

A common issue we see is organizations treating SAFe as a buffet where you can pick and choose what you implement and what you don’t. While SAFe is highly configurable and is not at all prescriptive, there are key elements that you must implement for real success. These 10 critical success factors are the basic components that you learn and practice until you never get them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect to start. Learning to implement SAFe correctly is just like learning to ride both fast and safe. You learn the proper techniques and continue to inspect and adapt until you get it right, then practice these techniques until they become instinctive. That’s when the speed comes.  The same concept applies to your SAFe implementation—learn the 10 critical success factors and practice them until they become instinctive. You will make mistakes along the way because getting these factors right takes time and effort. But if you continue to focus on these basics, they become part of the culture and the norm for your organization.  That’s when you experience the true value of a SAFe implementation.

Practice Makes Permanent Blog Series

In this blog series, I aim to share my experiences from the field in helping organizations master and apply good, basic, Lean-Agile and SAFe practices to promote successful SAFe implementation.

Upcoming topics I plan to cover include PI planning, the Program Backlog, and SAFe roles. My hope is that as part of this effort, you will be able to achieve business agility through the Lean-Agile mindset.

Read the next post in this series here.

About Dwayne Stroman

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer

Dwayne is an Enterprise Transformation Coach and Trainer and SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) with more than 20 years of experience. He is ultra-passionate about helping large organizations learn how to build the right products and deliver optimal value through learning and customer validation. Dwayne uses his SPCT role to help several Fortune 100 companies, as well as many growing companies in finance, retail, healthcare, and logistics, realize the benefits of a Lean-Agile mindset. Connect with Dwayne on LinkedIn.

Meet the People Translating SAFe® for the World – Helping to Adopt SAFe

Globalization is an important growth strategy for Scaled Agile. Localization of SAFe content enables our customers worldwide to participate and learn in their own native language. And it helps drive the adoption of SAFe across international markets. 

We need several key ingredients to create a great global product. One of them is people. Since I started working at Scaled Agile, one of the most rewarding experiences was building a global SAFe In-country Review (ICR) team comprised of SAF SAFe experts —known as SPCs and SPCTs—from around the globe. All of them are highly experienced Agile coaches and transformation leaders who are changing the way people work in their respective countries. I’ve had the utmost pleasure of working closely with this team and I can tell you that they are fantastic people!

At Scaled Agile, translation quality, including that of our glossary, is critical. We don’t simply translate a term. We make sure every term has been discussed and thoroughly vetted by our passionate ICR team. Does the term or concept exist in the target language? If the concept can be translated in multiple ways, which one is most appropriate given the context? Do we use the traditional translation of the term or the anglicized version? Does the transliteration make sense instead? These are just a few examples of the questions that our ICR team addresses on a regular basis. 

After all, the glossary is an integral part of the learning experience. And we need to ensure that SAFe content is well-translated and of high quality. Thanks to our ICR team’s effort, the SAFe glossary is now available in 13 languages.

The holiday season is a perfect time for reflection. I’d like to take a moment to recognize the contribution of the ICR team and properly thank everyone who contributed. The list below includes past and current ICR team members (listed in alphabetical order by the first name). These individuals went above and beyond to contribute to the SAFe community by sharing their knowledge and devoting their time. They’re helping to make SAFe more accessible to learners worldwide.

Translating SAFe

I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to our special ICR team because we couldn’t have done it without you! I look forward to working with everyone in the new year as we will continue to update the SAFe glossary and focus on courseware translations. 

Wherever you are, whatever you are celebrating, I wish everyone a healthy, happy holiday season!

Interested in becoming an ICR? Please click here to learn more.

About Yuka Kurihara

Yuka is Director of Globalization Services a

Yuka is Director of Globalization Services at Scaled Agile, Inc. She has 20+ years of experience building corporate globalization strategies and leading localization technology and operations in enterprises of all sizes. Connect with Yuka on LinkedIn.

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Connecting OKRs, KPIs, OVSs, and DVSs – For Successful SAFe® Implementation

The title of my post may read like acronym soup but all of these concepts play a critical role in SAFe, and understanding how they’re connected is important for successful SAFe implementation. After exploring some connections, I will suggest some actions you can take while designing, evaluating, or accelerating your implementation.

KPIs and OKRs

The SAFe Value Stream KPIs article describes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as “the quantifiable measures used to evaluate how a value stream is performing against its forecasted business outcomes.

That includes:

  • Health of day-to-day performance
  • Work to create sustainable change in performance

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are meant to be about driving and evaluating change rather than maintaining the status quo. Therefore, they are a special kind of KPI. Objectives point towards the desired state. Key results measure progress towards that desired state. 

But how do these different concepts map to SAFe’s Operational Value Streams (OVSs) and Development Value Streams (DVSs)? And why should you care?

Changing and Improving the Operation

Like Strategic Themes, most OKRs point to the desired change in business performance. These OKRs would be the ones that company leadership cares about. And they would be advanced through the efforts of a DVS (or multiple ones). 

For example, if the business wants to move to a subscription/SaaS model, that’s a change in the operating model—a change in how the OVS looks and operates. That change is supported by the development of new systems and capabilities, which is work that will be accomplished by a DVS (or multiple ones). 

This view enables us to recognize the wider application of the DVS concept that we talk about in SAFe 5. Business agility means using Agile and SAFe constructs to develop any sort of changing the business needs, regardless of whether that change includes IT or technology.

