Last week Ryn The Guardian Melberg introduced us to SAFe or the “Scaled Agile Framework” as a management tool for aligning people, teams and tasks that would otherwise not be possible across entire organizations. Those who work with SAFe/Agile see benefits that occur inside the business almost right away. But can Agile/SAFe have a similar impact on external audiences? And along those lines, how can it be used for ensuring appropriate governance? To help us wrap our brains around that concept is Ryn “The Guardian” Melberg.
Q. Can Agile and SAFe have impact on external audiences and governance?
The Guadian: Remember that governance is the principals, practices and processes that protects stakeholder assets. Agile and SAFe do a lot around governance, as a natural matter of course. Agile practices are geared to reduce risk and increase predictability. For example when doing planning we can only accurately plan or set goals a few weeks or a couple of months at a time. This is where we get the greatest benefit from the built in governance of Agile and SAFe because these increase predictability and reduce risk. Risk is defined lots of ways, meeting our goals, reducing defects and errors, increasing customer appreciation and adoption and/or agreeing to unrealistic goals. The way work is planned on a shorter scale makes the outcome more predictable and therefore reduces risk.
Q. From a more practical or tactical point of view, are there tools, techniques, or some other kind of know how that comes from this approach to management.
The Guardian: SAFe is the enterprise wide application of Agile. It aligns an entire organization around goals and the priorities for that company. So much trouble comes in businesses of any size from a lack of alignment and there is a lot of scientific evidence and studies that go back to Drucker, that demonstrates a lack of alignment leads to a lot of risk in an organization. Take planning and goal setting as examples. From a team or tactical point of view, planning under the Agile methodology is only done over two or three weeks because we know that we can only realistically predict outcomes over that short period. Shorter plans reduce risk because a shorter planning window allows for the identification and elimination of risks earlier than in traditionally run organizations. The plan and program are more predictable because of tight, shorter times allowed.
Q. It seems like if there is a lot of sharing across department and entire company “boundaries” that doing anything that was not ethical or even illegal would be difficult, would it not?
The Guardian: With company wide alignment across departments we can eliminate conflicting goals because everyone knows what is important and what is not. Because planning and risk management is done in an open, transparent and collaborative way, opportunities and conditions for unethical behavior are significantly reduced and those not reduced are revealed earlier than not. Enterprise wide planning is done once a quarter. Team planning is done every few weeks. These shorter planning cycles, along with the 15-minute stand up team meetings every day, will reveal where there are problems. And it only takes a few days for the team leaders to identify blockers to progress and take steps to eliminate them.
Q. I lived through Total Quality Management (TQM) and then Six Sigma once upon a time. What do you say to those who are skeptical about SAFe as the “flavor of the month” for management tools?
The Guardian: I understand and can appreciate that point of view. The biggest difference is that SAFe is all about the product and the end result. Six Sigma involves operational efficiency and the production of the individual part(s) of a product. Similarly, TQM is focused on a single component, which is quality. Quality is a very tough variable and is only a single variable where Agile is focused on the whole product and SAFe on delivering the whole product with all departments aligned around its introduction. My clients sell financial products, or phones or cars, not operational efficiency. They are focused on complete end products and not on the separate components. SAFe also develops and grows the next generation of products as it takes into account the entire lifecycle of a product and helps to plan for what’s next. These other methodologies do not.
Q. I remember that a couple of weeks ago you used the term “willful ignorance” when it came to unethical behavior. In a more open and sharing environment like this, that kind of passive-aggressive behavior will be more difficult to get away with, don’t you think?
The Guardian: You cannot hide when using Agile because of the collaborative team oriented way things are done. The Agile process will not allow anyone to hide. This is true of unethical behavior or of lack of qualifications. Collaboration is designed to leverage the strengths of the team member. In traditional organizations, it is easier to hide ignorance for months at a time. Everyone knows a story about hiring someone who was not a good fit. But in the open and sharing environment that comes with Agile, someone who is not qualified to do certain jobs will not be able to hide. I’m not a java programmer, so please do not hire or ask me to do that. Instead, hire me because I am an expert in project management. Don’t hire or ask people to do things they do not want to do or are not qualified for.
Q. It seems like so many laws and rules around governance communicate the assumption that employees are lazy, greedy, with inherent behaviors that need monitoring and control. How does the more open, shared decision-making responsibilities impact these behaviors and maybe more importantly, beliefs about workers? Don’t these prejudices do more to instigate bad behavior than not?
