Category Archives: Norms & Principles

LeSS Talks: July 18: Leveraging LeSS Org Design to Build Competence & Coaching Practice

Materials

Synopsis:
If you want to lead people, be worth following. Erin Perry and JP White will talk about ways to build a transformation leadership team that inspires envy and leads by example in all things. They’ll share techniques that you can use to shape your transformation org, with real examples of teams they’ve built and worked on. Through it all, you’ll see that living agility, through LeSS practices, is not something you tell other people to do; it’s something you lead by example.

Get ready for a candid conversation about transformation, leadership, and integrity with Erin Perry and JP White, Developer Relations specialists.

Relevant reading:

Candid, Unscripted Conversation About SAFe, with Mike Cohn



I (Gene here) had the pleasure of having a candid, unscripted conversation with Mike Cohn – one of the best known names and biggest contributors to what is known today as Agile and Scrum.  Mike openly shared some of his thinking that went into creating L.A.F.A.B.L.E. web page, a few years ago, where he described some of his sentiments about SAFe – in a funny and a bit sarcastic way.

The topics we discussed:

  • L.A.F.A.B.L.E: RUP-like, very process-intense framework
  • “Jambalaya”: Many good ingredients all mixed together: Will they still taste good?
  • Benefits of experimenting with SAFe: learning the hard way what NOT to do 😉
  • Local Optimization: Backlog of backlogs/product backlog/team backlogs/personal backlogs (could mean that product definition is weak)
  • “Stroll master” (ex-manager). “Pair managing”. “Ivory Towers” of Architects. Architects-Kings.
  • Components vs. feature teams. Estimation.
  • “Nailing before scaling”: don’t look for perfection on a small scale before you scale up. But DO pay attention to what has been already done/experimented/experienced

Related Topics:

Make Your Coaching Organization Into A Role Model For The Rest Of Your Organization

In this post:


Introduction:

In their journey, to become more adaptive (agile), organizations need guidance and support.  Ideally, organizations should own their own agile transformations: experiments, decisions, successes and failures, with minimal reliance on external help, especially, from low quality consultants and large consulting companies (see recommended mix below).  What should internal (to a company) agile coaching organization look like? What/who should it include?  Who should lead it?  How should it be executed?

Unfortunately, many organizations, still prefer a “quick fix” approach to solve this problem, by loosely relabeling existing, traditional structures into “agile” structures, or rebranding traditional roles into “agile” roles. For example:  PMO → Agile PMO, senior project managers → enterprise & team agile coaches, junior project managers → Scrum Masters, etc.  This en-masse/big-bang approach, should be avoided.  As Albert Einstein once said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

One general advice to an organization that wants to build its own internal agile coaching structure, is to keep in mind that the rest of an organization will look up to it, as a role model. Therefore, an agile coaching structure should keep its own bar high and practice what it preaches, in terms of having a lean design, effective communication and healthy internal dynamics.

Agile Transformation Group

For the purpose of this writing, an entire agile coaching structure is referred to as Agile Transformation Group (herein, abbreviated, as ATG).  Here are a few recommendations, regarding its purpose/focus, position and structure: 

>>Purpose/Focus:

The main purpose of ATG is to a spearhead organization-wide effort to become more adaptive.  This includes organizational consulting, training/education, coaching and mentoring capabilities that would be made available widely, to various organizational structures and employees.  The main “deliverable” of ATG should be consistent with main optimizing goals (e.g. better competitiveness, increased market share, lowered costs of changes).  ATG may refer to its own deliverable as service, or product, or combination of both, or anything else, as long as the rest of an organization understands ATG’s main purpose and sees value in what is being delivered.

>>Position:

It is critical to position ATG in a way that it receives executive management support, steady funding and operational safety.  Executive management support and funding must not come in spirit-only (e.g. a town-hall announcement: “we support your agile transformation and here is an unlimited budget for you to spend on this new effort”) but rather with direct and intimate involvement, by executive management that is willing to invest its own time in learning and deep system thinking.  Operational safety implies that ATG should not be placed within a traditional organizational structure that historically has not provided a sufficient support to organizational adaptive-ness/agile: PMO, enterprise architecture, etc.  You also want to avoid creating centralized power-towers that impose/enforce agile onto the rest of an organization – this will just lead to “broad & shallow” results, system gaming and resentment.  When building and positioning ATG, please, consider a healthy balance between centralized vs. decentralized approach, balancing between standardizing coaching approaches, tools & techniques and offering autonomy to coaches that are deeply engaged with teams and products.

>>Structure:

ATG should provide a great role model to the rest of your organization, in terms of its design, relationships, communication and dynamics. If ATG’s goal is to help an organization become more nimble, reduce bureaucracy and silos, eliminate contractual relationships (“me vs. you”), promote cross-functional teaming, etc., ATG should be able to demonstrate the same qualities, within its own space.

