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The Four Problems I Often See

The Four Problems I Often See


I don't want to tar them all with the same brush and make a sweeping generalisation but....... There are four problems that are not being addressed that I often see when working with organisations when they want to leverage or improve business agility.

Often, they already have or are in the midst of trying to plonk a framework or two in play and things are not working out as expected or as the shiny sales deck promised. This can be at the team level, team of teams, department, or whole organisation level, but most problems seem to always tie back to one or multiples of these four headings. So, what are these problems I hear you cry? Let's jump in and take a look.

The right people not talking to each other at the right times

First is this common gem. The right people are not talking to each other at the right times. This can range from not involving the right people; to having most of the right people but rarely not often enough (especially the customer!).

Now before we all start jumping up and down screaming, "We need co-located teams to make this agile thing work!" let's remember it's not 1990 and there is a lot of great tooling out there that allows us to get together in seconds anywhere in the world at the click of a button and collaborate in meaningful ways. The power of being in the same room is awesome and I love getting everyone in the same room to inspect a problem but for many organisations in this day and age, it's not a viable option. That said, it should not be a barrier to collaboration and that is where things can fall over. Once people start talking to each other with regular touch points, actually collaborating (getting away from order giver and order taker stances), and are focussed then we start to see value come through.

Just make sure when you come together, you get meaningful work done and these sessions are not just talking shops. Come to the decision, build something, test something, whatever it is do it, and do not do it in isolation.

The Four Problems I Often See
The Four Problems I Often See

People trying to do too much at once

I often work with groups that are simply trying to do too much at once. Why is this? Simply because it is all important and we must get it all done now. Often on top of what they already have underway. However, reality shows us, (especially when we look at the data) that often nothing is getting done. But we are reporting green, and everyone is really busy so we must be delivering value, right? Hmmmmm, unfortunately not. What you have created is a traffic jam and nothing is moving at a meaningful pace. Everyone is busy and work is happening, but nothing is getting finished because we are all working on things in our lane, not stepping back to agree and focus on getting one valuable piece done together.

Now, I am fairly sure you'll be yelling at the screen here, "But we have specialists, and we can't all be cross-functional!" I get that. However, if we can sequence the work, with enough slack in our system then we can manage the bottlenecks (they are there, they almost always are) in a meaningful way to allow work to flow (ah the joys of flow. Once you've experienced it, you'll never want to go back) then we can start to get meaningful value out the door and start to get customer feedback that will direct us. And guess what? All that stuff that was important, you may find a lot of it is no longer viewed in the same way. Especially now you are getting feedback from the delivery of that work that was blocked by all the other pseudo just as important stuff.

Taking on pieces of work that are too big

Now this one goes pretty hand in glove with the previous one. We need to deliver this, and it must have all the bells and whistles. It must be shiny and polished and from there we will dominate the market. Huzzah! Unfortunately, this is a fallacy that trips so many of us up. We plan for pieces of work, and we don't realise that they are that big. Why is this? Simply, we love to happy path plan and underestimate the complexity and risk involved.

"But I raise many risks and issues I'll have you know!" Yes, you do. But do you lean into those risks early by pulling that small piece of work forward to learn enough to inform you? Or do they go in a risk register, and you have a weekly or monthly review and RAG status them? If you do the former, then I applaud you. However, it's the latter that I see more often than not.

Now many of us may challenge the status quo and ask, could you break this piece down any smaller, which is swiftly met with, "No, it has to have all of this to be of any meaningful value." Alternatively, we hear "Well if I break it any smaller then I am just creating an overhead of admin." This is where we must push ourselves a little harder. If we can break it down smaller and get early feedback, we may find that half of the bells and whistles are not needed.

Can we do this for a subset of customers? Can we do this for one data feed? Can we build a prototype or mock-up to guide us with actual feedback? Can we create a trap door to measure demand?
We've all heard the twice the work in half the time strapline. It's not about going faster, it's about being smarter and not getting bogged down in the work you did not need to do. The way to realise that is to get customer feedback early and often. Like the above, a lot of the noise of everything that is important goes away when we do this. And again, the wonderful feeling of flow may start to appear!

The Four Problems I Often See
The Four Problems I Often See

Leaders believe that their people need to change but they do not

This is the big one I see. We have brought you in to make our people agile. Just go fix them and we will be fine. Hmmmm, not great but at least you are thinking about your people. This one I find is a big blocker to getting genuine business agility in the organisation. Sure, I can work with your teams and most likely I'll be able to help with relieving from overburdening by helping them understand and visualise their work. Helping them manage work in process in a better way and inspecting their systems to improve them, yep sure I can do that. That said, all I am doing is speeding up a cog in a wheel. If you want the wheel to speed up, then you need to change too.

If you, as a leader can show that you are living these new values by demonstrating this in your day-to-day work then people will come on that journey in a much more engaged and positive manner. If you as a leader can show that you are limiting the work in process and making this visible, then you can really start to change the culture from top to bottom in your organisation. If you can give clear strategic direction and enable the execution of that strategy by empowering your teams and helping them to deliver on that strategy, then you can build something powerful and robust. I get that this is hard, it really is.
What has got you to where you are has been hard and proven to work so far. However, to get you to where you want to be, you will often have to change too.

You want to change the culture; you need to change the outcomes. You want to change the outcomes; you need to change the practices. To change the practices, you need to lead with clear values. A splendid example of this is: that we value finished work over unfinished work because we learn earlier. This will change the practices to stop starting and start finishing work as we value the finished work more and we value the learning this gives us.

In Summary

I know that this has been a bit of a sweeping generalisation. But if you think about it from your perspective about the problems you have experienced in the past where would most fall under? Would it be one of these four that I have highlighted? If not, what are the problems that you see come up repeatedly that do not fall under these categories? I would love to hear from you.

If you would like to learn more about facing these problems and options to resolve them then I'd love to see you take part in one of the upcoming training courses that we have available. Check them out here.