When we talk to leaders about what they want from Agile, most of the time, the top answer is Speed. Businesses need fast product delivery in order to satisfy customers and grow revenue.
Often the delivery team is seen as the bottleneck, and if the organization could just remove what’s blocking them, they would definitely get more value out the door… right?
Turns out there’s more to improving delivery speed than that. Read on to learn 6 organizational capabilities needed for achieving fast product delivery.
How To Measure Speed
Before we get started, let’s define speed as the time it takes to deliver an idea into the market. Speed could be measured by metrics like cycle time, lead time, deployment frequency, mean time to restore (MTTR), etc.
In order to accelerate value delivery speed, there are 6 key capabilities companies need to acquire at every level of the organization. Let’s dig in.
6 Organizational Capabilities Needed For Improving Speed
1. Ability to Focus
When teams are interrupted with new priorities, they get bogged down by task-switching costs. In order for teams to go faster, leaders need to be clear about priorities and refrain from shifting directions constantly. The new leadership mantra should be “Stop Starting, Start Finishing.” It will take discipline for leaders to make hard decisions, sequence the work based on priority, and allow teams to pull in work as they have capacity.
This is opposed to setting deadlines and then pushing all the work onto teams. Which just jams up the system and doesn’t allow us to get things done. While everybody looks busy, value is not being delivered.
2. Predictable Delivery Cadence
In order to increase product delivery speed, teams have to start working in smaller batches or increments of work. In Scrum, we talk about working in 2-week sprints. While team members might think this is arbitrary at first, this is a forcing function to encourage teams to break work down so they can deliver an increment of value at the end of that 2-week period.
That means they need to break the scope of work into small, demonstrable increments of value, and teams need to learn how to collaboratively swarm to get work done. Similar to the first capability where leaders limit work-in-progress (WIP), teams need to learn the discipline of limiting WIP in their sprints and daily work. Instead of everyone working on their own thing, teams need to work on as few items as possible at a time in order to get things completely finished. This allows teams to shorten time-to-value. Even if it is incremental, it is better than waiting months to see any value.
3. Cycle Time
Once teams get good at breaking work down and getting small increments of value out the door, they can start focusing on shortening their cycle time. Cycle time is measured as the time from when they start the work to the time it gets delivered.
Teams that are good in this area foster a true spirit of shared ownership of the work, greatly reducing skill boundaries and gaps. By investing in more knowledge transfer and skill flexibility, teams are able to adapt to whatever type of work is of the highest priority. In addition, teams need to invest in reducing waste in their processes, such as quality issues that cause frequent interruptions. For software teams, this would be things like reducing the amount of technical debt in the product enabling teams to make code changes faster.
4. Release Continuously
It is not good enough to only shorten the time it takes to get something done in a sprint. What we also need to focus on is getting value out the door. How long does it take to get the finished product into the hands of the customer? How can we improve this?
Focus on ways to shorten deployment time through tools and automation. For software teams, this is where DevOps practices come front and center. They allow teams to get code into the hands of the customer faster, which means removing manual tasks as much as possible and using automation so that we can operate with speed and quality.
5. Faster Time to Value
While an individual team could be delivering fast, the overall flow of work through the system or value stream could be compromised by a bottleneck outside the team. This is when leaders across departments need to work together to ensure that optimizations are being made to improve the overall system, not just one team or one department.
To help, leaders should explore systems thinking and try employing techniques like the Theory of Constraints.
6. Decision Agility
Part of speed is how long it takes to make a decision. In traditional hierarchical companies, it takes a long time for decisions to go up the chain and come back down. And the decisions are being made by people too far removed to fully understand the problem.
In order to increase speed and deliver faster, we need to empower the people closest to the problem to make decisions without having to wait. However, we want these decisions to be aligned with the goals and direction of the company. So in order to empower the teams, leaders need to clearly communicate goals, objectives, and direction (The Why) and leave the plan and details (The How) up to teams. Leaders should be clear about the “goal posts” by defining what success looks like, not “how to achieve success.”
As you can see, gaining speed and achieving fast product delivery is a lot of work and requires a lot of discipline. Many leaders approach speed the wrong way, trying to push more work into the system and hoping it will come out the other side faster.
As Henrik Kniberg said, “you can’t just shove more paper in the printer trying to get it to go faster.” The printer will jam…and this is what is happening to most teams today. They are jammed and going slower and slower as more work is piled on them.
You have to go slow to go fast. Reduce WIP, get small increments done, optimize the whole, focus with clear goals, and distribute decision making closer to the problems.
Don’t forget to check out the next article in this series, Achieving Predictability in Business.