Guardrails

The Guardrails for Lean-Agile transformation are a set of agreements and questions to help the organization assure it is staying on course in its transformation and to be able to make decisions at a local level that are aligned to the rest of the value stream.

Solution Delivery is a complex process. However, it is possible to see if one is on track in a relatively straightforward manner. In essence, Lean-Agile methods are about achieving the highest level of Business value realization in the shortest amount of time in a predictable and sustainable manner. This requires working on the most important Business value requests within the proper capacity to implement them quickly. This is often complex and difficult; however, it is less difficult to assess if you are staying on track. To help with this, we have defined a set of guardrails.

These guardrails take the form of non-negotiable agreements made across the organization. Each agreement has a set of questions to consider to ensure that everyone is doing what was agreed to. The guardrails are grounded both in the intention of realizing Business value and in following known principles of Lean-Agile software development. The purpose of the guardrails is both for alignment and to keep people on the right path. They provide guidance to ensure that you are on course and to allow you to make decisions at a local level while ensuring you are still aligned to the rest of the value stream.

The Basic Agreements

We agree to:

  • Work on items that will have us realize the greatest amount of Business value across the enterprise
  • Collaborate with each other in order to maximize the realization of Business value across the enterprise
  • Ensure that all work will be made visible
  • Take the necessary steps to sustain or increase predictability
  • Keep the work throughout the value stream within our capacity
  • Encourage everyone to strive for continuous improvement

The Guardrails

The guardrails go beyond agreements. Each guardrail includes a variety of questions that people can ask themselves to assess see if they are keeping the agreements.

Guardrail: Work on Greatest Business Value

We agree to work on items that will have us realize the greatest amount of Business value.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Are all activities based on having us realize Business value incrementally?
  • Are we using Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) where appropriate?
  • Have we allocated all of the required capacity to work on the most important MBIs?
  • Have we sequenced work so all can align on what is most important?
  • Do we have a clear success criteria?
  • Do we understand why what we are working on is valuable?
  • Do we measure Business value realized after delivery?

Note: Some of these MBIs may be architectural / technical in nature.

Guardrail: Collaborate Across Boundaries

We agree to collaborate with each other in order to maximize the realization of Business value.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Are we collaborating together in order to remove delays in feedback, workflow and realizing Business value of our MBIs?
  • Do we have the proper eco-systems to allow for collaboration?
  • Are different teams working together for the common goal of Business value realization?
  • Is the most common form of communication “talking to” / “meeting with” colleagues?

Guardrail: Make All Work Visible

We agree to ensure that all work will be made visible.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Can everyone see all Work-in-Process (WIP)?
  • Can everyone see what is and/or will be expected of them?
  • Can we see any blockages present?
  • Is the status of everything clear?
  • Can we see any risks to delivery dates?
  • Is all work that is being done visible?
  • Do people know what everyone is working on and why?
  • Do we know when and why our work is getting done?
    • Do we need to define additional roles to ensure this?
    • Do we have visual controls that can show us this?
  • Have we made it clear how work activities are interacting?
  • Are all active or scheduled activities visible so that people can see what is happening?

Guardrail: Sustain or Increase Predictability

We agree to take the necessary steps to sustain or increase predictability.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Predictability requires sustainability and reliability.
    • Are we working at a sustainable pace?
    • Are we avoiding shortcuts that will lead to problems in the future?
    • Are we using consistent estimation practices and calculations of team capacity to accurately predict throughput?
    • Are we committing to a level of work commensurate with our proven delivery capacity?
  • Are we attending to technical debt, poor communication and bad visibility?
  • Are we managing interruptions?
  • Does all work come through a known work intake process?
  • Are we minimizing our dependencies on other groups?
  • Are we automating all of our testing?
  • Do we have written acceptance tests prior to writing code?
  • Is feedback sufficient?
    • What we are building
    • How we are building it
    • What our rate of progress is
    • Across all roles

Guardrail: Keep WIP Within Capacity

We agree to keep the work throughout the value stream within our capacity.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Are we making our WIP visible and limiting it as appropriate?
  • Do we have an emphasis on completion instead of starting?
  • Are we ensuring we know what it means to be done before starting something?
  • Do we know the delivery capacity of the organization? The Portfolio? Teams?

Guardrail: Continuously Improve

We agree to encourage everyone to strive for continuous improvement.

Here are questions to consider when trying to follow this guardrail:

  • Are teams performing after action reviews (AARs) (retrospections) on a regular basis?
  • Are after action reviews being done at the Program level on a regular basis?
  • Are teams and the Program implementing what is learned in these AARs?
  • Are we measuring the right things?
  • Do we proactively report and review metrics to look for trends / issues and take corrective actions?
  • Do we look at ‘leading’ versus ‘trailing’ indicators to help stay on track?

The Mindsets That Undergird the Guardrails

There are a number of mindsets that support the guardrails.

  • Systems thinking. The guardrails are based on Lean-Thinking, a cornerstone of which is systems thinking. The essence of systems thinking is:
    • All aspects of the system are inter-connected
    • The overwhelming number of challenges individuals face in a system are due to the system
    • The system shapes the behavior exhibited by those in the system
    • To change the behavior of the people in the system one must focus on improving the system
  • Faith in quality. The guardrails are also based on another tenet of Lean-Thinking – a commitment to quality. This commitment stems from the belief that when one lets quality slide for a short term gain, the net result will be more waste in the long term. Hence, we always attend to achieving fixing challenges.
  • Sustainability. There are two aspects to sustainability – short term and long term. Short term sustainability means we don’t attempt to achieve objectives by just having people work overtime. That is, death marches are not allowed. Long term sustainability means we look to see if the actions we are taking will make us less dependent upon outside consultants or even key management. In other words, we can keep going even with losing some key people.
  • Respecting culture. Changing organizations is difficult. Doing so without attending to the current culture people have makes it even more difficult. Different organizations change at different rates and cherish different ideals. It is important to respect this when attempting to change it.

Why the Guardrails Work

How can six simple agreements make such a big difference? There are several important reasons. First, the guardrails encompass the critical aspects of value delivery. But just as important, because they are agreements across all roles, they encompass the entire value stream. This combination provides a context within which all roles can make decisions. Everyone can have confidence that if they take actions that maximize Business value, increase predictability, manage capacity, ensure visibility, collaborate, and continuously improve that they will be adding value to the overall value stream.