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Culture, Leadership

Business Agility – Doing the right thing

David Joyce (, @dpjoyce) and I have been reflecting on some of the work we have been doing in large corporate enterprises. Looking at some fo the specific challenges we have had dealing with change on a massive scale and supporting senior leaders and teams to unlearn and relearn new ways of thinking about work moving beyond the focus on efficiency.

The problem space is really one of business agility, maximising the flow of value to customers and building the ‘right thing’. At this scale Agile, lean or kanban etc. are a smaller part of the equation. Our observations have shown that the more teams you have working with these methods the greater the amplification of constraints caused by corporate functions like Finance, HR and Legal and the role of funding, org structures and contracts. This makes it more important to change the thinking that forms these so that we can enable teams to focus on what really matters.

As a tool for communication we came up with a conversation model that we use to guide different thought patterns and help shift the focus from on time on budget to doing the right thing. This is iteration 3 of it and we are constantly changing it (iteration 4 is already underway based on new learnings) …



  • Who directly benefits from what we’re doing, and how do we know?
  • How would they describe the benefit they get from what we do, and how do they know?
  • How do our customers benefit from what we are doing,  what empirical data do we have to show this?

Study Demand and Need

  • Where does the work come from? Sources of work (signals). How was it created?
  • What is the type of work that we do?
  • How much of each type of work do we do, how often, is it predictable?
  • How does work get funded?

Work Breakdown

  • What is the smallest thing we can deliver to achieve (or test) value? Minimal marketable feature / Minimal viable product
  • How do we go about slicing work into smallest autonomous chunks of value
  • How does the benefit (or learning) we expect after delivering each affect how we breakdown work?
  • What dependencies do we have?

Work Prioritisation

  • What work should be finished first?
  • Quantify cost of delay
  • Which approach are we using to order the work? e.g. Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)

Work Distribution

  • How do we decide who does work?
  • Are we able to schedule work based on availability?
  • Pull versus Push
  • How do we understand the capability of our teams? (Velocity, Cycle time, Skill)

Team Construct

  • Can we structure teams so they can all complete the most common types of work?
  • Can we create poly-skilled teams that they can complete all items from start to finish?
  • How will teams deal with work they can’t do yet? (Pull expertise in from other teams, Rotate specialists through teams, Master / Apprentice model)

Possible Value Deployed

  • What empirical data shows us that we have delivered value?
  • How visible and transparent is progress?
  • What action would we take once each item is delivered? (Stop / Pivot / Persevere)
  • Amplification & recovery strategy?

Validated Learning

  • What have we learned?
  • Do we build quality throughout the way we deliver?
  • How do the teams continuously improve the way they are delivering?
  • How visible is the progress of the work?
  • Has our capability improved e.g. the End to End time reduced?

About Gary O'Brien

A Principal Consultant with 20 years experience in ICT and a diverse background as an IT Business Strategist and People Manager. I specialise in helping executives, teams and individuals to adopt and improve Agile methods, principles and practice. Using a strong emphasis on facilitating organizational change, and the role of management and leadership in an Agile world. As an Agile Coach I look to help teams adapt Agile and Lean thinking to their specific environment and impediments they face. Experience includes working with CIO’s and senior leaders to create and execute a vision and strategy for and adopting Agile as an enterprise approach to improving outcomes for delivering customer value and optimising IT.


2 thoughts on “Business Agility – Doing the right thing

  1. looks like John Seddon’s system thinking method

    Posted by Murray Robinson | December 13, 2012, 8:29 pm
    • Yeah good pick up, we are big fans of John and you can see key themes especially in the early conversations, we actually do work along side vanguard currently. We are also using influences from Eric Ries and Lean start-up, Dave Snowden and Cynefin, Agile, Lean, Kanban and some management consulting type principles. Its a mosh pit and we are adapting as we learn more and more about what works and this kind of scale. Having the conversation is the key…. working our what works best to get the right outcomes.

      Posted by Gary O'Brien | December 13, 2012, 8:43 pm

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