Whenever we are trying to change our operation, there’s a question about how much variability we’re expecting around this change. Is there more known than the unknown? Or vice versa? Are we making this change in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity? If yes, then using a DVS construct that employs empiricism to seek the right answers to how to achieve the OKR is essential, regardless of how much IT or technology is involved. We might have an OKR that requires business change involving mainly legal, marketing, procurement, HR, and so on, that would still benefit from an Agile and SAFe DVS approach.

These OKRs would then find themselves elaborated and advanced through the backlogs and backlog items in the various ARTs and teams involved in this OKR. 

In some cases, an OKR would drive the creation of a focused DVS. This is the culmination of the Organize around Value Lean-Agile SAFe Principle. This is why Strategic Themes and OKRs should be an important consideration when trying to identify value streams and ARTs (in the Value Stream and ART identification workshop). And a significant new theme/OKR should trigger some rethinking of whether the current DVS network is optimally organized to support the new value creation goals set by the organization.

Maintaining the Health of the Operation

As mentioned earlier, maintaining the health of the operation is also tracked through KPIs. Here we expect stability and predictability in performance. It’s crucial work but it’s not what OKRs or Strategic Themes are about. 

This work can be simple, complex, or even chaotic depending on the domain. The desire of any organization is to bring its operation under as much control as possible and minimize variability as it makes sense in the business domain. What this means is that in many cases, we don’t need Agile and empiricism in order to actually run the operation. Lean and flow techniques can still be useful to create sustainable, healthy flow (see more in the Organizational Agility competency). 

Whenever people working in the OVS switch to improving the OVS (or in other words working on versus in the operation), they are, in essence, moving over implicitly to a DVS. 

Some organizations make this duality explicit by creating a DVS that involves a combination of people who spend some of their time in the OVS and some of their time working on it together with people who are focused on working on the OVS. For example, an orthopedic clinic network in New England created a DVS comprising clinicians, doctors, PAs, and billing managers (that work the majority of their time in the OVS) together with IT professionals. Major improvements to the OVS happen in this DVS.

Improving the Development Value Stream

The DVS needs to relentlessly improve and learn as well. Examples of OKRs in this space could be: improving time-to-market, as measured by improved flow time or by improving the predictability of business value delivered, as measured by improved flow predictability. It could also be: organize around value, measured by the number of dependencies and the reduction in the number of Solution Trains required. 

This is also where the SAFe transformation or Agile journey lives. There are ways to improve DVSs or the overall network of DVSs, creating a much-improved business capability to enhance its operation and advance business OKRs. 

Implementing OKRs in this space relates more to enablers in the SAFe backlogs than to features or capabilities. Again, these OKRs change the way the DVS works.

Running the Development Value Stream

Similar metrics can be used as KPIs that help maintain the health of the DVS on an ongoing basis. For example, if technical debt is currently under control, a KPI monitoring it might suffice and hopefully will help avoid a major technical debt crisis. If we weren’t diligent enough to avoid the crisis, an objective could be put in place to significantly reduce the amount of technical debt. Achieving a certain threshold for a tech debt KPI could serve as a key result (KR) for this objective. Once it’s achieved, we might leave the tech debt KPI in place to maintain health. 

It’s like continuing to monitor your weight after you’ve gone on a serious diet. During the diet, you have an objective of achieving a healthy weight with a KR tracking BMI and aiming to get below 25. After achieving your objective, you continue to track your BMI as a KPI.

Taking Action to Advance Your Implementation Using OKRs

In this blog post, we explored the relationship between operational and development value streams and the Strategic Themes and OKRs. We’ve seen OVS KPIs and OKRs as well as DVS OKRs and KPIs. 

A key step in accelerating business agility is to continually assess whether you’re optimally organized around value. OKRs can provide a very useful lens to use for this assessment. 

Start by reviewing your OKRs and KPIs and categorize them according to OVS/DVS/Change/Run.

You can use the matrix below.

Run-focused OKRs

If you find some OKRs on the left side of the matrix, it’s time to rethink. 

Run-focused OKRs should actually be described as KPIs. Discuss the difference and whether you’re actually looking for meaningful change to these KPIs (in which case it really can be an OKR—but make sure it is well described as one) or are happy to just maintain a healthy status quo. 

You can then consider your DVS network/ART/team topology. Is it sufficiently aligned with your OKRs/KPIs? Are there interesting opportunities to reorganize around value?

This process can also be used in a Value Stream Identification workshop for the initial design of the implementation or whenever you want to inspect and adapt it.

Find me on LinkedIn to learn more about making these connections in your SAFe context via an OKR workshop.

About Yuval Yeret

Yuval is a SAFe Fellow and the head of AgileSparks

Yuval is a SAFe Fellow and the head of AgileSparks (a Scaled Agile Partner) in the United States where he leads enterprise-level Agile implementations. He’s also the steward of The AgileSparks Way and the firm’s SAFe, Flow/Kanban, and Agile Marketing. Find Yuval on LinkedIn.

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Adopting ABC – AI, Big Data, and the Cloud

How the Business Agility Value Stream will prepare you to win in the post-digital economy with AI, big data, and the cloud.