Lets review an example, when ATG decides to adopt a lean, agile framework, such as Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), used for large-scale, multi-site product development. If such decision is made, it would have to include the following organizational elements in its own design:

  • Head of ATG (an equivalent to Head of Product Group in LeSS), whose responsibility would be to provide an overarching organizational support and protection to ATG. Ideally, everyone within ATG would report to Head of ATG, similarly to how everyone (teams and Product Owner) report to Head of Product Group in LeSS.
  • ATG Product/Service Owner, whose main responsibility would be to prioritize organizational requests for agile training, consulting, coaching and mentoring support, would be positioned, on par (same level) with teams, and report directly to Head of ATG (similarly, to how Product Owner reports to Head of Product Group in LeSS, mentioned above).
  • Teams (self-organized/managed, cross-functional and long-lived), whose responsibility would be to engage with various areas of the rest of an organization, for training, coaching, consulting and mentoring support.
  • Communities (informal, horizontal organizational structures), whose main function would be to support and promote functional learning within ATG. Similarly, to LeSS communities, ATG communities would be matrix/hierarchy – free and by-volunteering.

Please, note that ATG should strive to maximize a number of its own people (company’s employees) that uphold positions within a group (and its teams), with minimum reliance on external support.  If external support is used, external helpers should be cherry-picked individually and thoroughly, for their unique capabilities and expertise they bring to a table (for specialties and capabilities, see below), using high standards. Mass-engaging of consultants, individually, through staffing firms or large consulting companies, is strongly unadvisable.

Agile Transformation Team

For the purpose of this writing, each team within ATG is referred as Agile Transformation Team (herein, abbreviated, as ATT).  Here are a few recommendations about its purpose/focus, position and structure:

 >>Purpose/Focus:

The main purpose of ATT would be providing tailored support to various organizational areas, anywhere ATT is deployed. This includes training, consulting, coaching and mentoring to all/any organizational structures: technology, business, operations, support, HR, finance, legal, location strategies, etc. ATT’s activities, length and intensity of engagement, should be explicitly decided prior to engaging.  It, therefore, implies that each ATT would be capable to perform this function independently (see below).

Position:

Multiple ATTs would be a part of the same ATG. If LeSS framework is used as a guideline for ATG structure, then the following LeSS Structure rules would have to be followed for ATT:

  • Total of 50-60 (max 70) members within ATG
  • 2-8 ATTs per ATG

Note: The above numbers are based on the recommended number of people in Scrum (3-9), and are based on many experiments and research, collected over many years, with the focus on:  quality of communication intra- and  across teams, as well as communication between teams and Product Owner.

Given that the nature of ATT work would be different from what is typically delivered by LeSS teams (software product development), the above ranges, potentially, could be further experimented with: expanded or constrained, as needed.  For example, given that an average ATT size could be noticeably smaller than an average size of a team in LeSS, the range of 2-8 could be widened, experimentally, to keep the overall size of ATG, within the recommended range (50-60).

>>Structure:

Each ATT should consist of members that have multiple, overlapping and complimentary skills, with each person having deep expertise in one of the required domains, and some expertise in one or more additional domains. This approach would be consistent not only with LeSS but also with one-team Scrum.  Below, is the list of skills and capabilities, each ATT should possess, in order to be able to effectively handle any support request from an internal client:

  • Ability to engage at all/any phase: organizational assessment, training, consulting, coaching, mentoring
  • Possession of knowledge: frameworks, feedback loops, ability to recognize challenges, utilize organizational enablers, leverage agile and scaling/de-scaling principles, metrics
  • Competencies: facilitation, education (training), balancing (e.g. between coaching and consulting), assessing (e.g. between discovery and direction), catalysis
  • Specialties: organizational structure/culture/leadership, multi-team dynamics, technical excellence, user experience, marketing/sales, business/operations, HR, budgeting/finance, legal, location/site strategies

Note: Please, avoid diluting/reducing the importance of having the highest quality talent, as members of ATT/ATG.  Low quality experts will lead to low quality service, to your organization, and therefore, a loss of reputation, credibility and trust for ATT/ATG. Please, refer to the highest industry standards available (team-level, enterprise-level), when growing your own, internal, ATT/ATG expertise.

Depending on an initial assessment, you may require cross-functional team members, with various complimentary and overlapping skills, as per the above references.  The goal is to make sure that a self-formed & managed, long-lasting ATT, forms a strong relationship with an organization that it supports. Depending on the size of an organization (recipient of support) multiple ATTs may have to be deployed, in parallel: determining this number is a local decision.  All teams should have similar capabilities and skill set – just like in LeSS.

>> Self-Organization

Similar to LeSS, the aspect of self-organization would be critical, when creating effective ATTs, within ATG.  While defining strategic focus and purpose of ATG, consider also defining the most optimal, based on what you know at the time, blueprint for ATT: “what would an ideal team look like, to deliver maximum value to a customer”?  Based on this knowledge ATG may have to do additional tailored staffing.

