Guardrails for Leadership and Management

The Guardrails for creating business agility (the quick realization of business value predictably, sustainably and with high quality) are a set of agreements different roles in the organization make with each other to facilitate working together. The guardrail system helps people in an organization work together towards their common goals. They also provide a series of questions that people can use to ensure they are keeping their agreements.

Companies should be a big team, working towards a common goal. A set of agreements on how they align is necessary for this. While each company will have their own goals and strategies to achieve their vision, we’ve seen these six “guardrails” to be essential in creating alignment across an organization. How they are manifested, however, is different at the different levels of work. These guardrails are not specific to any approach, be it SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, ….

Work on items that will realize the greatest amount of business value across the enterprise.

Leadership must define what this value is. While other stakeholders may actually work out the details the vision and direction is up to leadership.

Management must create a method in which this vision can be made visible throughout the organization.

Leadership / Management checklist

  • Is everyone clear in the organization what is of greatest value to be working on?

Collaborate with each other in order to maximize the realization of business value across the enterprise

Leadership must provide the time necessary for people to understand what is needed. They must also not capriciously change directions or interrupt technology. They must realize that doing so has an adverse impact on them.

Management must create an eco-system in the organization which enables collaboration across the enterprise.

“A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves, components become selfish, competitive, independent profit centers, and thus destroy the system … The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization.” – Edwards Deming

Leadership / Management checklist

  • Are incentives in place to encourage collaboration or are individuals and teams measured on only the work they do.

Ensure that all work will be made visible

The best way to create visibility is with the use of Visual Controls. People in different roles need to see what work is being done by other roles that will affect them. This is one tenet of DevOps.

Leadership must enable people to work in an environment where people can see each other’s work. When problems come up they should help resolve them, not beat people up for having them.

Management must support the creation of visual controls. While the particular controls should be left to the people doing the work, the capabilities of what the controls should be decided by management so that visibility is achieved across the organization.

Leadership / Management checklist

  • Can you see what’s happening in the organization?
  • Are people afraid to tell you? If so, you must remedy that.

Take the necessary steps to sustain or increase predictability

While we can’t predict everything there are a lot of ways to decrease unpredictability. Many of these are technical in nature, such as decreasing tech-debt and automating testing. But many of them are process related. Unpredictability sometimes just happens which is why feedback loops are important. But there are many root causes of unpredictability and these must be addressed if sustainability of the organization is to be enhanced.

Leadership / Management checklist

  • What are the greatest causes of unpredictability in your organization?
  • How are you causing this?
  • What are you not allowing other roles to do that could improve predictability?

Keep the work throughout the value stream within capacity.

A common problem with development organizations is being overloaded with work. This occurs in several ways:

  • Having work pushed on them
  • Not leaving any room for maintenance items which are sure to come up
  • Starting too many project
  • Not having a focus on finishing
  • Interrupting teams

Leadership should not demand more from technology than they are able to do. Working beyond capacity makes teams less effective, less efficient and is not sustainable.

Management must provide a way for everyone to see the workload across the organization.

Leadership / Management checklist

  • Ask the team about what is causing them to be overloaded? How much of it is self-induced? How much of it comes from the outside?
  • Don’t overload teams with work. Allow them to pull work when they have capacity.
  • Keep interruptions to a minimum. Recognize that an interruption creates additional work in addition to delaying something that was already decided to be the most valuable.

Encourage everyone to strive for continuous improvement

You are either improving or you are declining. Both leadership and management must do what they can to encourage people to improve.

Leadership / Management checklist

  • Are you allocating funding and capacity for learning throughout the oragnization?
  • Are you removing impediments to learning?