Introduction

At the 2021 Global SAFe Summit, Dean Leffingwell presented the idea that we are at the threshold of a new technological revolution. A post-digital economy that’s being driven by the adoption of ABC: artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the cloud. Dean further explained how the Business Agility Value Stream (BAVS) creates a system that will allow businesses to rapidly react to the insights provided by ABC.

If you’re anything like me, listening to Dean’s talk generated many different ideas. In fact, several weeks passed before I went back and re-listened to the keynote to identify the core intent of the talk.

Those insights are what I’m sharing with you today: an understanding of the BAVS and how the concepts of ABC fit into the future of organizations using SAFe.

The Business Agility Value Stream

The value stream construct has been discussed in every version of SAFe dating back to SAFe 2.5 (2013). However, the conversation wasn’t top-of-mind until SAFe5 and the introduction of SAFe Lean-Agile Principle #10, Organize Around Value.

Now, and rightfully so, every organization that seeks to embrace SAFe is challenged to identify and optimize how value reaches the customer via their operational value streams (OVSs). We then challenge organizations to go a step further and optimize the relationship between the OVS, its supporting development value streams (DVSs), and the Agile Release Trains (ARTs) that realize them by considering complexities of the business architecture, technical architecture, and how the people who support the systems are dispersed. 

We do our best to support SAFe enterprises and SPCs in this difficult conversation with the Value Stream and ART Identification workshop, and the newly released Value Stream Mapping workshop (both are available on the SAFe Community Platform). Even with the assets and expert consulting available, changing and optimizing the system to focus on outcomes instead of outputs is no small undertaking. And for what purpose?

Though optimizing these value streams is a goal, we must also consider why optimized value streams are so important and what to do with them.

Enter the BAVS.

business agility stream

Powered by optimized OVSs and DVSs, the BAVS puts those charged with strategy in a position to: 

  • Sense market opportunities
  • Formulate a hypothesis to exploit the identified opportunity via the Lean Business Case
  • Gain alignment and approval to pursue an MVP through Lean Portfolio Management (LPM)
  • Organize around value by introducing the MVP to existing ARTs (or if needed, standing up a new ART)
  • Leverage the tools of Agile product management and design thinking
  • Develop a customer-focused solution
  • Deliver the MVP in 2–6 months via the continuous delivery pipeline
  • Monitor the solution in LPM to determine if the hypothesis holds true or needs to be reconsidered
  • Continue to deliver value and learn until the business opportunity has been fully leveraged

What is ABC?

With the system optimized and the BAVS in place, you are likely now left wondering how the enterprise is expected to sense emerging business opportunities. Though expertise and experience continue to play a role in how opportunities are addressed, we can no longer afford to guess where the next opportunity lies. Partly because an uninformed guess is full of risk to revenue, team stability, and market reputation, but mostly because uninformed guesses could rapidly destroy a business. In the post-digital economy, the amount of time required for an organization to recognize an opportunity, ruminate about how to address it, and then put the plan into action is far greater than the window of opportunity will remain open.

This is where ABC comes in—its three elements power the modern decision engine. 

AI

There are bound to be some really cool applications for AI, but I suspect that the majority will be less dramatic than its portrayal in Hollywood. For many of our organizations, AI will be put to use to address customer service, mitigate fraud and other risks, optimize development processes, and identify emerging trends in data. In terms of the BAVS, when leveraged, AI will serve as the trigger that identifies market opportunities and threats that the BAVS will respond to through business insights, operational efficiencies, and intelligent customer solutions.

Big Data

For AI to work effectively, the algorithms require access to large amounts of data—the more the better. Fortunately, many companies have decades worth of historical data and are collecting more each day. The problem that many organizations are addressing is how to pool that data into an easily accessible common format, but that is a conversation for another day. 

Data is the answer. And for it to power organizations, it cannot be bound by organizational politics or structures. The key to enterprise success in the next digital age is in the organization’s data. We only need to ask the right questions of the data. 

Cloud

With so much data and so much analysis required to make sense of it all, we are fortunate to live in the age of infinitely scalable infrastructure via the cloud. Imagine 15 years ago the amount of work required to bring 100 new CPUs online to address a complex problem. An undertaking of this magnitude would have required new servers, racks, bandwidth, electricity, and a facility to store the new hardware. It would have taken months to a year or longer to bring online.

Today, we can scale our infrastructure to nearly infinite capacity with the touch of a button, and descale it nearly as fast. We have the capacity (cloud), we have the resources (data), and we have the capability (AI) to win in the post-digital economy. The only thing that stands in the way of exploiting those elements is changing our system of work to keep pace.

What Will You Do with ABC?

The purpose of the Scaled Agile Framework is to help organizations thrive in this technological revolution and those that are sure to come. The mission of SAFe is to work differently and build the future. The path to achieving our mission and purpose is constantly evolving with the world of business and technology. Though we don’t claim to have all of the answers, we’re confident that we can provide the tools and intent to help organizations solve for their own unique context.

The BAVS is the latest evolution of a perspective that started nearly eight years ago with improving the delivery of technology to the enterprise. We’re excited to see what organizations do with ABC and how their BAVS delivers value and change to the world. Especially as all we do becomes more interconnected and the true possibilities of the near-limitless potential of people become more apparent.

