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STEP 3: Accelerating continuous innovation

· 12 Steps

FLOW philosophy is all about making work more social, more interactive, less structured and less command-driven.

Why should you do that? It's all about optimising resources. And remember, your resources are human.

Having systems that let them change their minds and shift direction (pivot) in a short space of time - well, that is a vital resource, like blood is to the body. It is an organic process where waste is reduced and efficiency is optimised.

In the book FLOW we talk about the importance of working visually and of work being observable, another tactic for becoming more social , collaborative and dynamic, but, for reasons of space, we gave less time to the issue of cycle-time reduction. Thankfully we have a website to say more about this vitally important issue.

In Step 5 we will talk about work breakdown (how you get to shorter cycle-times) but here we want to summarise the benefits of cycle-time reduction in order that you can introduce the topic into your FLOW Circle.

Radical Cycle-Time Reduction

Reducing cycle-time, the time it takes to complete a work task or unit of work, means you have to take on a new way to plan. For example you need to think about how work is broken down into these new units, what the purpose of a work unit is (to create value), and how work units combine into something that we call a minimum sustainable delivery (MSD) matrix.

The sum total of this new approach is that work becomes much more social and interactive.

But first. What is a radical cycle-time reduction?

Most engineers think of reducing cycle-time to, say, two or three weeks or maybe longer. That's about the length of time of an Scrum-Agile sprint.

However we talk about cycle-time in terms of days. Preferably two days at most.

There are so many reasons why this is beneficial. But here's an often overlooked one. Handled skilfully shorter cycle-times mean work becomes more collaborative.

Imagine if colleagues produced valuable work every couple of days and work was organised so that colleagues would be telling you, the team, or a leader, about that experience, that unit of work, two days after beginning.

That makes for a very interactive and social work environment.

Coupled to the Wall visualisations we talk about it the book, it provides people with a variety of venues to congregate around and discuss innovation and the content that makes those discussions relevant to value.

Even more exciting, they get to co-decide the direction a block of work units might take.

This is important because with the introduction of Microservices and DevOps, continuous innovation is a reality. In place of an innovation funnel that constantly rejects innovations you now have a pipeline that continuously tests them with customers.

You need to have many, many decisions made in that pipeline, as close to the moment of go-live as possible.

The key is to develop the right types of interaction to ensure the decision-making is well-informed.

Short cycle-times encourage the levels of interaction that give you better decisions. Or as we say, good decisions stem from good social interactions at work.

As well as good interaction, we have interaction with a purpose - the assessment of value.

In FLOW the idea of two-day cycle time is to see where we are in the process of creating value. And to make a judgment about it. Are these units of work adding value for customers? How can we construct work so we can continuously answer that question.

If we have work broken down into work units in such a way that we can see value in two days we get a really strong sense of where a series of work tasks are headed. Are they a good use of resources? Are they wasting resources? Do we need more time to find out?

Let's try to rephrase that for the sake of clarity.

1. We work in two day work units.

2. Those work units are what we collectively decide will be tasks that create value for customers.

3. After two days we interact around those work units,

4. We decide if they should be pushed through to a collection of work units ready to show to customers (we call this a sustainable delivery matrix (SDM).

5. The SDM is pushed to a test environment.

6. We learn about value and we iterate back to the work unit phase if elements of the SDM are shown to be weak or we enhance for a wider audience if they are shown to be strong (i.e. have value).

The implication of this way of working is that we are not writing Epics or User Stories as in Agile. We are socialising the process of reaching business goals (see Step 5).

There are such amazing benefits to be drawn from short cycle-times but to get there you need to commit to more social interaction, more visible work and new skills.

In particular the interaction around work breakdown becomes a critical orchestrating method that you need to develop.

You will learn more in Step 5 but take a look at this cool blog post on incremental work too: it tells you why cycle-time reduction leads to Pareto Efficiency - or nirvana for engineers.

New Ways of Work (oh WOW!!)

Think about your cycle-time reduction pilot as your own internal requirement to create new way of working. That's actually an exciting but tall order. You are about to invent your own way of working.

Here are some of the benefits you need to be targeting as you prototype your own process model innovations, building out Flow as a new way of working. You need to toggle between Step 5 and here, in order to get this right! Here is a mini-12 step rationale and approach to get to cycle-time reduction.

  1. Smaller work units foster more interaction, they also make it less likely that teams will go away and bring back outputs that are incompatible with the work of other teams or make it less likely that they will have strayed away from the objectives of the team or business division.
  2. More interaction makes it possible for people to co-design the best way to meet business goals. Most people these days need to do some multidisciplinary work, and an important aspect of this is for IT and the business to work closely together. All disciplines can feel more confident that work is meeting their goals if they can see it regularly.
  3. Teams can function in a multidisciplinary environment is they are able to observe work - without observable work it is impossible, say, for IT to pivot where necessary, because IT will need to take the business along on that pivot.Two to three week cycles times inhibit interdisciplinary decision making.
  4. More interaction allows new tools, techniques and work-arounds to come to the surface and inform solution design.
  5. Shorter cycle times make budgeting much more intuitive. A work unit is 2 days of a developer's time so a hundred units of work is equal to 200 work days. Because all work is visible, budgeting is there on the wall, at a glance.
  6. Visible work makes it possible to see dependencies and risks over time. No longer do you need a genius who can go away and anticipate all dependencies and all risk factors. People can add them in as they see them, as the work is broken down.
  7. That also makes it easier to overcome work allocation problems. If someone is off sic, the gap can be plugged if the dependency and risk is high, or it can be left until that person is back.
  8. Many hands make light work - especially of difficult creative tasks. No single brain can manage work planning in complex environments where innovation is continuous.The group has to shape the knowledge flow that makes good work possible. FLOW is all about collective intelligence.
  9. The process of work breakdown is, by its nature, a group task. While there are people who naturally want to lead work break down, it needs good domain expertise to shape it properly; it needs business to specify goals; and it needs interaction to keep goals relevant.
  10. The value of work is more easily visible of the work unit is small. Either it adds value to a package of features that are being pushed to customers or it doesn't and it is dropped.
  11. Time to feedback is shortened too. That means teams can develop prototype features and compile these into what we call as minimum sustainable delivery package that can go live to customer groups for A/B testing and other feedback mechanisms
  12. Small work units make it possible to pivot at short notice. No-one gets over invested in any particular piece of work. if it doesn't add value to customer experiences, it's dropped and the cost of testing an idea is low (as well as over).

Now get on over to Step 5 and this exciting reinterpretation of enterprise efficiency right here: Small Steps, Big Change.

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