An Overview of FLEX (FLow for Enterprise Transformation)

This book describes how to use FLEX to adopt SAFe better. This chapter is intended to provide an overview of the FLEX Framework. The reader does not need to read this chapter, however, as concepts described here will be presented as needed throughout this book. This is presented to provide the interested reader a deeper understanding of the approach being espoused. A full description of FLEX is incorporated in the book Achieving Business Agility at Small to Mid-Scale.

What is FLEX?

FLEX (FLow for Enterprise Transformation) is a framework based on systems-thinking, and a comprehensive set of portfolio, Agile product management, executive/management, program and team patterns for success based on Lean-Agile principles and practices. FLEX is different from other frameworks, however, in that it doesn’t define itself by setting for particular roles, rules, artifacts or events. FLEX defines itself as a set of intentions to achieve collectively that will increase an organizations business agility – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality.

FLEX takes advantage of other frameworks and methods by considering them tools to be used as applicable. FLEX can therefore provide a well-defined starting point based on another framework (such as Scrum or SAFe) or based on an analysis of where the organization is and what would be most appropriate for them to use. This enables FLEX to be tailored to any organization. How to improve from where you are is accomplished by attending to established Lean principles to guide next steps for improvement. This also means that you never outgrow FLEX in that it can automatically incorporate new ideas that are needed.

FLEX does not lock you into an approach while always providing you with a set of specific actions to be taking.  Because FLEX separates where an organization starts its improvement program from how it moves forward, FLEX can be used with the adoptions of other frameworks.  That is, you can take FLEX’s proven Agile product management system (both simpler and more effective than SAFe’s) and apply to it an existing framework. Using FLEX with SAFe is discussed briefly on SAFe® and FLEX and in depth in our upcoming new book: Adopting SAFe® for Your Organization: Achieving Business Agility from Small to Large-Scale.

Another way to think about FLEX.  FLEX is designed as an explicit statement of what an expert in Lean and Agile methods would do in a particular situation. While it’s not fully fleshed out (that would take years and the content would be forever evolving) it provides enough guidance in the hands of good consultant or internal change agent. While some of the content of FLEX is unique to Net Objectives (in particular the Lean portfolio and Agile product management aspects) most of it comes from well known sources.

A quick overview of FLEX

The goal of using FLEX is achieving ‘business agility’ – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality. This takes more than just Agile. It requires an organizational view, leadership and being driven by the strategies and initiatives of the organization.

Although all organizations have differences in culture, objectives, people, and dynamics, we have found that all organizations need to accomplish the following in order to be effective:

  1. Agree on how people in the organization will work together
  2. Lean Portfolio Management
  3. Lean-Agile Product Management
    • Crafting Minimum Business Increments (MBIs) based on these initiatives. Think of an MBI as an MVP for an existing product or service line. We’ll learn later why using MVPs in ways they are not intended for causes confusion.
    • Sequencing these MBIs based on cost of delay
    • Create and maintain and intake process
  4. Organizing the technology groups around the initiatives and have them decide whether they are going to use Scrum, Kanban or a combination of the two
  5. Prepare your product backlogs for kickoff using ATDD using Acceptance Test-Driven Development/BDD to decompose these MBIs into stories
  6. Planning
    • Allocating the capacity of the organization to the most important MBIs
    • Running either a planning eventor using a model of flow to focus on collaboration and dependencies across teams
  7. Add the roles of product manager, systems architect and coordinator of Scrum teams (RTE in SAFe)

Figure 1 shows these as part of a typical workflow.

Figure 1. A typical workflow

In a nutshell, discover what is most important, organize your people and allocate the capacity to the most important work. How each of the above actions are accomplished needs to be tailored to the company adopting the transformation. However, there is no reason to re-invent the wheel as patterns for all of these exist and can be readily applied to the organization.

Figure 2. The components of FLEX

We must contextualize the approach to the organization while providing a concrete starting point. This tailoring has two steps. An initial phase to get you started and a continuing phase for ongoing improvement. The path to success is guided by attending to your objectives, specific agreements you make with each other, and the practices you follow.  These are built on a foundation of Lean-Agile principles, FLEX’s transformation philosophy and natural laws of product development.

It is important to have people make agreements that are organized around working together, not merely following an approach. These are laid out in our guardrails system.

This is illustrated in Figure 2.

FLEX can be used for any size organization. We call it an ‘enterprise’ transformation because FLEX addresses issues from the beginning of the value stream through deployment. The value stream can be thought of as all of the steps that your work goes through from the initial concept until the value is realized.

FLEX can stand on its own or can be laid on top of methods such as SAFe® (either to enhance it or to use it as a guideline). If you are doing SAFe or considering it, see the SAFe® and FLEX page.

FLEX is based on the reality that how to do business development with a software component is reasonably well known now. The challenge is getting people to do what will work. Just saying “follow this” doesn’t work. To improve an organization’s methods, one must attend to:

  • Current organizational structure
  • Culture of the company
  • Capacity of the people to absorb change
  • Who is leading the change

FLEX takes what is known and provides a way to make a customized roadmap for a company’s transition. FLEX is not limited to any one approach but incorporates what works from all other methods. FLEX’s power is in how it makes those practices available to the current context in which it is being used.

Using FLEX

One of the key aspects of FLEX that differentiates it from frameworks such as SAFe, LeSS, DAD and Nexus is that it is not just a framework but more of a way of thinking and an approach to manifesting improvement.

​FLEX acknowledges that people need something concrete and well-defined in order to start. At the same time, taking an all-in all-the-way approach to a predefined method has the following disadvantages:

  • No one-size-fits-all so you are almost certainly committing yourself to an approach that is not tailored for your organization.
  • The commitment required does not allow for pivoting after a quick start.
  • You typically start by committing to following an approach instead of taking quick advantage of what you learn from a small, initial engagement.

You should undertake an Agile engagement in an Agile manner. That is, do something small, learn, adjust, do something more. This eliminates this seeming dilemma by providing people in the organization a straightforward, well-defined improvement step to begin with. Once enough progress has been done, the next step can be defined. While FLEX does require someone with experience to guide you, you can quickly learn how to guide yourself since it is based on principles and laws of software development. Once these are understood, you can determine your own path. See How FLEX is different from Agile Approaches for more.

A five-part approach to a roadmap

While avoiding prescribed solutions, FLEX suggests a phased approach to creating a customized roadmap that builds on patterns of success. Here are the phases:

  1. See where you are
  2. Understand the challenges you are having
  3. Learn a few key principles and practices that will help you overcome these challenges
  4. Define how to begin using FLEX’s starting template and tailoring it for your organization
  5. Begin and continuously improve

Progress is guided by two types of metrics. The first is how much value is being manifested. The second is how well you are improving your development methods.

How to navigate FLEX. This site has been designed so you can self-navigate to your topics of interest. The top level is this page and the Steps of FLEX to the right. Go through and read each of these pages first, visiting links on a page only when you don’t know a term or when you want to go deeper right then and there. Each page also has Resources on the right that go deeper into related topics but are not needed for an overview of FLEX. For a 45 minute overview of FLEX click here.