Please, avoid using a traditional top-down managerial approach to build teams.  Instead, consider conducting a team self-design workshop, by referencing this publication, as a guide.

Engagement Example (Simple Use Case)

For the purpose of this writing, we shall take a look at how the above described LeSS-like ATG and its supporting ATTs, would support an organization that wants to adopt customer-focused, product-centric software development framework – Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). Metaphorically speaking, this situation could be described as: “forging a hammer with a hammer”:

A LeSS adoption (product development, itself), would involve:

  • LeSS Product Group
    • 50-60 developers (on average), grouped into 2-8 teams
    • Product Owner (one)
    • Scrum Masters (seasoned, capable of coaching between 1 and 3 teams)
    • “Undone Department” (remaining functions that did not make into the original Definition of Done)
  • Users/stakeholders and/or customers, expected to provide a supportive role to LeSS Product Group (details, clarifications)- from a few, to a few dozen people
  • Very importantly, executive management, HR, budgeting, legal, etc. – whose overarching support (in action) would be strongly required

As such, and this is based on the advice of multiple seasoned LeSS adoption experts (coaches, trainers), there will be at least one, or more, ATTs needed, to support a LeSS organization.  This would include:

  • Educating/advising executive management on organizational design implications of LeSS adoption
  • Training/coaching teams and team members on inter-and intra- teams’ dynamics, including LeSS roles, events and artifacts
  • Wide gamut of engineering practices: TDD, ATDD, BDD, CI/CD, unit testing, branching/merging strategies, unit testing, test automation, etc.

Conclusion

Please, remember that every organization wishes to see a great role model in the face of its own agile transformation group (referred as ATG, in this writing).  If ATG is lean, nimble, adaptive and has great internal dynamics, then there is a much higher chance that the rest of an organization would be motivated to follow ATG’s footsteps.

But the opposite is also true: if ATG’s structure is cumbersome, bureaucratic, with silos, redundancies and internal competition,  it will not be too successful in its efforts, will eventually lose credibility and reputation with the rest on an organization, and therefore, will not succeed in leading an agile transformation.

 

From Maximum Busy-Ness to Maximum Learning, with Esther Derby & Johanna Rothman

Additional Assets:

Questions Asked & Answered
  1. In our organization, there is a lot of emphasis on speed of delivery, efficiency and productivity.  Line managers believe that people work faster and more efficiently, when they are placed on component teams (same skill-set) than when they are placed on feature teams (multiple skills).  What is the best way to convey to our managers that costs and risks of coordination and integration between very fast-moving component teams exceed the benefits of expected speed?
  2. HR norms and values pave the road for heroics and hyper-performance.  Our developers are encouraged to be efficient and fast-moving.  This promotes the ‘I’ culture, as opposed to ‘We’ culture and as such, collaboration and mutual support on teams suffers.  What empirical evidence and education should be provided to HR to stop promoting bad behaviors?
  3. In Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), we are taught to be able to see and hear Local Optimization, everywhere.  There is an illusion that, if everyone stays very busy and moves fast, the system will be moving very fast as well. But frequently, this is not the case.  Are there good coaching tools or techniques to educate senior management that local optimization for speed and efficiency comes at expense of quality, customer satisfaction, etc.?
  4. Today, many job postings still ask for the ability to multitask. This is viewed as a sign of efficiency and proficiency.  This is one of the things that many HR specialists (and managers) still look for. Are there any suggestions on how to manage this expectation, since multitasking and task-switching is not a good idea
  5. Part of my strategy as an SM to encourage self directed teams growth is to give recognition when a member takes ownership “fully” of a task. Do you think this will encourage more “I” culture verses encouraging the team to step up their leadership skills?
  6. In some companies engineers already know that they need to have a SBO (second best offer) to then get counter offers and raise their salary more than say 20% or more. Sometimes when getting that SBO, they actually leave, so this is a big risk. What is the best way to approach HR for them to consider rebalancing compensation to market rates?
  7. Busy people usually are busy for a long time. How much new learning time do they need to start planning in their schedule?
  8. The more I read and learn as an agile coach/Scrum Master, the more I feel at odds with the average manager. Why does this apparent gap about curiosity / emphasis in learning exist? It seems like both roles need to be learning about better ways of working.
  9. How can we evoke a synergy across the organizations to seed the thoughts of Business Agility not just limiting to IT but covering from entry to exit?
  10. What are some specific challenges related to being Remote rather than in office and what are the best strategies to resolve them?