About Adam Mattis

Adam Mattis is a SAFe Fellow and a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT)

Adam Mattis is a SAFe Fellow and a SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) at Scaled Agile with many years of experience overseeing SAFe implementations across a wide range of industries. He’s also an experienced transformation architect, engaging speaker, energetic trainer, and a regular contributor to the broader Lean-Agile and educational communities. Learn more about Adam at adammattis.com.

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The Unparalleled Value of Emotional Intelligence – Business Agility Value Stream – Part Two

If you’ve read the first post in my blog series, you may have been inspired to think about how the emotional intelligence competencies manifest in every step of the business agility value stream. From identifying and sensing the opportunity to learning and adapting to ultimately delivering on the business opportunity. So, if we can measure emotional intelligence competencies, my hypothesis is that they, directly and indirectly, impact flow and outcomes as well.

Let’s go step by step in the business agility value stream and see how applying emotional intelligence directly impacts flow and outcomes.

business agility

Sensing the opportunity involves market research, data analysis, customer feedback, and directly observing customers in the marketplace. Applying your own self-regulation, empathy, and social skills can help you have more productive empathy interviews, obtain less-biased, face-to-face research, and control how you react to customer feedback. 

This key step in the organizational agility competency involves not only leaders applying ‘go see’, but offering the same ‘go see’ opportunities to other key roles in the development value stream so that they can better understand and reason about the problem to solve. This expands the social networks so that they can apply and evolve their emotional intelligence competencies to effectively communicate, pitch, reason, and articulate effective hypothesis statements that inspire and engage innovation.

Funding the minimum viable product (MVP) requires the motivation and social skills to help drive change, innovate, and communicate intent at scale. We all know this isn’t easy. It requires you to craft the “why” and use your social skills of influence and conflict management to negotiate and secure the funds. Some of the recommendations from the Lean Portfolio Management competency where we can leverage these social skills include:

  • Engage in participatory budgeting
  • Establish flow and stakeholder engagement through the portfolio Kanban system
  • Roadmap the portfolio
  • Integrate enterprise architecture and SMEs
  • Realize epics
  • Establish Lean budgets and guardrails 

Organizing around value requires even more of the social skills around communication, building new bonds, and fostering the information coherence necessary to build some of the world’s most complex systems. As well as the ability to connect to the customer so that our people embrace and understand what value they’re trying to deliver.

Team and technical agility and organizational agility not only aid in building these bonds but can leverage and grow all of the emotional intelligence competencies of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. This can be amplified with the coveted help from our scrum masters and RTEs. 

Connect to the customer leverages our Agile product delivery and enterprise solution competencies and their design thinking skills to listen, reflect, empathize, and connect with the people for whom we’re designing solutions. 

This requires going deep into the empathy competency of emotional intelligence by leveraging our service-orientation mindset so that we can foresee, recognize, and meet customer needs. Diversity is also important for the ongoing development of opportunities and awareness in all societies and social circles. If we can evolve the empathy competency in all aspects of product and solution delivery, we have the opportunity to excel beyond our competitors in delivering value. 

Delivering that MVP calls upon our product and solution delivery folks to lead, and our social networks to collaborate, iterate, communicate, and deliver using their motivation and social skills. It also pulls highly on our social networks to have courage, collaborate and cooperate, take risks, and instrument rapid change so that we can learn and adapt to our ever-changing market landscapes.

Pivot or persevere pulls on the need for empathy when things don’t turn out as desired and the time comes to pivot or persevere. Our Lean portfolio management fiduciaries reason about the data, facts, and outcomes of the MVP and could quite possibly pivot to a direction of a higher cost of delay at any moment. This means we need to abandon our emotional attachment to what we created and turn to the next-highest value delivery. Self-regulation and empathy both play strongly in this step of the business agility value stream. Having the emotional awareness of why our folks are for or against any change in this step can help mitigate any delays in fostering rapid change and learning. 

Deliver value continuously imposes that our product and solution delivery people and ARTs always work together to share knowledge, build out that continuous delivery pipeline, and innovate. The continuous delivery pipeline and our DevOps mindset enable that fast-feedback loop to foster our continuous learning culture. Our iterative and incremental heartbeat also facilitates that continuous value delivery and learning cycle. All require using our social skills to grow and enable knowledge transfer and information coherence so that the social network can continue to thrive and innovate.

Our learn and adapt cycle is integral to the process, Measuring our emotional intelligence competencies will help us learn and grow our own selves alongside the SAFe core competencies. After all, if we don’t learn about ourselves, how can we show up with our truest authenticity to grow and foster that continuous learning culture?

Lean-Agile leadership enables the business agility value stream, as does the evolution of everyone’s emotional intelligence. Leaders model and leverage all of the emotional intelligence competencies so that our development value streams can evolve both their business agility competencies and their emotional competencies. If we don’t consider human emotion, we can inhibit flow, people shut down and lose their motivation, and thus jeopardize providing value to our customers.

business agility

Now, if the business agility value stream is a perspective across operational and development value streams, then the benefits, interactions, and human impacts that the emotional intelligence of the development value stream network provides to the operational value stream will propagate and evolve. The interactions and modeling of emotional intelligence will have a bi-directional impact that will engage and accelerate the operational value stream in delivering value. 

I hope I’ve provided a perspective that it’s not just mastering the SAFe business agility process competencies that enable business agility. The evolution of human emotional intelligence impacts the flow and outcomes of the business agility value stream every step of the way. As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, Goleman’s personal competencies of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation fuel our human agency and our ability to manage our own emotions. The social competencies of empathy and social skills fuel how we handle relationships. Together, the evolution of emotional intelligence within our organization increases our ability to deliver value to our customers, as well as value to our individual people. What enterprise doesn’t want that?

