FLEX: FLow for Enterprise Transformation

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Click on cover to see book. Click here to see videos on FLEX.

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 provides a suggested order of adoption for these solutions based on the organization’s culture
  • Implement these potential solutions and attend to whether they achieve true improvement
  • Study the results, replan and repeat the process

FLEX provides 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 adding things to it but require several practices and roles to not change.

FLEX guides an organization on 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 above:

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 the suggested workflow for an effective organization.

Figure 1: An ideal value stream

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Components of FLEX

The components of FLEX

We must contextualize the solutions provided 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 Flow, Lean-Agile principles, FLEX’s transformation philosophy and natural laws of product development.

It is also important to have people make agreements that are organized around working together, not merely following an approach. These are laid out in the Guardrails System.

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 Part VI: Using FLEX to both enhance and simplify SAFe.

FLEX is based on the reality that how to do business development with a software component is now reasonably well known. 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.
  • It is difficult to pivot after starting because of the strong focus on starting with the framework.
  • The start by committing to following an approach instead of taking quick advantage of what you learn from a small, initial engagement often drives you down the wrong path.

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 may initially 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.

FLEX’s Patterns Framework Structure Enables a New Kind of Training

Most frameworks have a set start. You start with something simple, learn it, and then slowly learn to tailor it to your needs. We don’t agree with this approach. First, “simple” lives in the eye 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 suited to you into the training materials. FLEX’s 3-day Adopting FLEX workshop has you do an assessment in it. This assessment, tied with a road map guide, creates a two-day course 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.