The Guardian: Good governance is not about command and control. Command and control takes away the respect of individuals needed for good governance. Command and control creates situations and an environment where people try and go around the rules and not report areas of possible trouble. Command and control creates an environment where “staying off the radar” is the behavior employees engage in. Command and control and allegiance to a strict hierarchy diminishes the possibility of everyone being treated with respect. Employees are less likely to report problems in the command and control model as keeping a lower profile is prescribed behavior. A strong adherence to hierarchy will not result in the “bubbling up” of information about potential problems. Chrysler is a perfect example of where the command and control culture prevented information about defective cars from being shared in advance of bigger and ultimately fatal flaws. The result was the deaths of many people before anything ever got done. Good governance is everyone’s responsibility. Are we doing the right things for all our stakeholders? Will the messenger be killed for revealing a difficult truth or do we honor doing what is right enough to thank someone for pointing out a defect? Had Chrysler had a more collaborative work style, things would have worked out better for them. Be careful about what you incentivize and the messages employees get about what to do or not do in the workplace.
Q. To take the other side, if everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge. Who is ultimately held responsible in the workplace for positive or negative outcomes in the Agile/SAFe model?
The Guardian: The goal is always for consensus, but sometimes that is not possible. When there is not consensus, some body has the responsibility to make a decision. We are always very conscious of who our experts are. We have a saying, that the one(s) closest to the problem is the expert. We trust the team to solve most problems but rely on individual experts when necessary. SAFe has very strong built in roles and responsibilities with individual assignments and accountability. So when necessary, decisions made by designated experts. For example, the overall success of a product belongs to the team. But if there is a decision about customer experience, the product owner makes that decision if there is no consensus. If there is a question about a technical solution, the architect owns that when there is not consensus. Rely on your experts when you need to, but try and arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome first.
Q. Governance generally equals conformity to a rigorous set of policies and setting controls, whereas Agile/SAFe is about adaptation, minimal or iterative development. How do those reconcile or, is there some other answer outside of reconciliation? (A place where A + B does not equal C but D?
The Guardian: There are standards and a framework to follow within Agile and SAFe. For example, the Agile team rarely decides what the development tool-set is for their assignment. There is an architect who decides what the tool-set will be for the individual Agile team or for the SAFe when the entire organization is involved. We need this for uniformity of outcomes. We also need identical tool-sets for strong governance and to integrate work across the business. It also makes things like auditing and testing easier. This keeps teams from working on problems they were not hired to work on or from adopting tools that no one else in the organization knows about. No need to reinvent the wheel when it already exists. Controls are very necessary for Agile to be successful and keep everyone working on product development and not something else. The effort for the Agile team is to successfully introduce a new product, not select tool-sets. Further, we are not paid to just be present or punch a clock. We are paid to be experts in our respective fields, to think and solve problems and improve on existing or introduce new products. Harsh command and control will often lead to even harsher rules and more controls which will cause employees to revert back to rebellious teenager status. Situations like this are illustrated daily in “Dilbert”. It’s tough to attract or retain top talent in an atmosphere this constrained.
Q. Can you comment on the following statement: Agile governance starts from the very purpose of the organization and aligns the entire organization for the benefit of the whole. It is based on the tenet of “requisite alignment”, in which people and organizations find the best fit for the mutual benefit.
The Guardian: It’s a very academic definition and completely accurate. When organizations are aligned they are unbeatable and can accomplish extraordinary things in less time than anyone can ask. A singular purpose or mission provides clarity about what to do and why we do it. NASA getting to the moon in just a few years is a great example of how agreement on the why of a mission is so important. Everyone at NASA down to the janitor knew how what they did effected the mission. They went from empty land in Florida and Houston to building and constructing one of the most successful endeavors in human history. No other country or organization ever repeated anything close to sending several missions to the moon and back. Even now, if NASA attempted to repeat their accomplishment from the 1960’s it would take 30 years and that is with technology far better than what was available then. Singular alignment and the knowing the “why” of our mission is a primal motivator for humans. Make sure everyone knows what it is and that their work advances the accomplishment of that vision.
Q. Finally, could a company or organization adopt SAFe strictly as a governance tool or does better governance come from use of the tool?
The Guardian: You cannot separate good governance from SAFe, it’s inherent with the methodology. If you adopt SAFe in your organization, you will have good/improved governance. I work with clients a lot on leadership, culture, change communications and behavior that will also institutionalize good governance at all levels of the organization. It’s possible to hide bad behavior, ill intent, or sheer incompetence in traditionally run organizations. It’s difficult to reveal any of these in the traditional business as we have discussed because the employees all know to keep a low profie. The shorter planning cycles and open way of sharing make any of these less likely in a company that embraces SAFe.