A Quick Overview of FLEX
FLEX is an approach based on Lean-Thinking and patterns that improves an organization’s ability to achieve business agility – the quick realization of value predictably, sustainable and with high quality. It works by using the following process:
- Understanding what the workflow and structure of the organization adopting it should be
- Identifying the challenges being incurred in the organization in relationship to this idealized structure
- Identify the potential solutions to the challenges
- Using a basic understanding of systems and Lean thinking to see what order of adopting these solutions will most likely be effective given the organization’s culture
- Implement these potential solutions and attend to whether they achieve true improvement
- Study the results, replan and repeat the process
This approach is specifically designed to provide a well-defined roadmap so that people know what to do. It avoids the “one-size fits all” approach of using a preset framework such as Scrum and SAFe that allow for things to be added to it but require several practices and roles that are not to be changed.
FLEX Is guided by how to remove the cost of delay for an organization developing software either to be used as a product or in an IT environment. Cost of delay is what does it cost an organization in terms of deferred value achieved, higher risk sustained and lost opportunity cost. FLEX provides guidance in how the flow of work from start to finish can be improved by identifying what work should be undertaken, how the teams doing the work should be organized and how they can be accomplish the work. Integrated into this process are tight feedback loops to enable pivoting or even cancelling work as needed.
FLEX differs from other approaches in three main ways:
- It is not a framework in the sense of providing you a set of values and practices to follow. Rather it is based on a set of patterns of solutions that can be combined to create a framework to start with that is adapted for the organization.
- It is based around the value stream – that is the sequence of work that takes place in building value. It does this regardless of the size of the organization adopting it. Larger organizations have more complex value streams but all organizations have to attend to how they identify their work, how it gets developed and how it gets deployed so value can be realized
- It is organized so that it can be simple at the start while able to be extended as new practices are required and/or discovered
Walking Through the FLEX Approach
The best way to understand FLEX is to walk through an example of how it’ll be used. Let’s go through each of the 6 steps mentioned in the first section.
Understanding what the workflow and structure of the organization adopting it should be.
The following figure shows a depiction of an idealized value stream. We start with ideas related to the customer, create strategies, do portfolio management and proceed clockwise around the circle as shown. Of course, there are differences in companies and it is often worth representing these.
Figure 1 shows a suggested workflow for an effective organization.
FLEX guides you through the process of creating strategies, using portfolio management to create a high view of what you’ll deliver, doing product management to enable early delivery, a planning method, development method and a focus on not just delivery but of realization of value. This general flow is used by all companies.
The first step is to be clear about what you’re basing your strategies on which sets up portfolio management as shown in figure 2.
From here the initiatives get turned into a backlog of the smallest pieces of work that can be built and have customers realize value. as shown in figure 3.
At this point the development group can pick up the work. The planning step is a pull process where the most important items are pulled by the development group so that they can be worked on in an efficient manner.
The development group should consist of mostly independent self-organizing teams. These work in a networked fashion.
The next step is release and realization. However, it is important that both ops and anybody required for marketing and support have advanced notice.
While it has been going on all of this time, a more involved “Plan Do Study Adjust” cycle should be done. This is both to improve process and ensure value was truly added.
Plan-Do-Study-Adjust is, of course, the Deming cycle. This is not merely seeing what happened (inspect) and then adjusting (adapt). The Deming cycle is based on having a model, theory you could say, of how things are expected to operate. The feedback is used to both see how we can improve but also to question if we need to change our approach.
Handling More Complicated Value Streams
Some companies have a more complicated structure. For example, they may have multiple business stakeholders driving multiple strategies, etc. FLEX handles this by expanding on part of the value stream as shown in the following figure.
FLEX can also adjust to the way an organization’s development group is structured.FIgure 3 is an example of how FLEX can adjust when an organization has multiple development groups.
FLEX can also adjust to the way an organization’s development group is structured.FIgure 9 is an example of how FLEX can adjust when an organization has multiple development groups.
This is not a complete list – but can be used as a starting point. The important thing is to identify what and where the organization’s challenges are. Because these components are laid out in the value stream, even when any one part of the value stream gets more complicated, it is straightforward to see how each relates to both the preceding and follow segment of the value stream.
Identify the challenges in the organization
Most organizations have similar challenges. These are shown below, with those that are most severe being in bright read.
Identify the potential solutions to the challenges
FLEX works by providing patterns to solve these challenges. A pattern is a solution to a recurring problem in a context. For example, there are several ways to solve unclear requirements, but which to use should consider the context in which these occur. Any one pattern may have several different solutions. But the problem may also show up in different contexts. So a group of patterns, one for each potential context, may be needed for a particular challenge. That is, we may have a group of patterns offering solutions to the challenge of technical debt with each pattern suggesting to solve it in different ways.
But the ability to plug and play practices is just the first ability for tailoring. Each pattern discusses the:
- objective of the pattern
- the forces (issues) it must deal with
- the social issues involved
- one or more potential solutions
FLEX provides us with a mechanism to select what the appropriate methods are for each of these. In some cases, FLEX uses solutions to these challenges that Net Objectives has pioneered that are not common elsewhere. But FLEX also includes solutions from other popular methods such as SAFe, LeSS, Scrum and Kanban.
Using a basic understanding of systems and Lean thinking to see what order of adopting these solutions will most likely be effective given the organization’s culture
Typically an organization will have 2-4 primary challenges to solve. That is, these challenges should be solved before others are tackled. The order in which these should be solved depends up several factors including the severity of the challenges, the culture of the organization, the current skill sets of the organization as well as a few others. The order is chosen so that each improvement helps subsequent improvements.
The following figure shows a potential roadmap. The roadmap has 4 key steps:
- what must be done prior to starting
- what must be defined prior to starting
- what to do after starting
Implement these potential solutions and attend to whether they achieve true improvement
Making changes is easy, seeing that they move you in the right direction is not so easy. FLEX uses several metrics to determine if real improvement has been achieved. 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.
Study the results, replan and repeat the process
This is just the beginning of the process, continual improvement is needed.
FLEX’s Patterns Framework Structure Enables a New Kind of Training
Most frameworks have a set start. The idea is that you start with something simple, learn it, then slowly learn to tailor it to your needs. We don’t agree with this approach. First, “simple” lives in the ey of the beholder. Something simple for someone else because it fits them may not be simple for you if it doesn’t. If someone is competent enough to train you in an approach they should be able to understand what you really need.
FLEX’s structure enables substituting practices that are suited to you into the training materials. FLEX’s 3-day Adopting FLEX workshop is designed to have you do an assessment in it. This assessment, tied with a road map guide, enables a two-day course to be created that is tailored for your organization. This is the Implementing FLEX workshop. Companies can have one competent Lean-Agile transformation coach become an Adopting FLEX Leader and then teach this tailored 2-day workshop to people in the organization.
FLEX Is More than a Framework, It’s Also About Education
While having a solid framework is critical, being able to get people to understand it is just as critical. Old-school classroom style training is no longer sufficient to meet the demand for training. FLEX has been designed to be taught using modern training styles such as scaled-learning and flipped-classroom teaching. The FLEX program of training already experienced professionals in the FLEX system is designed to create more in house experts so that armies of consultants are not needed.
Two online FLEX courses are now being offered – FLEX for SAFe, and Adopting FLEX (the first course in becoming a FLEX trainer).
If you want to learn about how to adopt FLEX in your organization please contact the author, Al Shalloway.