At this point, you may be asking, “Well, how can I bring these into my SAFe transformation and journey toward business agility?” 

Here are a few techniques to get you started on your emotional intelligence journey:

  • Start with you. Allow time for self-reflection, self-work, and to recharge yourself. Leverage your retrospectives, your own personal plan-do-check-adjust cycles, and the teaming activities to evolve your emotional intelligence competencies. Integrate some emotional intelligence workshops with your leaders and teams to help evolve and experience the competencies, starting with self-awareness and self-regulation. This will help build trust so you can continue to unfold into the deeper and perhaps more sensitive competencies of empathy and social skills. 
  • Grow your own internal and external coaching network. In the same way that sports teams need coaches, our operational and development value streams and the individuals within them need coaches too. They help with all aspects of emotional intelligence, wherever folks may need or want assistance. They can provide the tools and techniques to become more self-aware, provide exercises for self-regulation and motivation, and practice empathy. Not to mention offer assistance to help people evolve their social skills. And even more powerful, coaches model the behaviors so that our social networks can lean into what they see and learn.
  • Create a community of practice around the competencies and practices. In the latest Leading by Example module that Scaled Agile released, one of the beautiful outcomes was a cohort that trusted each other and was willing to share their deepest challenges with authenticity. This type of network provides the power of a safe space that people can always come back to, to practice, share ideas and concerns, and grow without judgement or fear.
  • Help evolve assessments around Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Competency Framework. And measure the evolution within your people and the enterprise. You’ll start to see some correlations between the SAFe measurements of flow, competencies, and outcomes.
  • Share with our community. We’d love to hear how evolving your enterprise intelligence will help your employees achieve their aspirations and help customers receive better products and solutions.

And, reach out to me. I’d love to hear how it’s going so I can learn and grow with you! I may not have been born with emotional intelligence but I’m passionate about learning and evolving with you. Find me on LinkedIn.

About Jennifer Fawcett

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner,

Jennifer is a retired, empathetic Lean and Agile leader, practitioner, coach, speaker, and consultant. A SAFe® Fellow, she has contributed to and helped develop SAFe content and courseware. Her passion and focus have been in delivering value in the workplace and by creating communities and culture through effective product management, product ownership, executive portfolio coaching, and leadership. She has provided dedicated service in these areas to technology companies for over 35 years. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.

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8 Patterns to Set Up Your Measure and Grow Program for Success

We all know that any time you start something new in an organization it takes time to make it stick, and if teams and leaders find value, they will work to keep a program flourishing. The same is true when you implement a Measure and Grow Program within your organization. It takes planning and effort to get it started, but the rewards will definitely outweigh the efforts in the end.

At AgilityHealth®, our Strategists work with organizations every day to help them set up Measure and Grow programs that will succeed based on their individual needs. Through their experiences, they have noticed some consistent patterns across our customers, both commercial and government, for- and non-profit. Understanding these patterns can help you set up a program that’s right for your organization.

Before we jump into the patterns, let’s review what a Measure and Grow program is. Simply stated, it’s how you will measure your progress toward business agility. When we look at how Enterprise Business Agility was defined by Sally Elatta, AgilityHealth Founder, and Evan Leybourne, Founder of the Business Agility Institute, you can see why this is important.

The ability to adapt to change, learn and pivot, deliver at speed, and thrive in a competitive market.

Sally Elatta, CEO AgilityHealth and Evan Leybourn, Founder, Business Agility Institute

We need to maintain our competitive edge, and in the process, make sure that healthy teams remain a priority—especially as we start to identify common patterns across teams.

Patterns

  1. Define how you will measure success.

Bertrand Dupperin said, “Tell me how you will measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave.” This is true of our teams, our team members, and our leaders. After this success criteria have been defined, allow the team members to measure themselves in a safe environment where they can be open and honest about their maturity with a neutral facilitator. The process of actioning on the data is very powerful for teams.

  1. Provide a way to help teams grow after you measure them.

“Measurement without action is worthless data.” (Thanks, Sally, for another great bit of wisdom.) When you set up your Measure and Grow program, make sure it includes a way for teams to learn and mature.

Some of the common ones we see are:

  • Dojo teams—high-performing teams paired with new or immature teams to help them learn
  • Pre-defined learning paths for teams using instructor-led or virtual learning
  • Intentional learning options for teams through Communities of Practice or other options
  • Pairing/Mentorship/Accountability Partners
  1. Tie the results to the goals.

“Why are we taking the time to do this?” This is a common question that teams and leaders ask when we are starting Measure and Grow programs. They feel that the time reserved for an Inspect and Adapt session could maybe be used to tie up those last few story points or test cases, when in reality there is a corporate objective to mature the teams. Be sure to share these kinds of goals with your teams and managers so they understand that this is important to the organization.

  1. Provide a maturity roadmap that takes the subjectivity out of the questions.

We all have an idea of what “good” looks like, but without a shared understanding of “good”, my “good” might be a 3, my teammate’s might be a 4, someone else’s might be a 2, and so on. When you share a common maturity roadmap to provide context for your assessment, your results will be less subjective.

