Many organizational and business leaders tell us they need greater innovation and increased speed, especially when it comes to the demanding and ever-changing marketplace.
But there is one aspect to product delivery people don’t typically talk about at first: predictability in business. However, we’ve seen that those who can reliably anticipate their own productivity and proactively address their competitive landscape are naturally poised to excel.
What Is Predictability In Business?
Predictability in business shows up in 3 ways:
- Teams behave in accordance with set expectations
- The organization has the ability to know, see, or declare production accurately in advance
- Leadership reliably knows when something is to be expected
When you have predictability in business, consistency is created. This minimizes churn while leading to greater trust between leaders and teams, increased confidence in your organization from customers and stakeholders, and a sense of higher reliability. These are all characteristics that help organizations succeed despite uncertainty and doubt in the greater market.
In order to ensure greater predictability, there are 8 key capabilities companies need to develop and master at all levels of the organization.
8 Steps to Achieving Predictability in Business
1. Ability to Measure
When it comes to measuring value, it is essential to not only have reasonable metrics for the teams but for the systems and organization as well. Agility impacts the entire organization, not just teams, so you need to have metrics at all three levels that paint a holistic picture.
Measurements should not only align with organizational goals but also be easy to collect and analyze. This way your organization can focus on next steps versus the merits or validity of the data.
We don’t want to create excess work here. However, it is essential for your organization to have trust in the values measured. Be sure the data is reliable and reflects reality. Remember, these metrics should be used to better inform future actions, not to penalize or reprimand employees.
Lastly, disciplined estimation of work items (i.e. sizing) by those doing the work is key to establishing consistent velocity. In the same vein, continuous rearrangement of team composition can significantly alter velocity, leading to less predictability for the team and organization at large.
2. Visibility Created
Visibility into teams’ work is not intended to be micromanagement. Instead, the desire is to make all work visible, including what the teams have completed and what they have in progress so that decisions can be made on next steps. With increased transparency, replanning or reprioritization can be done, which helps to ensure everyone is working on the highest value items.
Plus, the more your stakeholders can see progress, the further their anxiety around teams’ progress reduces, thereby increasing trust and confidence in your ability to deliver a solution.
3. Team Ownership
Over time, teams that are always told what to do tend to wait for instruction. Not only can this slow things down, but innovation, job satisfaction, motivation, and happiness can wane, leading to feeling a lack of control in an already volatile and uncertain world.
To increase predictability in business, teams should be empowered to self-organize around issues they are closest related to. This way they can more freely collaborate and feel a sense of ownership of their work. As a result, they can deliver better solutions that more effectively meet stakeholders needs.
4. Ability to Focus
Interruptive work and context switching are anti-patterns that can have a profound impact on predictability. Interruptive work, by its very nature, introduces churn and instability. Similarly, continual switching between products or projects is not only an ineffective use of time (as it takes precious time to switch from one train of thought to another), but also introduces anxiety and indecision.
Leadership should clearly articulate value and sequence work at the appropriate level, empowering the next layer of the organization to pull in work, so teams can focus on delivering the highest value items.
5. Complexity Reduced
The more complex a system, the harder it is to have certainty or clarity on how changes might impact outcomes, thereby impacting predictability in business. Sources of volatility need to be systematically identified and resolved.
Systems should be simplified, not just in code or technical design, but in the operations themselves. Reducing handoffs and dependencies across teams not only mitigates risk but lowers potential for issues to arise and have negative impacts.
6. Quality Feedback Shortened
When we say quality feedback shortened, we mean the ability to establish and maintain engineering and technical practices required to establish near-immediate visibility into the quality of the work a team produces.
The higher the quality of a product or system, the easier and faster it is to adjust the product itself. It tends to take less effort to start out with high quality and remain in a high quality state than it is to start with lower quality and make the sometimes arduous climb to higher quality. Also, the faster teams can find and resolve a quality issue, the lower the potential for blockers on others.
7. Predictable Delivery Cadence
When your customers know they will receive something from development teams on a fixed, periodic basis, trust in products being developed increases. Further, essential feedback on a working product increment can be gathered, giving insights on whether to continue product development or pivot in another, higher-valued direction.
Therefore, it is essential that all teams deliver developed, tested, and fully-integrated products (or increments of products) on a regular, predictable cadence with minimal carry-over (i.e. incomplete features or defects).
To increase delivery cadence predictability, investment in automated tools and minimal processes to integrate product increments are likely required. To accelerate delivery, the less time spent in manual, cumbersome processes and bureaucratic overhead allows for more time invested in higher value outcomes.
8. Multi-Team Predictability
It often takes more than one development team to collaboratively create and deliver a complex product. A “Team of Teams”, consisting of representatives from each development team working on the same product or set of features, should meet on a regular cadence to discuss and resolve any dependencies, risks, or issues that might impact delivering value.
With proactive identification and resolution of potential cross-team blockers, overall predictability can be increased.
Predictability in business does not simply happen on its own, nor is predictability in business limited to just the development teams. Predictability takes discipline and a conscious effort across all three levels (leadership, systems, and teams), to reduce chaos and churn in an already volatile and uncertain environment. With greater predictability comes increased trust and confidence in teams to deliver, which accelerates overall agility.
Finally, don’t feel the need to address all eight areas at once. Prioritize. Find a top item your organization would like to address, then use a cross-functional team to implement a solution. Then, after several iterations have passed by, re-prioritize the eight items, and find your next area of opportunity to increase predictability in your business.
Don’t forget to read the last article in our Business Outcomes series, Speed and Fast Product Delivery.