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Bringing Leaders into Agile, Flow Agile

· FLOW processes

If you can get business leaders bought into using agile methods you will soon have an agile business. However, one of the missing ingredients in business agility actually lies at the top, in the Executive suite. How do you change that?

We make the point in our book FLOW that leaders have to lead change. Sounds simple put like that. Very few leaders do though. They lead execution but are fearful of change. Flow Agile gives them new tools. It brings them into the flow and it makes their task of change leadership really easy - or easier.

To get them there you need to be visual. I'm a visual person. From mind-maps to walls plastered with post-it notes. I am also a visual thinker and I relate best to metaphors. One of the reasons Haydn and I took a long time to publish FLOW, was due to our relentless focus on the visualisations and making sure that they conveyed the correct information.

I did, in fact, drive Haydn slightly crazy, as my visualisations at Aviva are always evolving. Especially as my team became comfortable with using them and we practised continual improvement. And they are very different from the visualisations I used at Paddy Power.

But that's the whole point of Flow Agile. It is a minimalist framework that is very adaptive. It is also very, very visual.

A case in point is the Executive Portfolio Wall.

Every river has a source. This is the original point from which the river flows. And that for me is the Executive Portfolio Wall.

This wall is really powerful. It brings the leaders into Agile. They get used to stand-ups, they experience more efficient meetings and they can make priority changes right up to the moment before work commences.

It's also the place where ideas and innovation are born, new projects & propositions do battle for priority with regulatory work and items to address technical debt vie for resources.

Remember, technical debt is real debt. And one must address this and, in my humble opinion, the sooner the better. Hence it's prominence on the wall. But how many Executives have any clue about the Tsunami of challenges contained within an ageing IT estate until it goes pop? The Executive Portfolio Wall helps them make better resource decisions, including the importance of dealing with that IT estate.

Anyway, the wall is just like a big Kanban board with Cards (or Post-It Notes) which detail work items. Your wall could be very different and that's completely ok. Our wall contains many more columns than above but the important ones are:

  • Ideation - a random list of stuff 
  • Feasibility - risks explored 
  • Ready to Play - awaiting resources 
  • In Play - the work has been accepted by IT to start

The "In Play" one is critical for CIO's/CTO's. How many times have you received a project, with a start date and no available resource to commence the work? So it becomes your fault that the project is late!

Well, when you use the Executive Portfolio Wall, you don't accept the project into IT until you have the resources to start the project (a pull request/process - just like Kanban or GIT). This may not mean that the project will be delivered on time but now you have a much better chance!

We also have horizontal sections (or swim-lanes) on the wall designed to ensure a balance of funding across three key areas:

  • Projects & Propositions
  • Regulatory & Mandatory Work
  • Technical Debt & Business As Usual

There is also a horizontal section which contains work that has been paused or killed.

Setting up an Executive Portfolio Wall is easy. Getting Executives and Leaders to use it is hard. Very hard. They prefer the security of their offices and the reams of paper churned out by project management offices (PMO's).

But they do get used to it.

At first, they appear to be like fish out of water. In reality, they are very smart people that have not experienced agile type practices. That's why you'll notice that we have ditched all the jargon usually associated with Agile. That jargon demonstrates why Agile is really rooted within Software Development.

However, the Executive Portfolio Wall is the missing link in Agile. It is the precursor to traditional Agile and that's why we believe that Flow Agile is transformative. When coupled with an effective Customer Feedback loop (from Focus Groups, Contact Centre incidents or Social Media monitoring) you will have achieved a really powerful, efficient flow from the source of the river to its destination.

The reason why I get frustrated with traditional Agile is that some aspects of the methodology are prescriptive. Flow Agile is not and changes designed to improve the flow are actively encouraged. In fact, new methods or components are free to be introduced in order to remove outmoded ones.

Traditional project governance is struggling with Agile. Especially at scale. But using these techniques, coupled with the wider guidance contained in the book, you can throw away those complex Adaptive Project Management Office guides because this process is truly simple, effective and intuitive.

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