Past events with Johanna Rothman @ LeSS NYC Meetup:

More:

03/14 – LeSS Talks: Johanna Rothman: How To Create a Career Ladder for Vertical and Lateral Movement



Materials

Johanna Rothman’s monthly newsletter “Pragmatic Manager” and her blogs can be found at www.jrothman.com and www.createadaptablelife.com


Additional Assets Relevant to the Topic:

Gap Between Science and Business
OKR: Narrowing the gap between “O” AND “KR”


Additional Learning Assets:

 

Changing Your Coaching Engagement Type



From Independent Coach  To Coach – FTE

Imagine yourself: you – for many years, investing into and developing your own career path, as an independent, professional coach.  You have years of experience behind your back, serving many different companies, many personal accomplishments, highest (and rarest) industry credentials, tens of thousands of community followers around the globe and lots of industry recognition, coming from the most recognized industry leaders.  Now, you are at the point in your life, when you still have enough energy to continue doing what you have been doing.  However, you come across, what seems to be, a great opportunity: you can join a great team, at a great company and work with some great people – as a full-time employee.  What do you do?  What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?

Organizational Alignment

Initial Reporting Alignment: At the time of on-boarding, you want to make sure that you are positioned, organizationally (reporting-wise), in a way that will provide full backing and support to you, your profession/role and line of work.  It implies that your line management understands really well the essence of your role, as it is defined, according to the highest industry standards (could be different from an internal definition).

Reporting Alignment Over Time:  Organizational structures tend to change: re-orgs, down-sizing, strategic realignments. Although it is impossible to predict what exact changes may take place, it is important to inquire about any known plans for such changes for a foreseeable future, at the time of on-boarding.

Becoming a Report-Into Person:  One of the key conditions for being an effective coach is your ability to create a safety space around yourself: for your coachees, as well as junior colleagues that might be looking up to you, as a role model.  If you become a manager of other people, they will perceive you differently and your coaching relationship with them will most likely change.  It is strongly unadvisable for a coach, to take on a managerial role, at least, in the area, where coaching will take place. 

Focus of work

General Expectations: To an extent possible, try to discuss upfront what an organization will be expecting from you, as a coach, once you join it full time.  Will your role and responsibilities be consistent with your own understanding of what a coach should/should not do, as per well-defined industry standards?  How much of an impact will “staff augmentation” factor have on you?  Will there be any gap between what is expected of you as a coach (and related activities: consulting, training, mentoring) and other responsibilities you may have (a.k.a. conditions of employment)? Do you foresee any conflict of interest between multiple roles assigned to you?

Opportunity to Deliver Unique Value: How well is an organization aware of your unique coaching/coaching-related capabilities (e.g. trainer, mentor) that you bring to the table?  Will it see value in quality and authenticity of learning and education that you bring?  It is very likely that what you bring to the table is a significant extension to what an organization has today: if you don’t explicitly explain this, they will not know. 

Exemptions and pre-clearance

As an independent professional coach, over many years, you have made a lot of investment in your personal growth.  How much of this personal investment would you have to surrender, if you join a company, as a full-time employee?

Community Support: You spearhead local and global virtual communities, run public events, present at seminars and webinars, speak at conferences. For many years, this has been a huge part of your professional growth, as coach and the requirement to achieve and maintain your unique coaching credentials.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Blogging, Publishing, Audio/Video Recording:  You love giving back to a community. Over many years, you have written many articles, published and co-published books, have recorded podcasts and educational videos.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Outside Business Activities:  As a professional coach (also, trainer and mentor), you have unique capabilities to deliver coaching/mentoring/training content to general public – and it is in high demand.  You have built your own curriculums and intellectual property (lots of it is under creative commons) and this enables you to deliver your unique content. Teaching online classes and running mentoring cohorts is a part of your annual income.  Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities?  Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?

Important: It is important that you discuss the above with your potential employer prior to on-boarding.  It is also critical that you make it very explicit that none of the above activities will be at expense of your paid work (focus, quality) that you will be expected to do for your employer. You must also make it very explicit that you will not be using any of your employer’s intellectual property or proprietary information, while engaging in outside activities.  Inquire, if you can receive in writing a one-time blanket exemption that will allow you to continue performing the above activities.

Compensation & Benefits

Base compensation: At the time of onboarding, explicitly discuss your base compensation that takes into account not only your current income that you generate as an independent coach but also the fact that your internal growth, and therefore, base compensation increase, might be different from that of a traditional employee.  Today, many traditional organizations still set employee compensation, based on how many people report into a person. As a coach, most likely you will have no people reporting into you, as his is inconsistent with how a coach should be positioned organizationally and relate to other people (see above).

Subjective compensation: Today, many companies still have subjective monetary incentives/bonuses, as a part of overall compensation structure. “How much of an overall compensation is represented by a bonus?” – it varies from industry to industry.  Many companies still pay bonuses, based on individual performance of an employee.  (Side note, as a coach, you may have to deal/challenge some of these existing organizational norms, as a part of your job.)  On a personal front, since you are a coach, all/most of your deliverables will be soft and not easy to measure (standard metrics don’t apply).  Therefore, you want to make sure that you are comfortable with your base compensation, so that if there are any omissions/shortcomings with your year-end bonus, the financial impact to you is minimal.  Ideally, you want to be less reliant on a subjective bonus, as a part of your overall compensation (“have the question of discretionary moneys removed from the table”, as per Daniel Pink)

Stock options:  You should inquire about common and/or restricted stock options.  Make sure you also find out about how equities are vested.  Some companies, may offer a stock, as a part of your retirement (see below) or bonus (see above) but under conditions that you remain employed with an organization for a certain number of years.

Pension & Retirement: This is usually standard for all employees: 401(K), annuities, other. Make sure you inquire about matching policies.

Health benefits: This is usually standard for all employees: medical, dental, other special coverage.  Make sure you inquire about who is a medical carrier(s), availability of family coverage, cost of premiums, deductibles.

 

From Coach – FTE To Independent Coach

Imagine yourself: You have been an employee with the same, or a few, reputable companies, for a number of years, as an internal coach.  You have learned a lot about internal organizational dynamics, structure, culture. You have reached a certain point in your career, where you feel that you would like to become an independent coach and explore other opportunities.  What do you do?  What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?

Financial Cushioning: As you enter the world of independency, the first thing you must think about is how you will generate income.  Your income flow may not always be steady, there could be gaps between your engagements.  In consulting work, it is to be expected.  However, before disengaging from your employer you should either line up a few clients (at, least, short-term) or have enough financial cushioning (savings) to get you through the initial phase of being independent.

Your Personal Capabilities: As you become an independent coach, be also prepared to become your own boss, and a ‘jack of all trades’.  Your responsibilities may now include: extensive networking and business development, community service (public speaking, presenting, newsletter, etc.), becoming incorporated, purchasing general liability/other insurance coverage and other logistics.

Pipeline of Clients: As you enter the world of independency, you will have to learn how to balance between delivering quality work to your clients and developing your own ‘book of business’, for future engagements. This may require a very effective time and WIP management.  Consider going back to your past employer(s) and ask for referrals or ‘follow’ other exiting employees to their new places of work – and offer your services there.

Network and Public Visibility: As an independent coach, you will have to significantly step up your networking efforts (LinkedIn, Meetup, personal web site, presentations, podcasts, webinars) and increase your public visibility.

Uniqueness of Your Current Value: Today, the coaching market is significantly diluted. Over the last few years, many people with “used-to-be” roles have renamed themselves into coaches.  The current market supply of coaches is artificially inflated with professionals of low quality.  Unfortunately, majority of organizations are still not good at seeing a distinction between a great coach and a coach-pretender.  How do you envision positioning yourself, so that you stand out and draw clients’ attention to yourself?

Pursuit of Unique Credentials:  Just like the industry is flooded with coaches-pretenders, it is flooded with various certifications.  Be careful about certifications: not all of them come from authentic and reputable organizations; some of them are not even legit.  However, there are some unique, guide-level (elevated) credentials from more reputable organizations- industry leaders that can really add a notch on your professional belt. Consider pursuing those for your coaching and training credentials.

Opportunities for Partnership: You may wish to consider looking for people like yourself, independent, energetic individuals that have professional assets that complimentary to yours (personal certifications, training/coaching/certification capabilities, sales/marketing/networking skills). Consider forming a team. You don’t necessarily nave to be legally bound for such partnership.  Alternatively, you may consider sub-contracting through another larger and more established consulting organization (please, be careful with your choice, as not every big consultancy has a great reputation), while developing your own book of business and clientele.

Overall Business Plan:  You may wish to create a dynamic business plan, with short- and long-term goals for your business and professional development.  Please note, that these two are not the same: you don’t want to excel in one dimension at expense of another dimension. Another words, you want to stay balanced. Otherwise, you may end up being temporarily in high demand (e.g. due to great sales and marketing techniques) but underqualified or being in low demand (underutilized) but over-qualified.


Please, weight all pros and cons in all of the above dimensions, for both types of transitions and extend your research further, if required, before you make a decision.

LeSS and SAFe: Understanding The Differences


History & Origins

SAFe was created by Dean Leffingwell – a successful entrepreneur and software development methodologist who has consulted to many companies, over years, including Rational Software, Rally Software, as well as many others.  Dean’s LinkedIn profile displays “Chief Methodologist” in the title.  LeSS was co-found by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde – both of whom are hands-on software developers, with many years (up until today) of experience, in large-scale, multi-site product development environments, including product companies, large telecom and investment banking.  Both co-founders have a lot of experience with organizational design and system modelling (a big part of LeSS).  Interestingly, Craig’s LinkedIn profile states “public safety, junior programmer” and Bas’s – “team member“.  The irony is in the modesty of their titles, since both co-founders have made a monumental investment in the industry, in the area of agile product development during the last few decades.

The initial release of SAFe program was in 2011, with five major release that followed.

Although, as an *official* framework, LeSS was announced only in 2015, its history goes back decades. The three Large Scale Scrum product development books were written in 2008, 2010 and 2016 years, respectively, with many field experiments collected over of the years, prior to 2008.  Essentially, LeSS has been a huge body of knowledge, collected over many years, before it became known as the framework.

