Jonathan Smart, agility practitioner, thought leader, speaker and coach, offers a blueprint of the mind-set you need to embrace Agile or Lean.
In today’s emergent landscape of unknown-unknowns, old directive methods of work fail in all but the simplest projects. Agility expert Jonathan Smart – with the help of change and agility coaches Zsolt Berend, Simon Rohrer and Myles Ogilvie – describe patterns and antipatterns that drive or impede modern business value.
In this book, which won the Axiom Business Book Bronze Medal in Leadership, Smart details how leaders often focus on methodology – Agile for Agile’s sake, for example – rather than on value and outcomes. Instead, Smart advises leaders to nourish patterns of work that promote business agility.
He and his co-authors aren’t writing for experts. They’re offering an overview or philosophical context to experienced leaders who don’t have experience in Agile or Lean. This background is designed to enable them to embrace either methodology. Instead of specific directions, the authors provide principles for achieving a crucial shift in leadership mind-set. And if those principles seem counterintuitive, that’s part of the shift.
Lean and Agile methodologies for software and product development emerged decades ago. The improved outcomes they achieved led to the Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH) framework.
Better refers to achieving higher quality work as a result of continually assessing a project’s progress. Value comes from connecting work to stakeholders’ needs or wants. Sooner means creating flow efficiency and eliminating bottlenecks. Safer means focusing on governance, compliance, data protection and cybersecurity. Being happier means taking a human approach to making customers, employees, communities and stakeholders more joyful.
Project management and Gantt charts come from two technological revolutions ago, optimized for the primary context at the time, which was repetitive, knowable, deterministic, and generally physical activity. Jonathan Smart
High-performing BVSSH companies avoid hierarchies. They empower small, multidisciplinary teams of specialists, augmented with automation and motivated with collective incentives. These teams decide how to execute chunks of work and deliver valuable outcomes. Their companies give product development teams the psychological safety to experiment and stay flexible enough to accommodate fluid, emergent conditions.
The approach your company takes to its work either supports BVSSH or not. Any work that runs contrary to BVSSH outcomes is an antipattern. Avoid the antipattern of starting big projects with a bang, learning slowly (if at all), and discovering problems after wasting time and resources. BVSSH is a different approach in that the methodology itself – be it Agile, Lean, Waterfall or DevOps – doesn’t matter. Only outcomes and added value matter.
Agile and lean principles, practices, methods, and frameworks are bodies of knowledge to achieve a goal, but they are not the goal.Jonathan Smart
Most product development efforts encounter many unknown-unknowns because they’re doing something new – no one before ever built this particular product, thus you can’t predict and or know the relevant best practices. Try to determine the problem you face and its best response.
A project with known-unknowns requires analyzing cause and effect, so apply Lean Methodology for efficiency. You probably won’t understand what action causes which outcomes until you experiment, so form hypotheses and test them. For that, Agile works best.
Match the way you work to the context at hand; avoid prescribing any method.
Resist setting deadlines and milestones, both artifacts of traditional thinking that are the opposite of Agile. Emphasize learning, finishing work and achieving outcomes. To increase the flow of work and deliver value sooner, eliminate bottlenecks, dependencies and weak links.
Build psychological safety so people feel secure and want to tell the truth. Google found that psychological safety drives high-performing teams more than any single factor. Encourage contrary views and the reporting of flaws and incidents.
Apply agility to agility. Start with small teams, small slices of value and small investments. Achieve big through small.Jonathan Smart
Identify a positive purpose to attract innovators. As you progress, early adopters will join in, giving you the impetus and social proof to create a groundswell of support throughout your organization. Remove legacy or old work processes before attempting to add new work or work processes. Otherwise, you’ll add layers of complexity and red tape that accumulate until nothing happens. Focus on agility, not Agile.
Work only on bottlenecks. Other efforts are proven to be useless when work piles up at a blockage point. Identify and align your values and principles to your project. Don’t mandate big change – like adopting Scrum. As a leader, focus on outcomes, and let your teams determine how to achieve them.
High-performing organizations recognize that they need to go slower to go faster. Jonathan Smart
Resist trying to speed up productivity. Emphasize continuous improvement, maintenance and speedy learning – not production.
Give team members guidance and coaching when they start, followed by increasing autonomy. They will master the process and coach others. Retain and engage technical experts by offering them a career path to achieving remuneration and prestige that matches management levels.
Lead from the front through role-modeling, coaching, serving and demonstrating empathy and vulnerability.
Leader is not a position. Anyone can lead. A leader inspires. Following is voluntary. Power is given by followers. For example, climate change activist Greta Thunberg.Jonathan Smart
Identify problems and arrive at your best hypotheses for resolving them. Devise measures and record what you expect to happen – the outcome. Never use metrics punitively; avoid targets and embrace agility, otherwise people will make the data say whatever you want to hear.
Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose
Learning, a universal human driver, blossoms in the presence of autonomy and purpose.
Whether it’s unique product development or repetitive work, in order to have continuous improvement, in order to optimize outcomes, people need to be able to experiment safely. Jonathan Smart
When teams learn – as colleagues share information, know-how, practices and lessons gained – your time to project completion will drop dramatically.
Smart takes a wacky approach, ignoring linear conclusion-drawing or point-making, so his book’s structure mirrors his main points. He is not a disorganized thinker; instead, Smart apparently ignores traditional structure in order to push his readers to break free of the traditional approaches he shuns. Smart emerges as both in favor of and opposed to Agile as a solution. His affinity or opposition depends entirely on how you might apply it. This is, in accordance with Smart’s logic, the only logical position. Smart and his co-authors prove witty and aware. They create their own jargon, which makes instant sense and serves their message.
Other works on suiting today’s work to today’s technologies and methods include Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais; Project to Product by Mik Kersten; Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling; and The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim.