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My Favourite Agile Image

My Favourite Agile Image

What a weird title, I know right? However, I have used this image so many times when working with teams and release trains its unreal. The best thing, I did not draw it. It is a creation by a great friend, Kathy Thomson, who collaborated with another great friend, Luke Gent during our time working together at a big old bank whilst up in Scotland.

So why do I love it so much? Great question. Well, I suppose it's a whole bunch of things that just brings it together. The image is easy to read and appeals to my visual nature. Also, the image is not overly perfected, which again appeals to me. It is also framework agnostic so it's not preaching a prescribed method, just guidelines on foundations that will help your teams. But most of all, the image works because if you do these 12 things well, you will be firing on all cylinders.

If we look at the image, it highlights these 12 elements:

1) Events Reach Objectives. How many of us hear, "I hate Scrum (or insert framework de jour here), there are too many meetings. There are not. You most likely have a bunch of other useless meetings and even your scrum ones are not getting you where you need to be. Having this stance of events reaching objectives will help both keeping you focused on why you are together and make you question the events you may have that do not. If they don't get you what you need, change them so they do or bin them if there is no value.

2) End to End Delivery Simplified. Visualising our work and the process it follows is such a vital practice. Yet how many of us don't look to stretch that view outside of our team to visualise the flow of value? This is a key message in the Kanban Method that a lot of folks can skim over and then not get the whole picture to see where the real waste is that could be such a game-changer when removed.

3) Impediments Raised and Visualised. As above, this is another game changer when done well. If we can make things visible and understood it is easier to see where the priorities lie and as well as easier to escalate if we need leadership help. If these go on a document that is effectively somewhere to die in the dark, then how can we focus on them? As Jon Smart says, Impediments are not in the path, impediments are the path. Clear the path and make your deliveries easier.

4) Metrics to Forecast and Track Progress. Metrics are a great way to help understand your performance as a team. Understanding your capacity and shaping the demand that comes in will be informed by the metrics your system produces. Understanding your lead times for the various work types you have arrive in your system will help facilitate meaningful conversations. Understanding risk and probability in your deliveries will help manage expectations and avoid overburdening. Become familiar with your metrics to help you become predictable and reliable at a sustainable pace.

5) Work Described as Valuable Outcomes. When we understand the why of what we are doing it can be so powerful as a catalyst for focus and energy. And if we can take it further to understand the economic impact of these outcomes then it's clear for everyone to get on board with the priority calls as well as when to celebrate too. If you can't easily see this in the work you do, maybe it's time to ask why.

6) Backlog Prioritised and Sized. For this one, I think the Product Owner should be all over this, especially at the top end of the backlog as well as ideally looking a few iterations ahead with desired outcomes in mind. However, our PO should not be doing this in isolation. As much as we want our product folk to own the backlog we need collaboration to be high on forming this and even more so when we break the work down. We want the backlog to be prioritised so we know where the most value is likely to come from and for us to learn about that value early, we need small items of value that we can get fast and insightful feedback on.

7) Delivering Incrementally and Iteratively. This obviously (as per anything really) depends on your context. The basic idea behind this is to deliver through a repeated cycle (iterative) and in smaller portions at a time (incremental), allowing our teams to take advantage of what was learned during the delivery of earlier parts or versions of our product/service. To do this, you need to break the work down small enough to do this. Yes, you may be able to build something in two weeks if all goes well but can you test it and deal with any fixes in that time before you get some initial feedback from the PO? If in doubt break it smaller. However, when breaking the work, it must be of standalone value. These fast feedback loops will make sure we don't ever go too far off track.

8) Effective Collaboration with Stakeholders. As we just mentioned above, short fast feedback loops are essential for teams to deliver with confidence iteratively and incrementally. Ensuring we get feedback from our stakeholders helps build trust and ensures we don't go too far off track if we get it wrong. You hear fail fast often but learning early from the failure is key to progress.

9) Focus on Team Outcomes. This is a tough one for folks as often leaders will provide objectives that are not outcomes. When we do this, we limit creativity and limit the art of possible. If I tell you to build me a car, you'll build me a car and that is what I'll get. However, if I say I want a way to get to the store then the possibilities are wide-ranging. You could provide me with roller skates, a scooter, an e-bike, or a helicopter (assuming we can park it there of course). Sharing outcomes with your teams help galvanise collaboration and makes space for innovation. Focus on outcomes not output or deterministic plans and watch your teams grow!

10) Transparent and Honest Culture. This is another reason I love this image. Transparency helps build trust. Honesty allows for difficult conversations to happen that allow a team to grow and for your business to get better. I am not saying we turn into feelingless robots. Techniques such as Radical Candor and well facilitated such as retrospectives and fishbowls can help evolve this culture. However, if you truly want to evolve your culture, as David Anderson of the Kanban Method says, "Outcomes follow practices. Practices follow culture. Culture follows values, so lead with values." Values can act as great decision filters. An example I'll share is, "We value finished work above started work." Therefore, it is an easy decision to make when faced with the choice of starting something new versus finishing what is in front of us.

11) Willing to Learn, Experiment, and Improve. This is so true. If we do not improve, we stagnate. Experimentation allows us to learn, and learning is key to evolving your teams' capabilities and your people's careers. If we don't evolve and improve in this fast-paced world we can easily get left behind by the competition. Allow space to learn, experiment, and improve to not only provide a growth environment for your teams but also lower attrition rates and increase productivity.

12) Roles Understood and Enacted. This is so key to a team's success. Yes, we love to see collaboration and cross-skilling to aid our robustness in the team. That said, (as mentioned in point 6) our PO needs to be thinking a few iterations ahead. Our Scrum Masters (or team coaches) need to be thinking ahead in how to evolve the team, departments, and leadership at a sustainable pace without being overwhelmed with change fatigue. For us to really get the best from everyone we need to know our responsibilities and execute them in the most beneficial ways to meet our customer needs early and often.

My Favourite Agile Image
My Favourite Agile Image

I asked Kathy before I went ahead and did this. She was obviously happy with me sharing my experiences with using her work. However, here is Kathy's take on the image. "I originally created this image together with Luke because I wanted to empower people to own their own change and be less dependent on me as an Agile Coach. People seem to really relate to the image, and I think this is partly because it is deliberately imperfect and it's not prescriptive. There are so many frameworks and books out there that it can get overwhelming. The image simply says.... explore your own context."

So that brings me to the end of why I love this image so much and I hope you fall in love with it too. I have used this so many times in so many ways. From team kick-offs to retrospectives, the visual is so powerful yet simple. I know I have said before but the fact it is framework agnostic, so bright and visual, and its imperfections makes it perfect for me and I love it! So, to Kathy and Luke, thank you so much for creating this thing of beauty that has guided so many powerful conversations over the years.

What do you think? Would you use this image? If so, how would you begin to? Do you have a favourite image you have used multiple times? If so, I'd love to hear about it. And if you do end up using this image, drop Kathy and Luke a note to let them know how you got on.