 

Market Share, Framework Versioning and Certifications

SAFe is very widely known.  Its market share in the world of scaling is by far, the highest of all known frameworks.  Consultancy market is dominated by Certified SAFe Product Consultants (SPC) that hold, at least one, of many SAFe badges.  Because there are so many versions of SAFe (2.0, 4.0, 4.5, 4.6, 5.0), naturally, certification holders are driven to come back, for an upgrade training, to remain ‘up-to-date’.  Since SAFe supports a number roles that are aligned to traditional organizational roles, many SAFe courses are role-specific.  The number of instructors that can deliver SAFe courses is also high, with many course-reselling companies being actively involved in marketing, promotion and re-selling.

LeSS is not as widely known. Its market share, relatively to SAFe, is low.   There are only three main types of LeSS certifications (Basics, Practitioner and Executives),  with other few types, mainly, being on-line versions of the main ones.   LeSS training/certification is not ‘role-specific’.  LeSS adoptions are deep and narrow (as oppose to being broad & shallow).  According to field experts, there is no expectation that LeSS will become a mainstream in a foreseeable future.  This is because LeSS has high expectations for organizational design improvements (see below) that many companies are not yet ready for.  Today, there are very few LeSS trained/certified people because the number of accredited LeSS instructors is also relatively low (slightly over 20 people, globally).  LeSS, just like Scrum, does not have any versions.  There are two LeSS frameworks: [simple] LeSS framework (up to 8 teams) and LeSS Huge (stacks of LeSS, totaling hundreds or more people, if required).

 

Influence by Large Consultancies

Many large consultancies recommend SAFe to its clients, as a framework of choice (Note: As a corollary, many companies-clients, to officially remain framework-agnostic, adopt their own flavor of SAFe, essentially, using their own internal terminology, while mimicking/mapping to SAFe terminology, structure, etc).  For large consultancies, this ensures a more profitable and prolonged engagement, since SAFe implementation involves many people, processes and tools (see below).  Dave Snowden refers this type of engagement as an ‘industrial model’, since it ensures a “massive roll out, with lots of people, over a long period of time” (also, see this “Triple Taxation” illustration to understand a financial impact on companies-clients).  Another reason why SAFe happens to be a framework of choice by large consulting companies, is that the framework itself does not require any major changes to a traditional organization design and as such, does not put large consultancy representatives, in an uncomfortable position of purists-radicals that have to challenge their clients’ ways of working (not too much status quo challenging ensures a longer and more profitable engagement).

LeSS does not have much recognition by large consultancies for the following three suspected reasons: (1) organizational design of large consultancies [themselves] is inconsistent with LeSS teaching and therefore, there are no internal success stories to share with clients; 2) consultants don’t have enough LeSS adoption knowledge to comfortably support their clients with LeSS adoptions; 3) risk aversion, as stated above (fear to challenge radically, and therefore lose business), makes LeSS a bad choice.

 

Business Partnership with Tooling Companies

Today, almost any workflow management or bug tracking tool (e.g. VersionOne, Rally, VSTS/TFS, Jira, etc) is very closely aligned (some, also are strategically partnered) with SAFe.  This makes SAFe adoption especially convenient, since practically any large company today has one (sometimes, multiple) of the above mentioned tools in its arsenal, and considers them as a big part of agile transformation journey.   Practically, every tool that has the word *agile* in its name, also has a module/layer(s) that could be easily mapped (configured) to a multi-layered structure of SAFe.  This gives a sense of comfort to a company, about its own ‘agility fitness’, since now a company can conveniently fit its workload and organizational structure into a tool and framework.  This also creates great opportunities for SAFe and tooling companies to cross-sell and cross-promote each other.

LeSS is completely silent on what tools should be used to visualize work.  There are no strategic partnerships with tooling companies.  The only recommendation LeSS gives that whatever tooling is used, it should be very flat (simple) and easy to operate (e.g. no more than three levels of work decomposition; no commingling product and spring backlogs, etc).

 

Framework ‘Size’ and Traditional Organizational Design

SAFe involves many people, teams and departments.  One of the main reasons why so many organizations are comfortable to adopt SAFe is that it does not really challenge, a status quo of first-, mid-level management and traditional organizational design.  In one of his early-days webinars, recorded with VersionOne, Dean Leffingwell clearly stated: “…We don’t typically mess with your organizational structure because that is a pretty big deal…”. In SAFe, many traditional organizational layers (programs, portfolios) and roles (solutions architects, enterprise architects, various types of managers (project, program, portfolio, release, solutions, etc) have a place to exist.  SAFe provides a very safe environment for traditional managers: everyone has a role and some responsibilities. Notably, on a SAFe diagram, agile teams illustrated at the very the bottom of SAFe overall picture, with many management layers coming over the top.