  1. Measure at multiple levels so that you can correlate the results.

When we just look at maturity from the team perspective, we get one view of an organization. When we look at maturity from the leadership and stakeholder perspectives, we get another view. When we look at both together—the sandwich model—we get a three-dimensional view and can start to surmise cause and effect. This gives a clearer picture of how an organization is performing.

  1. Minimize competing priorities and platforms.

Almost all teams, regardless of organization, share that there are too many systems, too many priorities, too many everything (except maybe pizza slices …). Be sure to schedule your measurement and retrospective time when the team is taking a natural break in their work. Teams should take the time to do a strategic retrospective on how they are working together at the end of every PI during their Inspect and Adapt, so use that time wisely.

  1. Engage the leaders in the process.

When this becomes a “we” exercise and not a “you” exercise, then there is a sense of trust that is built between the teams and their leaders. Inevitably the teams are going to ask the leaders for assistance in removing obstacles. If the leaders are on board from the start and are expecting this, and they start removing them, this creates an atmosphere of psychological safety where teams can be honest about what they need and leaders can be honest about what they expect.

  1. Remember, this is all change, and change takes time.

Roy T. Bennett said, “Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” It takes time, perseverance, and some uncomfortable conversations to change an organization and help it to grow. But in the end, it’s worth doing.

Get Started

Setting up a Measure and Grow program isn’t without its struggles, but for the organizations and teams that put the time and effort into doing it right, the rewards far outweigh the work that goes into it. If you would like to chat with us about what it would take to set up your Measure and Grow program, we’re ready to help.

About Trisha Hall

Trisha Hall - AgilityHealth’s

Trisha has been part of AgilityHealth’s Nebraska-based leadership team since 2014. As VP of Enterprise Solutions, she taps into her 25 years of experience to help organizations bring Business Agility to their companies and help corporate leaders build healthy, high-performing teams. Find Trisha on LinkedIn.

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How 90 Teams Used Measure and Grow to Improve Performance by 134 Percent

This post is part of an ongoing blog series where Scaled Agile Partners share stories from the field about using Measure and Grow assessments with customers to evaluate progress and identify improvement opportunities.

One of our large financial services clients needed immediate help. It was struggling to meet customer demands and industry regulations and needed to align business priorities to capacity before it was outplayed by competitors. The company thought the answer would be to invest in business in Agility practices. But so far, that strategy didn’t seem to be paying off.. 

Teams were in constant flux and the ongoing change was causing unstable, unpredictable performance. The leading question was, “How can we get more output from existing capacity?”

Among the client’s key challenges:

  • No visibility into common patterns across teams
  • Inspect-and-adapt data was stuck in PowerPoint and Excel
  • Output expectations didn’t match current capacity
  • Teams weren’t delivering outcomes aligned to business value

Getting a baseline on team health 

We introduced the AgilityHealth® TeamHealth Radar Assessment to the continuous improvement leadership team, and it decided to pilot the assessment across the portfolio. Within a few weeks after launching the assessment, the organization got a comprehensive readout. It identified the top areas of improvement and key roadblocks for 90+ teams. 

These baseline results showed a lack of a backlog, not to mention a lack of clarity around the near-term roadmap. Teams were committing to work that wasn’t attached to any initiatives and the work wasn’t well-defined. Dependencies and impediments weren’t being managed. And the top areas of improvement matched data collected during inspect and adapt exercises over the previous two years. Even though the organization had previously identified these issues, nothing had been done to resolve them, as leaders did not trust the data until it came from the voice of the teams via AgilityHealth.

The ROI of slowing down to speed up

Equipped with this knowledge, leaders took the time to slow down and ensure teams had what they needed to perform their jobs efficiently. Leaders also developed a better understanding of where they needed to step in to help the teams. The organization re-focused efforts on building a sufficient backlog, aligned with a roadmap, so teams could identify dependencies earlier in the development lifecycle. 

This intentional slow-down drove a return on investment in less than a year and $6M in cost savings—equivalent in productivity to the work of five extra teams—while generating an additional $25M in value for the company.

By leveraging the results of the AgilityHealth assessment, leaders now had the data they needed to take action:

  • A repeatable process for collecting and measuring continuous improvement efforts at the end of every planning increment (PI)
  • Clear understanding of where teams stood in their Agile journey and next steps for maturity
  • Comprehensive baseline assessment results showing where individual team members thought improvement was needed, both from leaders and within their teams

What’s next

An enterprise transformation doesn’t stop with the first round of assessments. Like other Fortune 500 companies, this client plans to continue scaling growth and maturity across the enterprise, increasing momentum and building on what it’s learned.

The company plans to introduce the Agility Health assessment for individual roles, so it can measure role maturity and accelerate the development of Agile skills across defined competencies. It will continue to balance technical capacity with an emphasis on maintaining stable, cross-functional teams since these performance metrics correlate to shipping products that delight customers and grow the business. And to better facilitate “structural agility” (creating and tracking Agile team structures that support business outcomes), it will focus on ensuring the integrity of its data.

Get started

You too can leverage AgilityHealth’s Insights Dashboard to get an overall view of your organization’s Agile maturity: baseline where you are now, discover how to improve, and get to where you want to be tomorrow. Get started by logging into the SAFe Community and visiting the Measure and Grow page.

