The magic ingredient

Several years ago I was involved in a programme of work that tried to do agile at scale (small scale, 4-5 teams). At that time most of us that were driving the change agenda thought we had a million and one things to fix, so after reaching a milestone in the plan and finding something that looked like an excellent opportunity I’ve moved on. I’ve not been able to find a place that felt as good as that place I left ever since. Until today I also wasn’t able to tell what was missing in all the other engagements. I think I have the answer now, and yes, it’s an obvious one that was right there in front all the time.

The answer, the missing magic ingredient is – a team capable of end to end delivery and running of a product. Apart from this group of people in this one place a long time ago, all my teams ever since were just little cogs in the big delivery machine.

How did I come up with this “unexpected” finding? As pretty much every day I was looking for what’s next in our improvement backlog and pondering a question – do we reduce our batch size first or make the route to production (RTP) shorter? As I was wrestling with the idea what comes first (small batches or short RTP), I realized it’s something else that’s missing – teams with no external dependencies, masters of their destiny, all and everyone in the space of half a floor.

Funnily enough, I didn’t realize the facts I described in the first paragraph until mid-day today which validated my current assumption – without an independent, capable and co-located teams all your “transformation” efforts are going to fail. You’re going to starting bouncing off walls of governance, scheduling and budgeting so hard it’ll break you (or maybe I’m just weak, cause it broke me so many times before).

In case you came here for some advice rather than a story, here’s some – make sure building teams like the ones I described above, the top of your to-do list in your change agenda. There’s going to be a lot of things you’ll need to challenge and subsequently change to get there but personally having this (autonomous teams) as a goal feels so much better than setting out to have “shorter RTP” or “reduce batch size”.

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