So when does it make sense to customize your agile approach to gain strategic advantage?
Whenever you have a unique problem to solve that is strategic for your business.
Let’s start with a few examples.
Example 1: Startup / Small organization with few products
SmallCo has a turnover of approximately $ 30 million per year. They offer their product in two versions: Pro and Lite. Their customers are the users. (No one buys on behalf of users.)
SmallCo wants to grow. They may offer a subscription-based income model if they find out how to post something useful almost every week. They want an agile approach, so they started with Scrum.
It didn’t take long for them to make changes. The first did not wait for the end of an iteration to make a demo or a release. They would do demos every week on Wednesday mornings, then they would come out after the demo.
As they start going out every week, they notice two things: They really needed to improve their safety and performance abilities. As part of product development, they create security and performance teams. These teams do what SmallCo calls “advanced R&D” (AR&D).
While AR&D is working, they realize that they have to experiment with short feedback cycles. The security team must react to immediate threats. Performance teams want to create faster experiences. The two teams don’t want to get too out of sync with the other teams. AR&D both decide to use kanban to see their bottlenecks and decide when to queue their experiences.
Some of the usual product teams have discovered one-day stories. Others tread. Most teams limit their WIP (Work in Progress) as a team. They dropped several pieces of Scrum:
- The daily stand-up
- Planning on a cadence. They plan on demand.
If you ask SmallCo what they are doing, they say, “Something halfway between Scrum and kanban. We don’t think we have to be “religious” about our agile approach as long as we take advantage of it. We do what works.
SmallCo started with a buying approach. Then, they built their agile approach according to their needs.
Example 2: Large organization with a suite of associated products
LargerCo offers several SaaS products all in the financial field. They want to “capture” users from their first checking accounts to wealth management and wealth transfer.
After a back and forth for outsourcing and offshoring, LargerCo decided to bring all product development back to earth. Then they decided they needed different types of teams and use an agile approach.
LargerCo decided to buy a well-known framework that was supposed to manage the projects, programs and the project portfolio. They tried to install this framework. After millions of dollars and several years, they gave it up. (The framework was too slow for what they wanted. So were the tools associated with the framework.)
They have vestiges of this framework, as in Scrum for each team, and quarterly planning at all levels. However, Scrum teams are component teams. Scrum teams require a lot of coordination and publish their work once a month.
Managers love quarterly planning. Aside from the problems that teams don’t finish everything every quarter, senior management enjoys the steady pace of planning and seeing accomplishments.
However, LargerCo sees other rambling businesses encroaching on LargerCo’s customer base. This is because some of LargerCo’s products seem “old” to their potential buyers. LargerCo has seen a decline in these younger buyers. LargerCo thinks they can’t afford to lose these
It was time to adapt their agile approach (Build).
How LargerCo uses Build to adapt its agile approach
Managers have defined their “why”: release updates and features at least once every two weeks. It requires teams to change the way they work:
- Collaborate more.
- Ask the component teams of create slices so they can release internally more often.
- Move to feature teams instead of component teams.
Who would make these decisions? During management days, managers decided for the teams. This time, they told the teams what results they wanted (post something useful at least once every two weeks). The teams have decided.
I wish I could tell you that they took all my advice. Nope. Some teams remained component teams and used the breakout ideas to post something internally two or three times a week. Other teams have chosen to work on a common backlog (the most collaborative option). Only four teams have moved on to star teams.
They don’t do big room planning anymore because teams create smaller stories. In addition, product managers use surf, planning based on deliverables so that teams can go out more often.
The various managers continue to develop their approaches to roadmaps and the project portfolio. (They are experiment with the ideas of Agile and Lean program management and Manage your portfolio of projects.)
LargerCo continues to build its agile approach at all levels. Their agile approaches do not “adhere” to any framework. However, they are able to release value on a regular basis, which is the point of an agile approach.
What about other life cycles?
In the image above I suggested not everyone needs agility. This is because agile approaches require the organization to change its culture. Not all organizations can or will change. (To see the Cycle of life series or To manage! to learn more about the different lifecycles.) You don’t have to choose between cascade or agile, you have several choices. Choose what gives you a strategic advantage for your business.
Agility offers a strategic advantage
SmallCo and LargerCo started with Buying, their agile approach. Both organizations have changed their approach (Build).
Where is the strategic advantage? Remember, they asked these questions:
- What is our goal ?
- What kinds of issues do we solve for what kinds of clients?
When they answered these questions, they were able to check out the tactical questions and answers. They changed their agile approach to marry their strategic needs with tactical issues.
However, their approach to tools differs from their approaches to product development. This is the next post.