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Figure 1 illustrates what needs to happen in order for the flow model to work well. Pay attention to the different shades for the solution blocks. Although there is no one set order, it is usual for the darker ones to come before the others. While many people talk about starting with “low-hanging” fruit, at scale a different approach is needed. This is to start with those items that are feasible that make following items easier to do. Systems-thinking reminds us that all of these changes are interrelated so it is important to attend to both what change people can accommodate as well as what sets up the next win. 
Flex Solutions

Figure 1. What needs to happen in order for the flow model to work well.

Starting with intent

FLEX is based on looking where you are, what your challenges are, what is the intent that those challenges are impeding and only then do we look for solutions. So before going into solutions, let’s look at intentions:

  • Select the value we want to realize. Essentially we want to realize the most value in the shortest time with the capability we have.
  • Refine the product backlog. While we are forced to start with at least the minimum sized increments of value that we can realize, we need to feed the teams much smaller chunks of work.
  • Implement our value at the team level with quick integration. While this is, of course, essential, it’s not always the way to start other than having some Team Agility process be available.
  • Release either externally or internally.
  • Achieve Alignment Across the Organization. Alignment makes possible transforming the purposes of the company into pieces of work that can actually be done.

Typical starting points

  • Create Visibility. Creating visibility is almost always the first thing to be done. You can’t manage what you can’t see.
  • Use Minimum Business Increments (MBIs). It is critical to work on small pieces of high business value.
  • Properly Sequence Work. Once we’ve decided what we want to build we have to sequence them in the right order so that we can allocate our capacity to the most important items.
  • Manage Work-In-Process (WIP). Managing WIP is critical. When too many items are worked on it slows down the delivery of all of them and adds additional work.​
  • Refine our Backlogs with Acceptance Test-Driven Development (ATDD).​ It is virtually ubiquitous to see that the product backlogs are incomplete and have poorly defined requirements. ATDD is the most effective way to overcome this.
  • Guardrails. Create agreements on how to work together.​​

Next steps

Here are some next steps to explore.

​Other factors

The figure shows flow and the activities that can help achieve it. But there are other factors that guide our action. These are:

  • The role of management
  • A systems-thinking point of view
  • A company’s culture

These are added to the diagram as shown below:

The role of management: Middle-up-down management

The role of management is to create the environment within which those people doing the work can get their jobs done in a way that aligns with the direction and goals set by business stakeholders. This is called Middle-Up-Down Management because middle management looks up to the business stakeholders to see the direction and then down to those people reporting them to see how to help them implement that.

Systems thinking

A system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and it is more than the sum of its parts (sub-systems). Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. Positive growth and adaptation of a system depend upon how well the system is adjusted with its environment, and systems often exist to accomplish a common purpose (a work function) that also aids in the maintenance of the system or the operations may result in system failure.

The best way to get a better understanding of systems thinking is to watch this 12 minute video: What if Russ Ackoff Gave a TED Talk.

All resources in FLEX Solutions

Achieve Alignment Across the Organization (Article)
Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (Article)
Create Visibility (Article)
Define What Represents Value for the Business and Its Customers (Article)
Improve the Efficiency of the Technology Group (Article)
Manage Work-in-Process (WIP) (Article)
Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) (Article)
Properly Sequence Work (Article)
Refine the Product Backlog (Article)
Select the Value to Realize (Article)
Technical Agility Roadmap (Article)
Technical Debt from a Systems-Thinking Point of View (Article)
The Intention of Iterations, Time-Boxing, and Flow with Cadence (Article)
Use Full DevOps (Article)
Using MBIs in SAFe (Article)
What to Say When Someone Just Doesn't Get It (Article)