About Sally

Sally is a thought leader in the Agile and business agility space

Sally is a thought leader in the Agile and business agility space. She’s passionate about accelerating the enterprise business agility journey by measuring what matters at every level and building strong leaders and strong teams. She is an executive advisor to many Fortune 500 companies and a frequent keynote speaker. Learn more about AgilityHealth here.

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How to Scale Up the Circular Economy

This blog post will illustrate, with practical examples, how the principles and practices of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) can contribute to scaling up the circular economy. 

The circular economy offers opportunities for better growth through an economic model that is resilient, distributed, diverse, and inclusive. It tackles the root causes of global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, creating an economy in which nothing becomes waste, and which is regenerative by design.

Many enterprises are committed to making their products eco-friendlier and participating in global coalitions such as The Plastics Pack. Nevertheless, due to the lack of global standards or lack of dialogue and collaboration, they could create fragmented, small-scale, and sub-optimal solutions. For example, an enterprise might design a product that contains recyclable materials, is built with mono-material components, and is easy to disassemble. Still, it would only maximize its recycling value when embedded in a functioning collection system and treated in proper recycling facilities.

What Is the Solution, Then?

Circularity is a property of a system and not of individual products. It depends on how different actors, products, and information interact with each other. Improving the whole system would require that a group of loosely coupled actors combine their business models to achieve a better collective outcome. The proposed solution is a virtual organization that aligns the strategy and execution of all the stakeholders creating a solution ecosystem.

Let’s look at one example. I will illustrate a management framework to improve the packaging plastics system shown below.

Scale Up the Circular Economy

Applying SAFe Principles to the Circular Economy

SAFe principle #10, Organize around value, recommends creating a virtual organization that would maximize the flow of value. It involves eliminating silos and barriers for collaboration, including the people, the processes, and the tools, from all relevant stakeholders that are trying to achieve the same outcome.

This organization would be called a solution ecosystem, and its goal will be to implement the desired changes. Following SAFe principle #2, Apply systems thinking, the solution ecosystem would include all the actors involved in or impacted by the flow of packaging plastics, from business, government, scientists, and NGOs to end-user communities, including all the necessary activities and information flows required. Decisions would be made collaboratively, iteratively, and based on science-based targets.

The objective of the solution ecosystem would be to deliver a series of interventions to improve the flow of plastics iteratively. The teams would validate each intervention hypothesis through a series of minimum viable products following a roadmap. An intervention example could be, “to get the top 20 manufacturers of packaging plastics to commit to plastic packaging that’s 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025,” while the desired outcome would be “to reduce packaging plastics flowing into the ocean by 50%.”

The solution ecosystem comprises small, long-standing, cross-stakeholder, and cross-functional teams or teams of teams dedicated to addressing specific outcomes. They will also have access to part-time specialized resources and count on all the necessary skills to deliver value independently of other teams.

The solution ecosystem could be coordinated top-down, from organizations such as the World Economic Forum, or led by a single enterprise coordinating with all the stakeholders impacted by its products. This organization could reach out vertically to all actors along the supply chain, such as those in logistics, packaging, and wholesale, horizontally to competitors, or circularly to all stakeholders impacted. 

Aligning Strategy to Execution

The solution ecosystem is likely to be composed of many people and organizations. To align strategy and execution, SAFe proposes to create a golden thread. From a single and shared vision to strategic themes to a common backlog of interventions to hold and prioritize all the interventions that will realize those themes.

The overarching vision of the New Plastics Economy is that plastics never become waste. Instead, they re-enter the economy as valuable technical or biological nutrients, creating an effective after-use plastics economy, drastically reducing the leakage of plastics into natural systems, and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.

Scale Up the Circular Economy

Strategic themes are the way to achieve that vision or areas of investment. They are a way to group and classify Interventions. The solution ecosystem’s scientific community would express them in objectives and key results (OKRs). Thus, providing a qualitative and quantitative measurement to evaluate progress and success. An example could be:

Objective: Drastically reduce leakage of plastics into natural systems.

  • Key result 1: Improve after-use infrastructure in high-leakage countries by x% 
  • Key result 2: Increase the economic attractiveness of keeping materials in the system
  • Key result 3: Increase investments in efforts related to substances of concern by x %

The teams would strive to accomplish the strategic themes by implementing a series of interventions.  The solution ecosystem’s backlog is the prioritized list of interventions to be done. For example, it might look like this:

  1. Bio-benign materials
  2. Reversible adhesives 
  3. Super-polymer
  4. Plastics toolkit for policymakers 
  5. Bid data service to track the flow of dangerous chemicals
  6. Food delivery containers as a service

Collaborative Decision-making Process

SAFe recommends using Participatory Budgeting (PB) as a tool for budget allocation across the same enterprise business units. We could expand PB for multi-stakeholder decision-making, as many municipalities use it, gathering all the stakeholders’ voices. All the stakeholders impacted would be heard, voice their concerns, choose their priorities, and learn about other stakeholders’ concerns. The PB process should be done periodically to create a rolling wave agreed plan.

