Agile, Agile Metrics, Business Agility, Transformation

Agile Manifesto Revisited

In the current wake of COVID 19 while we all are confined to our homes, it is is not a punishment rather if we look at it with a positive aspect, we now have more time to dedicate to our families our hobbies and our growth. This pandemic has shown us the path to some great opportunities ahead.

Likewise, the agile manifesto that was drafted way back in 2001 did consider all this. It said that – While the items on the right are important, we value the items on the left.

Now, it should be…”While the items on the right are important, the valued items on the left will not reach it’s effectiveness without the items on the right“.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

We have to rely on processes and tools to have more interactions with our teams

Many employees across the world found themselves using videoconferencing for work for the first time. They assumed it would be like using FaceTime but encountered several issues, including a lack of device interoperability, poor desktop-sharing experiences, and difficulties adjusting audio devices. But, some tools can help us function just like the way we operated from office. The difference being now we are more connected to our families while our peers are on screen. 

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Overwhelmed customer service teams on the vendor side couldn’t respond to the questions of so many new users. Multiple vendors claimed that their inquiry volumes increased by an order of magnitude during that period. They don’t want to rely on documentation alone. They want to see it, experience it. And, that’s where we will need more effective tools to do so.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We do need a contract in place before we start executing the project and the customer collaboration relies extensively on the collaboration tools like Skype, GoToMeeting, Slack, Zoom, etc. 

Research shows that active users, who rely heavily on sending documents for collaboration, are concerned about the risks inherent to sharing documents online. Although SaaS providers have demonstrated the security of their cloud storage offerings with encrypted networks and permission control systems, customers are still unsure of how safe their documents and personal information are when using tools. And, that’s what is the need of the hour.

Responding to change over following a plan

Times have changed and so has the focus. The world wasn’t prepared for the pandemic and hence had to enforce new laws and introduce changes in the way we used to function earlier. Responding to change was mostly limited to the changes in the client requirements, we never thought that we will have to change the way we operate, commute, and communicate. 

Once all this is over and as enterprises resume normal business activity, they will notice that an effective collaboration strategy needs to align the business and technology objectives and coordinate work streams across cross-functional teams. Current pilots are only part of the holistic adoption assessments needed. 

To succeed, tech and business leaders will have to advocate for management support, cultural change, and adoption strategies for Employee Collaboration instead of simply defining a SaaS roadmap.

Agile, Agile Metrics, Business Agility

What’s in the Metrics?

Agile contains a multitude of methodologies, but using a cumulative flow design might be the great unifier you’ve been looking for.

Everyone’s supervisor wants to know the metrics behind their Agile journey.

Some of the most frequently-asked questions during Agile Scrum training are:

  • “There are a lot of metrics to measure. Which one I should pick up to track the progress of my team?”
  • “I use both the methodologies Scrum & Kanban within our iterations and I don’t want to confuse my team members with different metrics from time to ntime.”
  • “I thought my daily stand-ups are effective, but many times the last-minute spill-over surprises me.”
  • “My manager keeps telling me constantly to “raise the bar” to build a high-performing team. I am not even sure where we are today to consider the next level”

Scrum espouses principles of “transparency, inspection, adaption,” Kanban’s philosophy involves “visualization, limiting WIP & enhancing flow,” and Extreme Programming values “communication, simplicity & feedback.” But the common theme revolves around visibility of work inclusive of blockers for the team, not only to understand where we are but also to do course correction.

Throughput and cycle time of the deliverables are two vital parameters to understand the progress as well as the projection of completion based on the current timeline.

While there are different charts and measurements that help in understanding throughput and cycle time – burn-up or burn-down in Scrum, visual flow in Kanban, velocity in extreme programming – cumulative flow diagram is one powerful chart that works effectively irrespective of the Agile methodologies the team operates in.

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” – John W. Tukey

Let me explain the power of a cumulative flow diagram as compared to other charts in understanding the flow better for actionable outcomes.

Below is the summary of the work planned and achieved by the team over 10 days:

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Let us explore a simple burn-down chart that depicts the ideal work remaining vs. actual work remaining:

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Burn-down helps in understanding if we are on target or behind in comparison with ideal work remaining. It doesn’t directly reflect the change though.

Now, let us the same through burn-up chart:

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While this also helps in understanding work remaining, we can see the change in scope after Day-5.

Both the burn-up and burn-down charts focus on work completed and work remaining from customer perspective. While these are great measures, we also need to understand the intermediate flow (movement from one state to another) to be able to understand blockers and impediments.

Let us represent the above with a simple stacked bar chart:

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Much better, isn’t it? This depicts the progress through various stages as well as the scope change (the spike on Day 6).

It’s time to covert the stacked bar chart into stacked area chart.

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Bingo! Here comes our superhero cumulative flow diagram to our rescue to be able to deep dive further. Each colored area represents the flow (in the above, it is “Yet to Start”, “In Progress”, “Done,” and “Shipped”) and shift from one to another depicts throughput.

There are several important key takeaways from this chart which helps in further inspection & adaption:

  • Scope Change: Change in overall horizontal line. In the above chart, the change occurred on Day 6 and is stable after that.
  • Thin Flow: Thin flow represents a quicker process. “Done” flow is faster compared to “In Progress”. If we need to lean overall throughput, then our focus should be on the “In Progress” flow.
  • Average Lead Time: The horizontal shift from “Yet to Start” to “Shipped”
  • Cycle Time: The horizontal shift from one state to another. For example, “In Progress” to “Done” will provide the cycle time.
  • WIP: It’s important to measure the work-in-progress since limiting WIP expedites the progress. The vertical line within one state provides the number of items that are being processed (a.k.a) WIP.

It’s a myth that the cumulative flow diagram is only for Kanban methodology. It provides immense value across the board. Cumulative flow diagram can be plotted for stories/tasks within an iteration. Hence is a great value addition in Scrum as well. It can also be expanded for features at program level and epics at the portfolio level. Thus, it provides benefits at various persona levels: Scrum master, program manager, product manager and business stakeholders. This is applicable not just in information technology; this visual representation helps in understanding and taking action in any day-to-day activity that we would like to optimize the overall experience/flow of.

It’s a great tool, not just to track and troubleshoot development projects, but also for maintenance and operation projects. You gain better insights using a cumulative flow design, and it helps in driving meaningful retrospection.