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Q&A on the Book Agile Enterprise

Key Takeaways

  • Growing companies need a customer value-driven engine to ensure their people are building the highest customer value work amongst all of their ideas
  • Agile needs to be applied from top-to-bottom and end-to-end across an enterprise
  • Achieving customer value requires a discovery mindset, applying experimental thinking, and an incremental framework, while applying customer feedback
  • Effective agile requires the latest cutting-edge practices like user story mapping, lean canvas, reinventing organizations, agile budgeting, personas, value stream mapping, and more to keep up with the ever changing marketplace
  • All roles must participate in the agile transformation including teams, management, executives, PMOs, portfolio, HR, finance, creative, marketing, and more 

In the book The Agile Enterprise Mario Moreira explores the end-to-end and top-to-bottom view needed to run an effective agile enterprise, focusing on the needs of customers and employees. He explains how cutting-edge and innovative concepts and practices can be incorporated into a robust agile and customer value-driven framework.

The Agile Enterprise is the equivalent of Lean Startup but for small to large organizations that have numerous ideas flowing into the company that should be prioritized continuously, where the top ideas flow to teams who cut increments and apply feedback loops to ensure those in the enterprise are working on the highest customer value work.

InfoQ readers can download a sample of The Agile Enterprise.

InfoQ interviewed Moreira about how to deliver customer value and adopt an agile mindset, how the role of middle management evolves when an enterprise adopts agile and the impact it has on the project management office, feedback loops and measurements, and what the HR department can do to increase the value of agile in an enterprise.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book?

Mario Moreira: There are several reasons why I wrote the book. The first is that there is a growing need to approach agile at an enterprise level, as most "agile" occurs at the team level. This goes far beyond scaling and instead asks what does a company look like when all people, process, and culture are focused on bringing value to your customer? The material in this book has you focusing on an end-to-end and top-to-bottom view that is needed to run an effective agile enterprise. This includes a focus on both the customer (whom we serve that is outside the company) and employees (the trusted and motivated individuals who generate the solution and others in the organization who help you reach the customer outcomes).

The second reason is there is a need to move companies away from doing agile for agile’s sake. There continues to be a need to say “I’m agile” without any substance behind it. This book attempts to reshape the mind and reasons behind applying agile toward one primary area, and that is to become customer value-driven. Are you seeing the outcomes of building customer value, where customers are satisfied, where customer feedback is captured along the way to adapt toward customer value, and are you seeing financial benefits in doing so?

The third reason why I wrote this book is that there are now a number of cutting-edge and innovative concepts and practices that are important to bring into the agile circle including user story map, lean canvas, reinventing organizations, agile budgeting, personas, various feedback loops, and much much more. The question is, how might these get incorporated into a robust agile and customer value-driven framework? This book recognizes these cutting-edge concepts and practices and helps you to seamlessly incorporate them into your work for a more effective transformation toward building customer-value.

The fourth reason is that when companies move beyond small to become medium or large, it becomes very challenging to optimize toward the highest value work across the enterprise. Equally challenging is aligning people and resources toward building to the highest value work. This book helps you put an customer value system in place so that a company will always know what is the high-value work with cutting-edge practices such as cost of delay (CoD), value scores, discovery mindset, feedback loops, and more.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Moreira: The primary readers for this book are two-fold. The first group are those ready to take the next step in their journey on building an end-to-end and top-to-bottom customer value-driven agile enterprise with the latest concepts and practices. The second group are those that have come to the realization that a successful company must really focus on building customer value across their enterprise. Those readers from these two groups may include:

  • Executives and senior management
  • Sponsors of agile transformations
  • Agile coaches, consultants, and champions
  • Investors and entrepreneurs
  • Portfolio management
  • Project management offices (PMOs)
  • Product owners, product managers, business analysts
  • Business and finance
  • Human resources (HR)
  • Scrum masters and agile project managers

InfoQ: Why should we move away from certainty if we want to deliver customer value?