LeSS product group consists of 2-8 teams (maximum 70 developers, assuming a maximum recommended number of developers in Scrum is nine), with a minimal number of additional roles involved (Product Owner, Scrum Masters, users, stakeholders).  LeSS Huge adoptions, with hundreds to thousands of people involved (they are gradual and take years) have a very minimal add-on to organizational complexity, in the form of [product] Requirement Areas, prioritized by Area Product Owners.

LeSS explicitly challenges traditional organizational design and calls for organization DE-scaling (flattening), as means of scaling agility and Scrum. In LeSS, a Team of developers is the key organizational building block.  In LeSS, middle and first-line managers are not requiredManagers in LeSS, if remain, radically change their focus from individuals and work-assignment management to capability-building and teams’ enablement.  In LeSS, programs and portfolios cease to exist.  LeSS is Scrum, applied to many teams, working together on one large product, and therefore, LeSS is best to use for product centric development, where a product centricity is really important (note: in LeSS a product could be a combination of software and hardware).

 

Team Structure and Coordination

SAFe includes various types of teams: agile teams, Kanban teams, XP teams and System teams, DevOps teams, architecture teams, etc.  In practice, these are single-functional specialty teams and component teams that are inherited from traditional organizational design and, therefore, still require a lot of additional coordination, integration of work and dependency management.  As such, there is a need for release managers (e.g. Release Train Engineers), Solutions Architects and other types of coordination managers – people that are responsible for bringing everything together.

In LeSS, all coordination between teams (each team is a cross-functional feature team) is done by teams, themselves (not even Scrum Masters).  Each team in LeSS is fully capable to deliver a product-centric backlog item (feature), from start to finish. In LeSS, teams are responsible for coordination and integration.  Dependencies in LeSS are viewed, as something highly undesirable (hard, asynchronous dependencies are viewed as a sign of organizational weakness), internal contracts (“us vs. you”) and unwillingness to work closely together – something that must be minimized, in favor of close collaboration among teams. In LeSS, a lot of emphasis is made on communication through code, mentorship, community learning and other lateral (horizontal) knowledge-sharing techniques.

 

Backlogs and Product Centricity

In SAFe, there are many different types of backlogs: team (private) backlogs, program backlogs, solution backlogs, portfolio backlogs etc. – each representing a respective organizational structure (people that are compartmentalized/departmentalized in their reporting verticals, ways of working and communication) and aligned with a specific team type, at various layers of the framework (e.g. , essential, program, solution, portfolio).  In order to keep all backlogs in sync and relevant, there is a lot of coordination and management required.

In LeSS, there is only one backlog: Product Backlog – shared by all (2-8) teams that work on the same, product, while servicing the same Product Owner.  As stated above, there are no programs or portfolios in LeSS – these traditional layers of WBS management are discontinued, in favor of a widened product definition.  There is a lot of direct coordination between teams in LeSS (intra- and cross-teams), by team members.

 

Product Ownership

SAFe Product Owner is a team member, who is responsible for defining/detailing and prioritizing team backlog items (frequently, component items).  SAFe PO can support, at most, 1 to 2 teams because focusing too much on details and tactical implementation requires a lot of time.  In practice, SAFe PO is often an ex-business analyst, ex-project manager or a tech-lead – something that works well, because majority of teams in SAFe are [technical] component teams.

LeSS Product Owner is conceptually the same as in one-team Scrum. However, in LeSS, PO focuses on an overall strategy and ensures maximum return on investment (ROI) in the product.  LeSS PO puts all of his/her focus on prioritization, whereas clarification, as much as possible, flows through users/stakeholders (see below).  In practice, LeSS PO is usually a product manager or a head of business operations (e.g. head of marketing, sales) – for external product development OR an experienced, hands-on individual from one of the major user departments, who is interested in taking on the role and is political savvy – for internal product development.

 

Proximity of Customers, Users and Stakeholders

In SAFe, it is less likely that business people will interact directly with developers, because there are specific, dedicated roles for such interaction. For example, Epic Owners (Portfolio level business people) interact directly with ART (Agile Release Team) / RTE (Release Train Engineers) and Solution Train / STE (Solution Train Engineers). Similarly, Business Owners (Essential SAFe level) that are responsible for governance and compliance, also interact with ART.

In LeSS, users and stakeholders are brought in direct contact with teams, and this is clearly defined in LeSS organizational design and rules of engagement, defined during initial (preparatory) phase of LeSS adoption (up to 2 months, prior to sprinting).  For the most part, all clarifications and details about product backlog items flow to teams directly from users and stakeholders.  In LeSS, there are no individuals or teams that are responsible for architecture only, solutions only or releases only – all these responsibilities reside within teams of LeSS Product Group, where all teams work on features, in a customer centric way.

