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Patterns and Antipatterns of Business Agility

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At a recent WellyBam event the authors of the book Sooner, Safer, Happier shared the key ideas and explained the patterns and antipatterns of business agility adoption they have found through working on transformation in a wide range of organisations. The video of the talk can be found here.

They made the point that they used an approach of patterns and antipatterns because there is no one-size-fits-all approach in a complex domain, and organisational change is fundamentally complex. Using patterns and antipatterns the reader can look at the description and the context for that pattern or antipattern and discern for themselves how applicable it is to their own situation.

Patterns will generally give you a tailwind, and antipatterns will generally give you a headwind. An antipattern will make a hard job harder and a pattern should make a hard job slightly less hard.

They went on to describe the eight patterns in the book, and the antipatterns which inhibit them.

Pattern: Focus on outcomes first and foremost, rather than focusing on the means to the end. Any transformation project (agile, DevOps, Digital) that is focused on the transformation rather than the business outcome is very likely to fail. Make the business outcome the focus of the communications and interactions regarding the changes being made. The title of the book is intended to make this clear - better value sooner, safer, happier. Whatever techniques, methods and tools you use to achieve the outcome are simply the means to achieve the outcome and must not be seen as the goal (for example adopting DevOps is not a business outcome).

They explained the improvements across the four elements they achieved at Barclays after they shifted from focusing on adopting agile to meeting the business outcomes.

Deliver Better Value Sooner Safer Happier

Pattern: Achieve big through small. This is about making small incremental changes, spreading the ideas and approaches across the organisation, rather than adopting a large scaling framework and imposing changes on the whole organisation at once.

Pattern: Invite over inflict. One size does not fit all and imposing a single model or framework on the whole organisation is disempowering and demotivational. Rather, invite people to cocreate the new ways of working and tap into their intrinsic motivation.

Pattern: Leadership behavior will make it or break it. Unless a change is led from the top there will be no buy-in. Create an environment of psychological safety through leaders role modelling the desired behavior and servant leadership.

Pattern: Build the right thing. Shift from a project focus to long-lived value streams and product teams delivering value. Measure outcomes, not milestones.

Pattern: Build the thing right. Ensure there is continuous compliance and effective governance with context sensitive guardrails, rather than bureaucratic regulations. Make compliance easy and collaborative rather than confrontational and siloed.

Pattern: Continuous attention to technical excellence. Go slower to go faster, balance delivering new features with reducing technical debt, maintaining architectural alignment and raise the bar on internal software quality using quality engineering practices.

Pattern: Create a learning organisation. Ensure knowledge and information is readily shared and enable discoverability. Find ways to share knowledge through practices such as communities of practice, internal unconferences and recognise that you’re never done learning.

All four of the authors (John Smart, Zslot Berent, Myles Ogilvie and Simon Rohrer) spent many years working at Barclays, leading and contributing to the large-scale organisational transformation. The book draws on their work there as well as with many other organisations. There are over 100 case studies in the book elaborating on how the ideas have been applied in different contexts.

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