Moreira: In many organizations, there is a need to act as if you are certain. The higher up you go in an organization, the compulsion of acting with certainty becomes greater and greater. Some think they must act with “pretend certainty” for the benefit of their career and others have convinced themselves of “arrogant certainty” where they believe they know the answer or solution but don’t provide any solid basis for this certainty. Unfortunately, this arrogance can be interpreted as confidence which can be dangerous to the success of a company and limit options.

A healthier and more realistic approach is to have leaders who understand that uncertainty is actually a smart starting position and then apply a discovery, experimental, and learning approach that supports the gaining of certainty. It is incumbent upon you to have an approach that admits to limited information and certainty, then applies a discovery and fact-building approach toward customer value. This is why you must almost immediately discover and learn more about the customer and their need for the new idea or feature you are building for them.

InfoQ: What is the "agile galaxy"?

Moreira: The agile galaxy is a metaphor for where in your company landscape agile is being applied. It is the landscape where all agile processes, roles, and culture live that have a focus on delivering customer value. It helps you understand where agile is adopted and applied.

The agile galaxy has a vertical view titled the hierarchical axis where the executives are at the top and the teams are at the bottom (although this can be reversed). The galaxy also has a horizontal view titled the delivery axis that illustrates the end-to-end flow of work from the moment an idea is recorded to the point where it is released and then reflected upon. The delivery axis is the channel by which the enterprise is focused on delivering customer value.

The purpose of establishing your own agile galaxy construct is for you to understand where along both the delivery and hierarchical axis do you have people (e.g., teams, management, etc.) applying agile, and where agile related elements (e.g., concepts, mindset, practices, processes, and techniques) are being implemented. Whether you are in the midst of your agile transformation or you are looking to begin, it is beneficial to have a living agile galaxy related to your enterprise. You may consider it a heat map of where agile is occurring. As you plan the next increment of your agile journey, you can use this as input on where you want to go next.

InfoQ: What can organizations do to adopt an agile mindset in all quadrants of the agile galaxy?

Moreira: As you look across your agile galaxy, it is important to apply the agile mindset to all quadrants. An early step to transforming is what I refer to as “readying the mind”. This involves educating people on the agile values and principles and focusing people on business outcomes (and less on outputs). This should occur in all quadrants as everyone must understand the agile mindset they should bring to their work so it becomes easier to understand their processes and their roles in a more agile manner.

The goal is to embrace the agile values and principles and then operate in a manner that aligns with an agile mindset with a focus on delivering customer value. The result of achieving an agile mindset means you should see different behaviors and a change in the culture including changes in responsibilities, assurances to engage customers, commitment to empower employees, an obligation to bring business and development together, and more.

Without a commitment to readying the mind with a focus on the agile values and principles, you may find that you are going through the mechanical motions without grasping the benefit of uncovering betters ways of working. As an example, a retrospective can mechanically occur with no commitment to actually improve.

InfoQ: How can the role of middle management evolve when an enterprise adopts agile?

Moreira: Within the book, I share insight into a number of roles in an enterprise that will evolve. I first start by saying “If your role has not adapted, you may not be part of the agile change”.

When moving toward agile and customer focus, middle management must build a healthy agile culture by encouraging their teams to align with agile values and principles and focus on being customer value driven. They must adapt and act as a coach and servant leader toward their teams and become less directive. They must trust their teams to make good decisions, establish bounded authority, encourage their teams to self-organize, create safe work environments, and remove employee and team roadblocks. They should focus on the optimal location of people that reduce impediments and enable flow of work. They should promote career and personal development through continuous education and apply agile minded performance excellence.

If they have strong product knowledge, some functional management shift their roles and become a PO since the PO now owns the product direction. Because of less functional responsibility of their people, some management may evolve from a functional manager to a resource or career manager.

Middle management are often the lynch-pin in allowing the executive’s vision for agile to thrive on teams or their team’s ability to apply agile. If management embrace agile, then the change may succeed. Otherwise, they can block the change to an agile culture if they feel the need for control and not allow a team to self-organize.

InfoQ: And what's the impact for the project management office?

Moreira: The project management office (PMO) focuses on supporting projects in the latter part of the delivery axis of the agile galaxy (after they’ve been approved). Traditionally, the PMO are directly involved in managing projects and often supply project managers to lead them.

When moving toward agile and customer focus, there may be a significant shift in how the PMO operates. Since most work in agile are facilitated by a Scrum master and the product owner decides the value and priority of the work, there is less work for a project manager to do. It is not uncommon for some project managers to become Scrum masters depending on their ability to adapt to an agile mindset and act as more of a coach and facilitator.

It is not uncommon for a PMO to adapt to a leaner AMO (agile management office). In an agile environment, the focus is not the project, but the incremental delivery of value. In agile, the team creates increments of value and the PO collects customer feedback used to adapt the product toward customer value. While the PMO may be leaner due to the Scrum master and product owner, the PMO may focus on managing bigger releases where multiple teams are required to build the product or idea.

InfoQ: Which different kinds of feedback loops are possible?

Moreira: Having a mindset of learning what the customer finds as valuable is important in the journey to customer value. This allows you to shed the dangerous attitude of pretend or arrogant certainty and allows you to explore what the customer needs. The better approach is to incorporate the concept of learning through fast feedback to identify what is customer value. This is a discovery method of gaining incremental information through customer feedback loops and taking what you learned to continuously adapt toward customer value.

There are many types of customer feedback loops that can be applied as the idea travels through the enterprise idea pipeline. The most common customer feedback loop is the sprint review or demo where customers view the working product developed to date.

There are a variety of feedback loops that should be applied throughout the delivery axis in order to adapt your way toward customer value. When an idea gets documented you can share it with customers to validate if they find it valuable. When you cut an increment of an idea, it is important to get feedback from customers by walking through the options to gauge their level of interest and to see if some options are more compelling than others. Invite customers to the sprint review or demos. Invite customers to participate in a hands-on customer experience (CX or UX) activities or alphas and betas. Once released, collect customer satisfaction and revenue data.

InfoQ: What kind of measurements exist in agile, and how can you use them to deliver customer value?

Moreira: The primary goal of agile measures is to help you become more aligned with delivering customer value. This is why outcome based measures are much more aligned with agile than output measures. Output measures focus on how much you deliver, while outcome measures focus on the results of what you deliver. It is the results that matter.

Capturing revenue is a good starting point. However, because revenue is an outcome metric, it is lagging. To supplement lagging metrics, you need leading metrics (or indicators) that provide you visibility into what is currently occurring with the customer and the progress of the idea.

There are indeed different kinds of measurements that you may consider in an agile world. Some to consider are establishing your black swan value curve with CoD distribution, measuring the number of customers that are occurring at your demos, capturing customer satisfaction, identifying end-to-end lead times, tracking customer revenue, and assessing employee satisfaction.

InfoQ: What can the HR department do to increase the value of agile in an enterprise?

Moreira: Both agile coaches and HR staff focus on the culture of an enterprise. Much like agile is looking for more of an incremental approach to building products, HR systems need to become more incremental so that they can adapt to the needs of the employees as those needs evolve.

HR is poised, should they be willing, to take a leadership role in moving the enterprise to an agile culture. The value-add that HR can bring to an agile transformation can include promoting agile and the discovery mindset, experimenting with motivation, exploring self-management, fostering servant leadership, getting closer to the customer, facilitating open space sessions, incorporating gamification, supporting the shift toward agile roles, moving to team-based performance, moving toward continuous employee feedback, and hiring for agile minded employees.

About the Book Author

Mario E. Moreira is an enterprise agile consultant and master agile coach focusing on achieving better business outcomes by increasing customer value, optimizing speed of delivery, and increasing quality. Moreira specializes in transforming enterprises to agile, bringing cutting edge concepts and practices to help companies gain business benefits that agile brings. This includes coaching and educating executives, management, teams, and a variety of roles across the enterprise in agile mindset, concepts, methods and practices (User Story Mapping, Jobs to be Done, Value Stream Mapping, Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean, VFQ, and much more). Moreira is the author of several business and technology books including The Agile Enterprise: Building and Running Agile Organizations, Being Agile: Your Roadmap to Successful Adoption of Agile, Adapting Configuration Management for Agile Teams, Software Configuration Management Implementation Roadmap, and Agile for Dummies. He writes regularly for his Agile Adoption Roadmap blog.

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