Creating a Balanced Portfolio

To maintain a well-balanced portfolio, SAFe proposes several budget guardrails:

  • Capacity allocation: This technique classifies interventions into different types and allocates a percentage of the available capacity to each kind, such as building the basic science, writing communications material for end-users, or drafting policy documents. Every three months, we can decide the percentage allocation to each type, keeping the desired balance across all categories.
  • Investment horizons: Classifying interventions by their impact timeframe allows leadership to maintain the right balance between the immediate, short, and long term. Quick wins are needed to win the hearts and minds of the naysayers, while the more difficult things usually take longer.
  • Epic approval: Decentralizing decision making is fundamental to reduce time-to-market and to improve flow. Nevertheless, substantial initiatives that impact multiple stakeholders need to go through an approval process based on a short business case. 

Project to Product

The traditional project approach would have required well-defined Interventions with fixed scope, fixed budget, and a fixed timeframe, such as building a clearly defined database of biomaterials at the cost of £2m over one year. One major drawback of this approach is that the success criteria of the intervention usually focus more on staying within these artificial constraints rather than on achieving the desired outcome of increasing the percentage of biomaterials used in packaging plastics by x%. Another problem is that designs and plans must be agreed upon upfront to obtain funding and approval. At that moment is when we know the least about the problem and the solution. Hence, it becomes harder to pivot later if needed.

The book Project to Product proposes a product approach, where funding is associated with long-standing teams working on a set of interventions related to the desired outcome. They would iteratively validate hypotheses and measure progress irrespective of the validity of their initial plans and assumptions. Products must be launched and maintained during their life cycle and have multiple target users with evolving needs. 

For instance, the budget would be related to a product called ‘biomaterials for packaging,’ including research, product launch, product support in life, and end-of-life activities, rather than related to a project to launch a new packaging material.

Timeboxing

SAFe principle #1, Take an economic view, proposes that we work incrementally and iteratively. Working in small timeboxes and on small pieces of independently valuable work would allow us to obtain the best economic outcome. We will get quick feedback; the value will get accumulated over time, and it will enable us to test our hypothesis and pivot quickly if needed.

SAFe principle #7, Cadence and synchronization, promotes that all teams involved in the solution ecosystem get together every three months to collaboratively plan the work for the next three months. This recurrent process helps evaluate progress toward the shared outcome, manage cross-team dependencies, and facilitate cross-team collaboration to create a stable and predictable rhythm of key events. 

Every three months, all teams demonstrate their accomplishments to evaluate progress objectively. They would get together to reflect on how they deliver value and look for opportunities to improve the process.

Epic Owner

The Epic Owner is a new role that would work at the solution ecosystem level to track and shepherd the intervention through its life cycle and across all the teams involved. In our example, the Epic Owner for the biomaterials database would be accountable to define the scope, building the short business case, getting it approved, building the teams across all stakeholders, tracking progress, being a consultant to the delivery teams, and evaluating whether they are meeting the desired outcome. It is a role, not a title. Hence, it might be fulfilled by a group of people.

Transparency

Transparency and visualization of all the work and all the dependencies by everyone are key. Kanban boards would allow us to see every intervention’s status to match demand with available capacity. A dependency board would show when each intervention will be delivered and its dependencies with other teams.

Decentralized Decision-making

No amount of central planning will be enough at this scale. To enable decentralized decision-making, we need to create a framework that provides organizational clarity and technical competence. This would allow individual teams to make decisions independently with the confidence that those will be good decisions. An example could be that a team can decide to increase the cost of the solution up to £1,000 to produce an additional reduction on the amount of plastics leakage into the ocean, as long as there is no impact on any of the other planetary boundaries.

References and Sources of Inspiration

Several reports are calling for organizations like the proposed solution ecosystem that could lead a multi-stakeholder systemic change:

  • The Metabolic Institute proposed that The Netherlands implements a regional ecosystem approach to scale up circular economy innovation.
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation calls for a global, independent collaboration initiative that brings together all actors across the value chain from consumer goods companies, plastic packaging producers, plastics manufacturers to cities, businesses involved in the collection, sorting and reprocessing, policymakers, and NGOs.
  • J. Konietzko writes, “Ecosystem innovation aims at changing how actors relate to each other and how they interact to achieve the desired outcome… circular products and services often maximize their circularity in conjunction with other assets. A circular ecosystem perspective thus goes beyond the question, what is our value proposition? Instead, it asks, how does our offering complement other products and services that together can provide a superior and circular ecosystem value proposition?”
  • D. Meadow, in her book Thinking in Systems, says, “You can’t predict a system, but you can dance with it.” Hence, do not design a solution upfront at the enterprise level, expecting the whole ecosystem to react as you hoped. Instead, implement a management framework that allows you to work iteratively at the system level, which we call the solution ecosystem; listen to the feedback, and react accordingly. 

Conclusion

In this blog post, I proposed a management framework, adapted from the Scaled Agile Framework, to manage a multi-stakeholder ecosystem to scale up solutions for the circular economy. At this stage, these are ideas extrapolated from my experience in business agility transformations and my readings into the circular economy. Please get in touch with me via LinkedIn to explore these ideas further, or if you have a concrete initiative you would like to apply them to.

About Diego Groiso

Diego Groiso Scaled Agile Partner

As a Principal Consultant at Radtac, a Scaled Agile Partner, Diego supports companies in their Business Agility journeys as an Enterprise Agile Coach, Trainer, and Release Train Engineer. Recently, he has transformed the whole infrastructure department of a global utility company, as well as launched and coached several Agile Release Trains within the Digital Transformation Programme in a global telecom company. He has a passion for the circular economy as one of the solutions to climate change. Connect with Diego on LinkedIn.

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