 

Integration and Release Management

In SAFe, the System Team is responsible for development and maintenance of the toolchain that supports the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. It is also responsible for integration of code, produced by delivery (agile) teams.  ART (Agile Release Team), spearheaded by RTE (Release Train Engineer) – responsible for releases.

In LeSS, teams (2-8 teams in LeSS Product Group) share the same Definition of Done (DoD) and are responsible for their own integration and production deployment.  Teams make take turns, from sprint to sprint, in leading these activities, while closely coordinating with other teams and cross-pollinating each other with knowledge on how to do it successfully.  There are no full-time dedicated teams to handle these special activities only.  If there is any work that teams are not able to complete by Sprint-end, it is qualified as ‘Undone’ department work (highly undesirable) and is considered as an organizational impediment.

 

Agile Leadership and Frameworks

Usually, SAFe is the framework of choice, when an organization is not ready to make any major significant changes and where the following organizational facets are considered “untouchable”: a status quo of mid-level management, traditional budgeting, traditional portfolio structures (projects, programs), traditional HR norms and policies.  SAFe adoptions are typically spearheaded by traditional groups, such as PMO, CDO or a center of excellence. People that are in charge of action are best described by Larman’s Law or Organizational Behavior # 4 – individuals that have fast-tracked themselves into agile experts.  Adoption of SAFe is a very effective way to provide role safety to many traditional roles, that by minor updates to their titles will remain involved with the effort.

LeSS adoptions have chance to succeed in environments, where there is a real urgency to change, and where there is a strong need to bring real, tangible business value to real customers and users soon.  Usually, people that drive successful LeSS adoptions come from hands-on product development (technology) or from business operations (e.g. sales, marketing).  The should be also supported by by seasoned organizational design consultants, with years of experience of serving multiple organizations.  Prior to proceeding with LeSS, senior management needs to be educated on organizational design implications of LeSS and it must provide an informed consent (explicit agreement to provide support in action, not just in-spirit).

 

Conclusion

All models are wrong, but some are useful“. – George Fox.

It is probably impractical to debate which framework is best to use.  In order to decide on the best choice, we need to understand what strategic goals and objectives an organization wants to achieve:

SAFe can provide a top-down mandatory structure and control over an existing organizational disarray, without challenging significantly traditional roles, responsibilities, hierarchies (reporting and WBS) processes and tools. Most likely, organizational complexity, will not be simplified with SAFe, but it might be worth it if benefits of order out-weight expected complexity.   If an organization wants to do a major, large-scale roll out, involving thousands of people at once, and prefers a well-structured, change management process, based on play books, templates, prescriptive execution and compliance, then SAFe could be  a good  choice.

LeSS, just like Scrum, is based on empirical process control and continuous inspection, adaptation and experimentation.  If LeSS is adopted, with its minimal rules and guidelines, it can provide an array of deep systemic improvements but not every company might be ready to accept them.  LeSS would also require a significant change to a sphere of control by traditional roles, responsibilities, hierarchies, processes and tools (LeSS adoption principle #1).  LeSS will challenge a status quo of some people, and therefore, success of LeSS adoption is strongly dependent on support by senior management (LeSS adoption principle #2) that must ensure job safety and career opportunities for impacted people.  LeSS adoptions will not be fruitful if they are mandatory and based on compliance.  Instead, LeSS adoptions require a genuine commitment and are based on volunteering (LeSS adoption principle #3).  For example,  the oldest, biggest and most active global LeSS (NYC) Meetup is based on the principle of volunettering.  One of the most powerful tools (also an effective coaching tool) that is used in LeSS, is System Thinking – something that helps understand various aspects of organizational design (e.g. local optimization) that may not be otherwise obvious.

References:

 

 

 

02/13-LeSS Talks: Co-Creator of Nexus (Richard Hundhausen) with LeSS Trainer (Greg Hutchings)

Shared Assets:

Additional Self-Study Assets:

01/31 – LeSS Talks: Abusing Metrics for Dummies: How to manipulate data to make us look good?

Today’s  great presentation by Certified LeSS Trainer (CLT) from Israel – Elad Sofer. Please, contact Elad directly for an details.

Materials Used

Main points:
  • Data driven organizations are prone  to abusing metrics
  • The word agile has outgrown itself
  • The Observer Effect: the act of observing something, changes it
  • Metrics measurement: manipulates behavior
  • “Velocity is productivity metric” – against basic understanding of what -healthy organization looks like
  • Political metrics example: Transformation % progress
  • Vanity metrics example: # items that are in “dev done” status (but not tested)
  • Taiichi Ohno: “Don’t look with your eyes, look with your feet. A person who looks only at the numbers is worst of all
  • Example of four (4) metrics that count:
    • Deployment frequency
    • Lead time for changes
    • Time to restore service
    • Changes failure rate
  • Understand the difference between Leading and Lagging Metrics
  • Avoid measuring people: it is inefficient and disrespectful
  • OKR: Narrowing the gap between “O” AND “KR”

Additional Learning Assets: